Locally born Mrs. Osborn Hann was a writer of children’s books from the 1920s for many years until the 1950s. It was a time when there were many writers of children’s and teenagers’ stories and reading among the young was very popular. Thinking about my earliest story books there was one by Mrs Hann and it is still in my book case.
Many stories painted rather glamorous pictures about well-off families living in fairly palatial houses and going to select schools. On the other hand Mrs. Osborn Hann chose the opposite end of society, with rather hard-up families living in small terraced houses and going to the local council school. She made no attempt at glamorising life and her descriptions were enhanced and direct. The stories, written round her own life experience, seemed almost autobiographical.
She was the wife of a vicar, Rev. Archie Osborn Hann. When they married in 1911, he was a curate at St. Paul’s Church, Lorrimore Square, Camberwell. It was during the time of the first World War and Mr Hann joined up for three years. After the war his next church was St. Marks, East Street, Walworth, where he served for six years.
It was while at St. Mark’s that Mrs Hann started to write stories, mostly about the Girl Guide Company she captained. The guides had not been in existence for very long though she would not have joined the Guides while at school. She went to Sydenham High School, which she attended from 1896 to 1900.
The family lived in Hillcrest Road, a turning off Westwood Hill, right on the summit of the hill and opposite the grounds of the Crystal Palace on the north side. The houses were large, comfortable and could accommodate large families and servants. These are now no longer here, replaced by a housing estate in the 1960s.
Her father, Herbert Owen, was a moderately prosperous stock broker who originally lived in Glengarry Road, East Dulwich where Dorothy, the eldest of the family, was born in 1883. Her mother, Isobel, was related to the Doultons of the Lambeth pottery and china firm.
In her stories she often followed the lives of real people illustrating her books with snapshots of them, though using fictitious names and using the guide Company as a basis for the story. She also set the scenes in local places, often using the actual place names which were in Walworth, Dulwich and Sydenham.
In “Rhoda the Rebel”, Bill Sullivan, Rhoda’s father, burgles a large house in Sydenham Hill. Rhoda, who often accompanies her father on these burgling trips, escapes, but her father is caught red handed and receives a hefty prison sentence. Rhoda’s life as a teenager is followed up in more stories.
In another story, “Peg the Ranger”, Peg has had a row with her boyfriend over him taking another girl in the Guide Company to the “Purple” cinema (there was actually a cinema in Walworth called the Purple!) and in her annoyance has walked from Walworth to the top of Sydenham Hill before she realised how far she was from home (about 8 miles). She calmed down and, getting a bus at the Crystal Palace, Peg rode back to Walworth.
Mrs. Hann wrote 8 stories in the “Peg” series starting in 1923 with Peg, who is a teenager in the Walworth Guides from when she lives in busy East Street, till at the age of 19 she goes to work in Redhill, Somerset, finally marries and settles in the village.
After leaving St. Mark’s Church in 1925 Mr. Hann was transferred to Christchurch, Redhill, Somerset. Mrs. Hann continued to write, producing about seventy books altogether. After Mr. Hann’s death, she lived in Great Brickhill and Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire, where she lived for some twenty years till her death in 1963.
Another Children’s Writer from South East London
By Betty Griffin
The Norwood Review Edition #149.