J. P. Martin

Copyright James Martin Currey and Kate Esslin 2019

J. P. (John Percival) Martin(1879 –1966) was an English author best known for his “Uncle” series of children’s stories.

P. Martin was born in Scarborough in 1879. He became a Methodist minister in 1902 and carried out missionary work in South Africa. He served as a Chaplain in World War One, thereafter remaining in England.

After the Second World War he moved to the village of Timberscombe in Somerset, where from 1948 to 1966, he served as a minister to the small Methodist Chapel.  A picture of the Harvest Festival, painted by J. P. Martin, hangs in the Chapel over a memorial tablet dedicated to him (see Timberscombe Methodist Chapel).

J. P. Martin lived in Timberscombe until his death, aged 86. He reputedly died as a result of catching influenza whilst going out in cold weather to give pots of honey to the villagers.

The Somerset County Gazette reported on Friday, April 1, 1966:

“There were two funeral services for the man who achieved fame as an author at the age of 84, the well-loved Methodist minister of Timberscombe, the Rev. J.P. Martin. He died at the age of 86 on Thursday, March 24th, after a short illness, at his Timberscombe home, here he had lived for 17 years faithfully serving neighbouring chapels as the supernumerary minister in the Kingsbrompton Circuit.

On Sunday night the coffin was taken to the tiny village chapel in Timberscombe where he had so often preached. Family and friends sang the minister’s favourite hymns and a moving sermon was preached by the circuit minister, the Rev. J.E. Melling of Roadwater. The vicar the Rev. J.H. Bury, was also present to pay tribute to “a dedicated man of God”.

Because the village chapel was too small to accommodate the many friends who wished to attend, a second funeral service was held in The Avenue Methodist Church, Minehead, on Tuesday. Nearly 100 people were present.”

Rev. Martin was a keen painter, a member of the Society of Authors, and also vice-president of Timberscombe Cricket Club. A second village plaque in his memory has been placed at the bottom of the St Petrock’s Church steps.

Martin’s Uncle stories were first told to his children before he was persuaded, by his daughter, to write them down for a wider audience. He describes his books as “simply a struggle between good and evil” When they were first published in the late 1960s and early 1970s they were hailed as modern classics of children’s literature. The Uncle of the six books in the series is a millionaire elephant with a purple dressing-gown, a B.A. from Oxford, and a clean-living past marred by a single, never-to-be-forgotten discreditable incident.

The Uncle books are:

  • Uncle(1964)
  • Uncle Cleans Up(1965)
  • Uncle and His Detective(1966)
  • Uncle and the Treacle Trouble(1967)
  • Uncle and Claudius the Camel(1970)
  • Uncle and the Battle for Badgertown(1973)

The transcript of an interview by the BBC with J.P.Martin talking about his life can be read at uncle-tv.com

J. P. Matrin’s sister Mrs Dora Fowler Martin published a novel, and so did his son, Hal. His daughter, Mrs Stella Martin Currey, was successful with half a dozen novels and her husband, Mr R N Currey, had several books of poems published. After the author’s death his daughter who wrote plays and books such as “Diary of a 1950s housewife”, edited his remaining manuscripts to produce the three posthumous novels.

Martin’s first book was reprinted in paperback in 2000 by Red Fox. Hardcover reprints of the first two volumes were published by the New York Review of Books in 2007-8

In March 2013, a Kickstarter campaign was announced to reprint all six Uncle books in an omnibus edition.  The book was published on 31 October 2013 under the title of The Complete Uncle.