Episode 29: On The Brighton Road by Richard Middleton

Richard Barham Middleton

When I first read On The Brighton Road by Richard Middleton (known as Richard Barber Middleton in order to distinguish him from the many other Richard Middletons) I thought the story probably dated from the 1930s.  So when I saw that Richard Middleton was of a previous generation I was surprised because his writing has a very modern feel.

Richard Middleton was very well regarded by other writers and I think his short story on the Brighton Road is a little masterpiece. One of his most famous stories is the ghost ship — in fact said to be one of the best ghost stories in the English language! I’m sure that at some point in the future I’ll read it on the Classic Ghost Stories Podcast.

The Preface to Middleton’s ghost ship and other stories is by Arthur Machen that well-known writer of horror and weird tales. Machen knew Middleton on the time in London particularly at the new Bohemian club. He was also a companion of Lord Alfred Douglas.

Middleton was born in  Staines in the Greater London area which was then in the county of Middlesex in 1882 to a father who was an engineer, and a mother who had no profession, so presumably the family were well-off enough so that she didn’t have to work. Middleton died aged only 29, 1911 by suicide. In the pictures of him on the Internet they actually looks older than 29.

Stephen Wayne Foster did an autobiographical article on Middleton using what little historical material there is. He was apparently a sensitive boy and unhappy as a child. 

As well as Arthur Machen thinking a lot of him pros master Raymond Chandler author of detective fiction such as the big sleep said that he thought Middleton was extremely talented, so much did Raymond Chandler put off his own writing career because he thought he could never be as good as Middleton.

Middleton went to be a bank clerk aged 19 but didn’t stick it and decided he wanted to make his career first as a journalist and then as a poet and started out on the Bohemian lifestyle in London.  Allegedly he spent his nights drinking in the New Bohemian Club in London.  In that he fits the stereotype of the damaged, substance abusing writer, that grew from that scene and which persists. 

Middleton’s most famous poem was The Bathing Boy which is very well regarded, and reading in  The Bathing Boy, I wondered, like many other authors of ghost stories, whether Middleton was actually gay, but I read in Stephen Wayne Foster’s article that he fell in love with various young women and mooned after them. 

Middleton failed to make a career in journalist and moved to Belgium, in his mid 20s. Middleton spent the last years of his life in Brussels in Belgium and was treated there for depression. The treatment at that time was with chloroform but, sadly, Middleton used the chloroform to end his life.




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