Hampson, John (writer)

Reference: MS 5465 & MS 5091Date: 1930s-1970sExtent: c.17 boxes

John Frederick Norman Hampson Simpson was born in Birmingham in March 1901, fifth of the eight children of Kathleen and Mercer Hampson Simpson. His family made their names and fortunes in the Midlands through the theatre and the brewing industry, but a business collapse meant that John’s father had to forfeit his inheritance and in these reduced circumstances the family moved to Leicester. Here John’s mother became a swimming instructor and his father eventually found work as manager of a motor-cycle depot, but the struggle with poverty heightened conflicts within the family. Kept by his weak health from attending the village school, John was educated at home and his lack of a formal education left him with a life-long sense of inferiority.

During the First World War John worked in a munitions factory but in 1917 he left and moved to Nottingham. For some years he took a variety of different jobs, many of which would be reflected in his fiction, as a kitchen-hand, a waiter, a chef, a billiard-marker and helping his sister to run a public house in Ashover, Derbyshire. At one point desperation led him to turn to stealing books for which he was convicted and served a term in Wormwood Scrubs.

In 1925 John’s life took a turn for the better when he was engaged by the Wilsons, a family living in Dorridge, near Birmingham, to act as a residential nurse and companion for their son, who had Down Syndrome. He became devoted to his charge and his new-found security and stability allowed him to begin to write under the name of John Hampson. Hampson’s first book Saturday Night at the Greyhound was published by the Hogarth Press in 1931 and was an immediate success. Other books followed throughout the 1930s, O Providence (1932) Strip Jack Naked (1934) The Family Curse (1936) and Care of ‘The Grand’ (1939), although none was as popular as the first. One of the three original manuscripts that Hampson sent to the Hogarth Press, Go Seek a Stranger, which was the first novel Hampson had written, remained unpublished due to its frank homosexual content.

Hampson made many literary friends, including Forrest Reid, Graham Greene and W.H. Auden, and became a leading figure in the Birmingham Group of working class authors which included Walter Allen, Walter Brierley, Henry Green and Peter Chamberlain.

During the Second World War John Hampson wrote documentaries for the BBC through which he became interested in the ideas of the psychologist James Ford Thompson. Hampson visited India in 1948 to meet Thompson and dedicated his last book A Bag of Stones (1952) to him. In 1955 the death of Mr Wilson meant that the family had to move to a much smaller house in Solihull and John Hampson’s always precarious health deteriorated. He died in hospital of a heart attack on 26 December 1955.

The collection consists of manuscripts, typescripts & proofs of novels including, Saturday Night at the Greyhound, Strip Jack Naked, Care of ‘The Grand’, and The Family Curse, together with correspondence and copies of several of Hampson’s books, some signed by the author, and a photocopy of a thesis entitled, The Novels of John Hampson by Mercer F. Hampson Simpson, 1975.

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