Well - the Wilts and Glos Standard published their 'scoop'. The story was based on two signatures etched into a pane of glass in the bedroom window of a house in Cirencester, Glos. The house is on the market - so what better way of creating a bit of interest by publishing the story, handed down from owner to owner, that one of the signatures is that of Jerome K Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat. The other is the signature of a Mrs J Lawrence, the then owner of the house - and a married lady. The Wilts & Glos informant - and the journalist who contacted me - put 1 and 1 together and made 3.
They sent me a photo of the etched signature. It read 'Jerome Clapp' - which as we now know was JKJ's father's name until he left Appledore and lived in Walsall. The 'J' and final 'e' of 'Jerome' are very similar to the 'J' and final 'e' in JKJ's signature. However, the first 'e', the 'r' and 'm' are formed quite differently. I wrote to the Wilts & Glos saying that I was pretty sure it wasn't JKJ who etched his name, but his father. This is the reply I got:
'Maybe he didn't sign his full name because his hand got tired, I can't imagine it's too easy to scratch your name into glass. Although the fact that the first two letters are 'exact' does make me think it might be him not his dad. I know my signature varies little in the first two letters - try it yourself.
Also I've just spoken to the guy who sent the story and he said who is more likely to have an affair, a preacher or an arrogant, womanising author who stole someone elses wife in the first place!
The story of the affair itself was passed down through the family who have owned the house for several generations. It's up for sale at the moment which is why it has just come to light.
Anyway I'll make sure your comments get in it balances it up nicely.'
I replied as follows:
'Your informant knows a little but not very much. Always a dangerous basis for a factual story. I know. Iím a writer and biographer. There is absolutely no evidence at all (and Iíve been around the Jerome subject for a long time) that Jerome was arrogant. Quite the reverse, in fact, if you read his early stuff right through to his autobiography. I wonder where your informant got that impression? As to being a womaniser Ė total rubbish. Why does your man think Jerome "stole another manís wife"? As a matter of fact, he didnít (youíll have to do your own research on that). But even if he did, how does that make him a womaniser? Dear oh dear - donít let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh? I suppose it might help sell someoneís house but I think itís all pretty flimsy stuff.'
To be fair to the journalist, he took most of this on board and you can read the full thrilling story by going to www.wiltsglosstandard.co.uk
and going to the 'News' section.
So your President has fought off the estate agent and successfully defended the honour of JKJ!!
By coincidence, the very same day as this saga, I was contacted by a Mr Peter Christie who has written a long, fascinating and superbly-researched essay on the early life of the Rev. Jerome Clapp. Among other revelations, JKJ's father left Appledore under a cloud, the cloud being rumours that he had fathered an illegitmate child...
The article will be published later this year and I have undertaken not to reproduce it until then. Mr Christie has kindly agreed to allow excerpts to be published in a forthcoming issue of Idle Thoughts. Many details of Jerome's family and early life will have to be re-written.