The Keys of Heaven

The first biography of the clergyman Charles Marson (1859-1914), one of the early Christian Socialists, ahead of his time in criticising church and society for lacking social compassion. The book covers his work in the East End of London, in Australia and in the Somerset village of Hambridge. An influential writer and journalist, he partnered Cecil Sharp in the retrieval of English folk songs.

original material

David arrived ahead of time. He was already there when we were shown upstairs to the room with the long conference table and the bust of Bertrand Russell. He was buoyant, ebullient, curiously optimistic, as a writer is when he knows he has written a good book.

“The important thing to consider when deciding how many copies to print,” I said, “is whether there is original material not available elsewhere. If a book is based largely on library research, the librarians won’t want to buy it, because they will say their readers can get it all from the books they’ve already got.”

David had an answer for that. He pushed forward an old stationery box brimming with very old photographs and old line drawings. “The letters and other papers I used are now in the Somerset Heritage Centre, Taunton,” he said, “though they were being held in trust by a private individual when I originally got my hands on them. They had been passed down from Revd Frank Etherington, a personal friend of Charles and Chloe, who had collected them together with a view to writing Charles’s biography. There are 440 of them in all, and they were in three large shoeboxes.”

“There you are then!” responded Kate appreciatively. “There is original material!”

people with open minds

“It’s especially appropriate that Charles Marson’s biography should be printed by the Russell Press,” said David, “as Charles was at one time engaged to be married to Bertrand’s aunt Agatha.”

Everyone blinked and mulled this over. Charles was a vicar… Had Agatha been religious? Bertrand certainly wasn’t… Was he?

“Oh! Do you have to be a special sort of person to work for the Russell Press?” asked Andrew. “Any particular political or religious persuasion?”

Kate Fleet, Sales Representative, and Mike Coates, Sales & Marketing Manager, considered this carefully before shaking their heads. “No… No…” they decided.

“You just have to be very nice people,” I said.

“Thank you, Margaret. I’ll remember that,” said Kate.

vicar with children’s stories

“And it’s especially appropriate that Charles’s biography should be published by Cockasnook Books,” David said, “as he was very much up against the establishment, mainly the church hierarchy. I must say I often feel like ‘cocking a snook’ myself…

“And also because Charles wrote faery stories,” David went on – (fantasy fiction for young people being one of Cockasnook’s specialisms, alongside biography/autobiography) – “His ‘Faery Stories’ were the first children’s stories in Australia.”

“And it’s also appropriate,” I came in, “because Charles spent the last 19 years of his life in the same building – the vicarage in Hambridge, Somerset – where my mother later spent the last six years of her life. It’s curious to me.” Surely, I thought, anyone who has been a regular visitor to this amazing place would want to read this book…

a special breed of men

I thought back to when I first met David Sutcliffe in 1995. We were looking for a residential nursing home for my elderly mother, and ‘Glenavon’, run by David Sutcliffe, had been suggested. This was in the old Victorian vicarage in Hambridge. We had just been to a fairly new, purpose-built establishment: the manageress had taken us into her spacious, light office where, seated behind her large desk, she had treated us to a lecture on ‘for and against large and small care homes’, the main thrust being ‘administrative convenience’. David Sutcliffe took me to a small, dark office-cum-everything at the rear of the building where we sat down together. We proceeded to go into a trance. Fifteen minutes later I realised we had been discussing my mother’s needs.

If you read The Keys of Heaven, you will become acquainted with the interests and preoccupations of David Sutcliffe, whom you may have met already, and you will get to know personally another caring man, whom you cannot possibly know yet: Charles Marson, who worked for the dignity and welfare of everyone he met in two continents, reaching his final home at Hambridge, Somerset, and whose life has just now received the attention it deserves in David Sutcliffe’s new book.

Margaret Swift

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Book Details

The Keys of Heaven

David Sutcliffe


Age Range


(Uk Delivery : £2.50)