William Pett Ridge, writer and ‘friend of the cockneys’ was born at Chilham, near Canterbury on 22 April 1859. He was the son of James Ridge and Elizabeth Pett. James who possibly worked at the Chilham railway station which had opened in 1846, became the station master at Chartham on the Ashford-Ramsgate line when it opened on November 1 1859.1 The family lived at Nackholt Cottages

At some point after 1865, James became station master at Marden and it was here that William received his ‘abridged’ education with his siblings Frederick, Francis and Annie.2 By the age of 14, his brother Frederick was a telegraph clerk.

It was whilst he was living at Marden, that Pett Ridge recalls visiting Gad’s Hill, the home of Charles Dickens.

‘I must have been a very small boy when my father took me, by a cross-country journey, to see Gad’s Hill. We travelled from Marden to Higham, and it was the railway porter at Higham station who told us something of the novelist:

‘He’d come down here, he would, jest for the sake of the walk, I axpect, and he’d be Tom, Dick, and ‘Arry with me and the signalman, and keep us in fits. Fits of laughter I mean. ‘Nother time, he’d walk very brisk-like up and down the platform, and never axchange a single word with nobody. A nice gen’le man,’ concluded the porter, ‘but variable!’’3

Later, as an adult, Pett Ridge wrote a short sketch for the Illustrated London News entitled ‘The return of the Master’ about the ghost of Dickens wandering the streets of London and he also became a member of the Boz Club where ‘subjects of Dickensian interest’ were discussed.4 His stories of cockney life earned him the nickname of the Dickens of the 20th century.5

It was whilst he was living at Marden that Pett Ridge was called out of school to play cricket against W.W. Rodgers, one of Kent’s first class cricketers. Pett Ridge recalls that Rodgers got drunk on cider and slept through most of the game. Pett Ridge also saw W.G. Grace play for Gloucestershire at Canterbury, and although Kent lost, Pett Ridge recalls that he and his brother “danced the whole way home”.6

In late 1871, James Ridge received a promotion to become station master at Paddock Wood.7 He was fatally injured just over a year later when he was hit by the London and Dover night mail train, leaving Elizabeth a widow with five children.8 William Pett Ridge was not yet 14 but joined the South East Railway as a Clerk and later became a Clerk in the Continental Goods Office of the railway. He wrote:

‘To myself, town gave a chilly welcome. Resolved to make a good beginning, I, on leaving the office where I was to earn 21 shillings each week, payable on Fridays, walked over London Bridge and near the Railway Approach, entered a doorway to take my first Turkish bath. Outside the weather was the weather to be expected in January; moderate snow throughout the day, frost. I went through the process of rubbing and scrubbing and baking, and realised that town provided luxuries which a village in Kent had never been able to supply’.9

William Pett-Ridge continued working for the railways, living with his mother and siblings at Florence Road, Lewisham. He attended evening classes at Birkbeck Institution as he felt that his education in the country ‘had not sufficiently furnished him for City Life’.10 It was here that he met the social reformers Sidney Webb and Beatrice Potter.

With ambitions to write, Pett Ridge began contributing stories to periodicals under the pseudonym Warwick Simpson in the 1890s. His first success came with ‘A Dinner in Soho’ which was published in the St James Gazette. Then followed more short stories and 60 novels. He did not leave his city job until he earned by the pen ‘three times as much as he drew from his salary from the goods office’.11

Pett Ridge soon became acquainted with authors such as Jerome K. Jerome, Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells, whom he visited at Sandgate. Bennett wrote to Wells ‘I am much too vain to mind being called “not a poet”, and “not a genius”. But to be called a “dear delightful person” rouses my worse instincts. It makes me feel as if I were like Marriot Watson or Pett Ridge, and I ain’t, not really.’12

When Mark Twain was visiting England, Pett Ridge was introduced to him as ‘the Mark Twain of England’. Ridge interrupted his introducer saying ‘What he meant to say was that you are the Pett Ridge of America’. Twain was delighted by this comment and said ‘now I know we shall get along together!’13

His novels include small vignettes of Kentish life which reflect his knowledge of the county. In Erb (1903), he describes the railways:

‘It is the ingenious habit of Kentish railways directly that hop-picking is over and pay-day is done, to advertise excursions to London at a fare so cheap that not to take advantage of it were to discourage Providence in its attempts to make the world pleasant. Country folk, who make but one visit a year to town, seize this September opportunity; some avail themselves not only of this but of the Cattle Show trip later on; a few also take the pantomime excursion in February, and these are counted in quiet villages as being, by frequent contact with town, blades of the finest temper, to whom (if they would but be candid) no mysteries of the great town are unknown’.14

In another novel, Table d’hote (1910), a coach driver is described trying to convince one of his passengers to take an inside seat, by recounting a tale of a gentleman who had frozen stiff whilst sitting on the outside box-seat. When the coach driver claims that hop driers tried to revive the frozen man in an oast house oven, the passenger exclaims disbelievingly ‘Hops in December?’15

Pett Ridge’s love of cricket also appears in his writing. In The Amazing Years (1917) Master Edward who takes a job on the railways, enthusiastically rattles off the scores of a Kent cricket match.16

Four of Pett Ridge’s books were adapted as films by Eliot Stannard, the son of Henrietta Vaughan Stannard

Pett Ridge died at his home in Chislehurst on the 29 Sep 1930 aged 71.17 His work is largely forgotten today.

This article was published: 20 August 2023.


  1. Faversham Times and Mercury and North-East Kent Journal - Saturday 16 November 1912 

  2. 1871 census. 

  3. Pett Ridge, William. A Story teller, 1925, p.30. 

  4. Pett Ridge, William. A Story teller, 1925, p.33. 

  5. Derby Daily Telegraph - Monday 29 September 1930. 

  6. Pett Ridge, William. A Story teller, 1925, pp. 191-2. 

  7. Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser - Monday 06 November 1871 

  8. East Kent Gazette - Saturday 08 March 1873 

  9. Pett Ridge, William. A Story teller, 1925, p. 1. 

  10. Pett Ridge, William. A Story teller, 1925, p. 2. 

  11. Adcock, Arthur St. John. The glory that was Grub Street; impressions of contemporary authors, 1969, p.272. 

  12. Bennett, Arnold. Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells : a record of a personal and a literary friendship, 1960, 125. 

  13. Pett Ridge, William. A Story teller, 1925, p.278. 

  14. Pett Ridge, William. Erb, 1903 

  15. Pett Ridge, William. Table d’hote, 1910, 

  16. Pett Ridge, William. The Amazing Years, 1917, 4. 

  17. Derby Daily Telegraph - Monday 29 September 1930.