Recollections of a Remarkable Nottingham Character
Your Day to Day note concerning the death of Frederick M. Wilkes, in America, interests me very much, and saddens me a little.
When I was in my ‘teens I knew him well. He was one of the most entertaining “characters” I have ever met, and I often wondered what became of him. I was never sure what his name actually was. Sometimes he was “Wilkes,” sometimes he styled himself “Wilkes-Barre,” but the name he was fondest of was his literary nom-de-plume, “Malfew Seklew,” a play, probably, on his actual name.
As an orator he was great fun. His command of “adjectives” amounted to genius. Once, when he was debating with a more polished and more ordinary speaker, he burst out with: “Man, you’re just a ‘phrase-monger‘-you know nothing about words!”
I enclose a portrait him which appeared in the Labour Annual 1900. I have kept the book all these years for the sake at this picture of old friend. A biographical note accompanying it states;
Seklew. Malfew, b. Sheffleld in ’63, at “Nottingham Journal” same time J. M. Barrie; in America 15 years, and worked at almost everything not respectable, including running for Congress. An amusing and lively prophet of the new Egoist-Materialist-Libertarian-Socialist School. Has a striking personality, deep earnestness, and strong character, and is not dead yet. —c/o Truth seeker, 35, Villiers-street, Bradford.
There is strong internal evidence that this note was written by himself; and how he would enjoy doing it! He got his living in various ways, hawker, pedlar, market-place, orator, free-lance Journalist. Sometimes was well-dressed and apparently affluent; at other times he was obviously “down on his luck.” He exaggerated himself, and earned with the “unco guid,” and the then Chief Constable, a bad reputation which he did not deserve. He left Nottingham after a fight with a policeman whom he accused of deliberately persecuting him. I did not see him again for a long time, though I heard rumours him being in various towns the North, particularly Glasgow.
One fleeting glimpse I had of him in Nottingham years afterwards. I was walking through the old Market-place one night on my way home, when I was hailed from behind, and he came running after me, looking fat and comfortable but not too prosperous. He pushed Into hand leaflet which stated that “Malfew Seklew” the famous social reformer, was opening an emporium for the purveying of “sausages and mash” in St. James-street, Nottingham, and craved the support of his beloved friends the proletariat of the city.
He looked at mme with something of the old roguery in his eyes and said: “Democratic sausages, old chap, proletarian potatoes and Socialist soup, that’s what I’ll give ’em! Come and see me, sometimes.” I promised. But not long after he was once more on his travels and I never saw him again.
And now he’s gone probably on the last, long journey that he never believed in.
2 March, 1938.