20 Farncombe Rd, Worthing BN11, UK
Conifers, Heather Lane High Salvington Worthing
Elsie Jeanette Dunkerley (25 November 1880 – 9 January 1960), was an English girls' story writer, who took the name Oxenham as her pseudonym when her first book, Goblin Island, was published in 1907. Her Abbey Series of 38 titles are her best-known and best-loved books. The 'Abbey' novels, aimed at young women - perhaps what we would in the twenty-first century refer to as 'Young Adult' novels - were a series of thirty-eight stories written by Elsie Jeanette Oxenham, beginning with The Girls of the Hamlet Club in 1914 and continuing right through to the 1950s. Various themes were included in the stories, but the author's intention was always to make better women out of her readers and any culturally aware novelist will adapt the themes in their books to reflect current opinions and matters of public interest. In 1928 Oxenham published The Abbey Girls Win Through, which includes a same-sex partner-shin between two women. Con and Norah.
In her lifetime Dunkerley had 87 titles published and another two have since been published by her niece, who discovered the manuscripts in the early 1990s. She is considered a major figure among girls' story writers of the first half of the twentieth century, being one of the 'Big Three' with Elinor Brent-Dyer and Dorita Fairlie Bruce. Angela Brazil is as well-known - perhaps more so - but did not write her books in series about the same group of characters or set in the same place or school, as did the Big Three. Oxenham's books are widely collected and there are several Appreciation Societies: in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa; with a total membership of over six hundred, some of whom live in the US, Canada, India and The Netherlands although belonging to one or more of the societies mentioned.
Elsie Jeanette Dunkerley was born in Southport, Lancashire, England, in November 1880, to an English father and a Scottish mother. Before she was 2 years old the family moved to Ealing, West London, where they lived for nearly forty years. She and her sisters went to private schools and attended Ealing Congregational Church. The six Dunkerley children in order of age were: Elsie, Marjory (Maida), Roderic, Theodora (Theo), Erica and Hugo. The family lived in five different houses during their time in Ealing and moved to Worthing, Sussex, in 1922. She took the surname Oxenham as her pen name when Goblin Island was published in 1907. Her father, William Arthur Dunkerley, had used the pen-name "John Oxenham" for many years prior to this. During the London years, Elsie Oxenham became involved in the British Camp Fire Girls movement, and qualified as a Guardian - the leader of a group of Camp Fire Girls. She ran this Camp Fire Group for some 6 years, until the move to Sussex. One of the Camp Fire members was Margaret Bayne Todd - later Margaret, Lady Simey - who appears in Abbey Girls in Town and to whom that title was dedicated. It is thought that she was the 'original' on whom the characters of both Jenny-Wren and Littlejan were based. At some point during her time in London Oxenham joined the English Folk Dance Society (EFDS - it did not become the English Folk Dance and Song Society [EFDSS] until much later). She then discovered how 'badly' she had been doing the dances - and teaching them! - as related in The Abbey Girls Go Back to School (published 1922). Everything that the 'Writing Person' [her on-page persona] told Maidlin, Jen and Joy, in The New Abbey Girls (published 1923), about dancing, Grey Edward, and the Camp Fire had happened as described. After the family had moved to Worthing, Oxenham taught folk dancing in nearby villages and schools. She tried to start another Camp Fire but that was not a success as most of the girls of the right age were already Girl Guides. At first, the family all lived at Farncombe Road, Worthing, but after their mother died the four sisters moved out, living in pairs, Elsie with Maida, and Erica with Theo. None of the sisters married, but both brothers did. Elsie died in a local nursing Home in January 1960, a few days after Erica.
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