In many ways an earlier version of Robert Maxwell (q.v.), Horatio William Bottomley was born at 16 St. Peter Street, Bethnal Green, London. His birth certificate gives his father as William Bottomley, a tailor's cutter, and his mother as Bottomley's wife, Elizabeth, the sister of George Holyoake. However, it is more likely that his real father was Charles Bradlaugh (q.qv.). William Bottomley died on the 14th. July 1863 at the age of thirty-eight, and Elizabeth followed him two years later. Horatio was sent to Josiah Mason's Orphanage in Birmingham although, later, he was to boast that he had been educated at the University of Life. At the age of fourteen, he was sent to work as an office boy for a firm of builders in Birmingham, but soon returned to London, where his sister Florence had remained. (She was to marry a furrier's clerk named Charles Dolmann, and is buried in Highgate.) After a couple of jobs as a wood engraver and a haberdasher's assistant, Horatio became an solicitor's clerk and, in 1880, married Eliza Norton, a dressmaker's assistant who was described in 1972 by Bottomley's biographer, Alan Hyman, as "a silly woman who had less influence on him than his favourite collie dog." They were to have one daughter, Florence. In 1883, he became a partner in the firm of solicitors and, the following year, started his first newspaper, the first of what was to become a chain. In 1887, he stood for Parliament as the Liberal candidate for Hornsey, but was defeated by a small majority by Mr. Stephens of the ink manufacturing family. In 1893, he was declared bankrupt and prosecuted for conspiring to obtain money from the shareholders of the Hansard Union. Although £600,000 out of the capital of one million pounds could not be accounted for, Bottomley conducted his own defence and was pronounced Not Guilty. His next venture was in Australian gold mines; most of the shares were completely fraudulent, but made Bottomley enough money to buy a mansion at Upper Dicker near Eastbourne in Sussex, a vast cellar of Champagne, an equally vast number of mistresses, and a number of racehorses. During this period, Bottomley's Company Secretary was about to fire the office boy for stealing stamps, but Bottomley told him not to do so, on the grounds that, "after all, we've all got to start in a small way." Another unsuccesful attempt to stand for Parliament followed at South Hackney in 1900 ; this, however, was immediately after the Boer War, and he lost by only 280 votes in the Conservative landslide. In 1906, however, there was a Liberal landslide, and he was elected by a large majority. Two months after his election, he founded the magazine "John Bull" which, in spite of receiving an average of four libel actions each week, became a phenomenal success. Another court appearance followed in the same year, concerned with the administration of his fraudulent gold mines; and, again, he was acquitted. In 1912, however, he was declared bankrupt, with liabilities of £233,000, and was forced to resign from the House of Commons. He had had the foresight to transfer the ownership of The Dicker to his son-in-law, and did not have to reduce his expensive hobbies. Throughout the First World War, "John Bull" became notorious for the ferocious language it used against the Kaiser and, indeed, anything German. Bottomley travelled throughout the country raising funds for the war effort and was regarded as an unofficial Chief Recruiting Officer. Incidentally, his racing colours were red, white and black, the same as those of Wilhelm II, but he refused to change them "for the German Emperor, like my horses, will never win." After the Armistice, "John Bull" launched an appeal for readers to purchase War Savings Certificates. This was vastly oversubscribed and most of the money went into the proprietor's pockets, so much so that he was discharged from his bankruptcy in time for the General Election of December 1918, in which he was re-elected at South Hackney. More of the subscribers' money went to buying two newspapers, the National News and the Sunday Evening Telegraph. In 1921, a former associate of his, Reuben Bigland, printed a pamphlet in which he described "how he gulled poor subscribers to invest One Pound Notes in his Great Victory War Bond Club". Bottomley took the bait and sued for criminal libel. In a manner reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's case against the Marquess of Queensberry, Bigland was acquitted and Bottomley was arraigned for trial at the Old Bailey on a charge of fraudulently converting to his own use sums of money entrusted to him by members of the public. The case for the prosecution was led by the famous King's Counsel, Travers Humphreys, and Bottomley was found guilty on six charges out of seven, and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. In his memoirs, Travers Humphreys wrote: "It was not I who floored Bottomley, it was Drink. The man was a drink-sodden creature whose brain would only be got to work by repeated doses of Champagne." As a result of the verdict, he was obliged to resign from the House of Commons, one of only three Members in the twentieth century to have undergone this indignity, and was declared bankrupt for the third time. It is said that he was sewing mail-bags in his cell when the padre looked in and exclaimed, "Ah, Bottomley, sewing?" to receive the reply, "No, Padre, reaping!" In July 1923, he was transferred to Maidstone Gaol and, in 1927, was released two years early, in view of his good conduct. After his release, he attempted to revive "John Bull" under the title "John Blunt", but no-one was interested and, in October 1928, it folded after five months. Bottomley attempted to go on a lecture tour of South Africa, but the tour was abandoned after only two lectures. On the 7th. February 1930, Eliza Bottomley died at The Dicker. A week after that, their daughter Florence married for the second time, to a South African planter, and returned to his native country. Bottomley was forced to go bankrupt for a fourth time, and The Dicker was handed to Florence's first husband, in settlement of many outstanding debts. His mistress, a former chorus girl named Peggy Primrose, took him to live at her London flat and attempted to organise a lecture tour of the English provinces, but he was banned by most towns and he was reduced to telling his stories at the Windmill Theatre in the intervals betwen the naked girls. After only a few nights, he collapsed on stage with a heart attack. He recovered from this, but collapsed again and was taken to the Prince Francis Ward of the Middlesex Hospital, suffering from cerebral thrombosis caused by arteriosclerosis. He survived an operation, but had a sudden stroke and died. He was cremated at Golders Green. His obituary read : "What opportunities he had, but how sadly they were wasted! He might have been almost anything, but for one fatal defect." A clause in his will stated that he wanted his ashes to be scattered on the gallops where the horses trained at Alfriston, near The Dicker. No-one collected the urn for four years until, in 1937, his nephew contatced Peggy Primrose, who was in poor health, and the two of them drove down to Sussex and carried out his last wish.
Bio by: Iain MacFarlaine
Cremated, Ashes scattered, Specifically: Lower Dicker, Sussex, England
Eliza, Norton Bottomley
1860–1930 (m. 1880)