Colwyn Edward Vulliamy was born in Glasbury, Radnorshire, Wales, on 20 June 1886, the son of Edwyn Papendick Vulliamy and his wife Edith Jane (nee Beavan), and baptized on 18 July 1886 at Llowes, Radnorshire. The surname derived from a clockmaker named Francois Justin Vulliamy (1712-1797), born in Pay de Vaud, Switzerland, who moved to Paris and then to London. Justin Vulliamy set up shop in Pall Mall in partnership with Benjamin Gray, watchmaker to King George II, and married Gray's daughter, Mary.
|1902 portrait by Percy Elizabeth Flora Thomas|
His son, Colwyn Edward Vulliamy, was educated privately and as a young man began studying art under Stanhope Forbes at the Newlyn art colony, near Penzance, Cornwall, in 1910-13. Soon after, he wrote his first book, a Fabian tract on Charles Kingsley.
His father died on 29 March 1914, leaving an estate of £8,290; Glasbury House and various properties were left to his wife and the remainder to his son.
There is some confusion about his wartime experiences. An obituary in The Times (the chief source of biographical material for Vulliamy) notes "In the war of 1914-18 he held a commission in The King's Shropshire Light Infantry, serving in France, Macedonia and Turkey. Transferring to the Royal Welch Fusiliers, he was in 1918 attached to headquarters of the 28th Division as ADC and camp commandant, and, after the armistice, was appointed education officer to the division. He was demobilized with the rank of captain."
Attempting to unpack and prove this information has proven quite tricky as available army records for Vulliamy are particularly badly scanned and almost impossible to decipher. Certainly the story isn't as straightforward as the obituary claims.
Vulliamy enlisted for service in the regular army in 1914 but failed to pass the medical test. "His action is all the more appreciated because, owing to the recent death of his father, he has many responsibilities at home," wrote Charles W. Simpson in a letter to the Cornish Telegraph (24 September 1914). "If every man with domestic ties would come forward we should soon hear the last of those who are at liberty to volunteer and fail to do so. Buck up the Newlyn artists!"
He was able to enlist in 1916 and was posted to Army Reserve on 27 January 1916. He married Eileen Muriel Courtenay Hynes on 29 April 1916 in Penzance, Cornwall, and was mobilized shortly after on 14 July 1916. He was sent to France with the 6th Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry but fell ill and was hospitalized in September 1916. After recovering, he performed Military Police duties and seems to have thereafter served with the Military Foot Police, possibly in Macedonia and Turkey. He was discharged from the Military Foot Police on 6 April 1918, aged 31. He also served as 2nd Lieut. with the 3rd (Res.) Garrison Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and was made a temporary Captain whist employed as an Education Officer between January and November 1919. He was made a Captain in 1922.
Whilst serving in the near east, Vulliamy developed an interest in archaeology and his interest grew when he returned to civilian life. He published a number of books on the subject throughout the 1920s, also editing the letters of Tsar Nicholas II to the Tsaritsa, 1914-1917, and a selection from the volumes of The Red Archives. In the 1930s he penned biographies of Voltaire, Rousseau and John Wesley, "the latter a genuine feat of sympathy, for Vulliamy's own standpoint was fundamentally agnostic, and 'enthusiasm', in the eighteenth century sense, had no part in his make-up," revealed The Times, continuing,
And then Vulliamy, always a learned Johnsonian, conceived the idea of writing a biography of literature's most celebrated biographer—James Boswell. The book, which appeared in 1932, was calculated to cause some stir. Although it disposed effectively of the legend of Boswell's stupidity, it presented him in no very pleasant guise, making of him a conceited and drunken clown and even going so far as to cast doubt on his sanity. The case was, without a doubt, rather strained, although like almost everything of Vulliamy's it was well documented and vigorously handled.A biography of Quaker and Founding Father William Penn from the same period was the basis for Lance Comfort's 1942 film Courageous Mr. Penn starring Clifford Evans. He also penned biographies of Mrs. Delany, Mrs. Thrale and George III.
Each of Rolls' novels seems to have had something to distinguish them: "Clever character drawing as well as a skillfully devised mystery distinguishes Anthony Rolls' Lobelia Grove (Bles). By way of a change from the remote country mansion that is frequently the setting for a mystery story the action in this instance passes in a garden city," reported the Lincolnshire Echo (2 November 1932). Family Matters was well received by Dorothy L. Sayers who thought "The characters are quite extraordinarily living, and the atmosphere of the horrid household creeps over one like a miasma." The story was something of a farce, with a number of dysfunctional family members and friends intent on finishing off the detestable Robert Kewdingham but whose efforts counteract one another.
Rolls' final novel, Scarweather, was briefly reviewed by the Yorkshire Post thus: "Mr. Rolls usually gives us a quite commonplace setting for his crime stories, which tends to make them all the more realistic, but in Scarweather he breaks new ground with a story about archaeology. To everyone but the narrator the crime and how it was committed must have been fairly obvious, but it is certainly a new departure to bury the corpse in a barrow so that the skeleton may be taken for a relic of the Stone Age." (28 November 1934)
He joined the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps during World War Two, but relinquished his commission on 30 March 1940 due to ill-health.
It was with a demi-semi-autobiographical volume, Calico Pie, Vulliamy showed clear signs of coming into his own as a satirist. The free and flowing admixture of the fictitious in this volume that gave promise of excellent entertainment, and it was the series of biographies of wholly imaginary nineteenth-century characters, set against an accurate and detailed historical background, that provided the satirist with his best opportunities. In A Short History of the Montagu-Puffins (1941); The Polderoy Papers (1943); Doctor Philligo (1944); Edwin and Eleanor (1945); Vulliamy often combined instruction and sharp-edged humour to admirable purpose.
In the 1950s, Vulliamy returned to writing crime novels with Don Among the Dead Men (1952), described by Martin Edwards as "The Vicar's Experiments, but this time the deranged killer was an Oxford academic." It was filmed in 1964 as A Jolly Bad Fellow. Five more novels followed, the last published in 1963.
Vulliamy died in Guildford, Surrey, on Saturday, 4 September 1971, aged 85. His wife Eileen had died in 1943, aged 57. They had two children: daughter Patricia Drift Vulliamy (14 February 1917-1987) and son John Sebastian Papendick Vulliamy (17 March 1919-2007), an architect who married children's writer and artist Shirley Hughes. Their children include author Ed Vulliamy and children's book illustrator Clara Vulliamy.
Calico Pie: An autobiography. London, Michael Joseph, 1940.
A Short History of the Montagu-Puffins. London, Michael Joseph, 1941.
Doctor Philligo: His journal & opinions. London, Michael Joseph, 1944.
Edwin & Eleanor: Family Documents, 1854-56. London, Michael Joseph, 1945.
The Poldenoy Papers. London, Michael Joseph, 1946.
Henry Plumdew: His memoirs, experiences and opinions. London, Michael Joseph, 1950.
Don Among the Dead Men. London, Michael Joseph, 1952.
The Proud Walkers. London, Chapman & Hall, 1955.
Body in the Boudoir. London, Michael Joseph, 1956.
Cakes for your Birthday. London, Michael Joseph, 1958; New York, British Book Centre, 1959.
Justice for Judy. London, Michael Joseph, 1960.
Tea in the Abbey. London, Michael Joseph, 1961.
Floral Tribute. London, Michael Joseph, 1963.
Novels as Anthony Rolls
The Vicar's Experiments. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1932.
Lobelia Grove. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1932.
Family Matters. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1933.
Scarweather. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1934.
Novels as Twim Teg
Jones: A Gentleman of Wales. London, Chapman & Hall, 1954.
Charles Kingsley and Christian Socialism. London, Fabian Society, 1914.
Prehistoric Remains in West Penwith. St. Ives, J. Lanham, 1921.
Unknown Cornwall. London, John Lane, 1925.
Our Prehistoric Forerunners. London, John Lane, 1925.
Immortal Man. A study of funeral customs and of beliefs in regard to the nature and fate of the soul. London, Methuen, 1928.
The Red Archives. Russian State papers and other documents relating to the years 1915-1918, selected and edited by C. E. Vulliamy, translation by A. L. Hynes, with an introduction by Dr. C. T. Hagberg Wright. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1929.
The Letters of the Tsar and the Tsaritsa, 1914-1917, translated by A. L. Hynes from the official edition of the Romanov correspondence, edited and with notes by C. E. Vulliamy. London, John Lane, and New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1929.
The White Bull, with Saul and various short pieces by Votaire, translated, with an introduction and notes, by C. E. Vulliamy. London, Scholartis Press, 1929.
The Archaeology of Middlesex and London. London, Methuen & Co., 1930.
Voltaire. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1930.
John Wesley. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1931; 3rd ed., London, Epworth Press, 1954.
Rousseau. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1931; Port Washington, N.Y., Kennikat Press, 1972.
James Boswell. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1932
William Penn. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1933.
Judus Maccabaeus. A study based upon D. Quarto Karadyne's translation of the Ararat codex, edited by C. E. Vulliamy, illus. Gladys Hynes. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1934.
Aspasia. The life and letters of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, 1700-1788. London, Geoffrey Bles, 1935.
Mrs. Thrale of Streatham: Her place in the life of Dr. Samuel Johnson and in the society of her time. London, Jonathan Cape, 1936.
Royal George. A study of George III. London, Jonathan Cape, 1937.
Outlanders. A study of imperial expansion in South Africa, 1877-1902. London, Jonathan Cape, 1938.
Crimea: The Campaign of 1854-56. London, Jonathan Cape, 1939.
English Letter Writers. London, Collins, 1945.
Ursa Major. A study of Dr. Johnson and his friends. London, Michael Joseph, 1946.
Men and the Atom. London, Michael Joseph, 1947.
Byron. London, Michael Joseph, 1948.
Prodwit's Guide to Writing. London, Michael Joseph, 1949.
The Anatomy of Satire. An exhibition of satirical writing compiled & edited by C. E. Vulliamy. London, Michael Joseph, 1950.
Rocking Horse Journey, Some views of the British character. London, Michael Joseph, 1950.
The Onslow Family, 1528-1874. With some account of their times. London, Chapman & Hall, 1953.
Little Arthur's Guide to Humbug. London, Michael Joseph, 1960.