Sometimes when we catalogue a collection, an interesting story appears as a tangent. The life of Arthur Arathoon Paul is one of those stories.
We’ve recently been working on the Society for the Promotion of New Music archive. Amongst the papers was a box of creative writing from someone called “Arthur Arathoon Paul”. His unusual middle name was intriguing, particularly as a quick search seemed to suggest that he wasn’t a professional musician, or composer. As I love a historical puzzle, I decided to look a bit deeper.
Helpfully, a colleague had come across some more clues – it seemed that Arthur had left the SPNM around £100,000 in his will (about £1.7 million today) in 1967. And there seemed to be a connection to a G. Paul who was involved in music in some way. Thus armed, I took to the internet. A quick websearch suggested that that unusual name, ‘Arathoon’ was Armenian in origin. Thanks to a well known genealogy website, I found an Arthur in several British records and followed the breadcrumbs. This is his story…
Who was Arthur Paul?
He was born in 1896 in Singapore, in the Straits Settlement (part of the British Empire) to Thaddeus Paul and Mary Pauline Arathoon. Arthur’s parents were both from important Armenian families in Singapore, a small number of whom (including the Paul, Arathoon, Sarkies and Stephens families) had built properties including hotels, churches and were merchants and traders.
It’s worth noting that these “Armenians” were actually from the city of Isfahan, which is in modern-day Iran.
The first we see of Arthur in British documents is the 1901 Census. He appears to be staying with his mother and older sister Mary Sophia in Dulwich, London (helpfully for us), with the Stephens family.
By 1911 the Pauls (now with younger son Gerald but not Thaddeus) were living permanently in Hampstead, London, with a small staff of servants. They lived alongside merchants and stockbrokers, and the odd celebrity.
Arthur next appears in 1915 when he joined the 28th London Battalion (the ‘Artists Rifles’). Incidentally, their headquarters in London is now a venue called The Place which hosted SPNM concerts.
He enlisted on the 11/12/15, went to France on 5/3/16 and was sent home 6/7/16 then was then discharged in September 1916! So he had a pretty short war. The reason for discharge was “being no longer fit physically for war service”. Considering that the 1/28 Rifles were running an Officer Training Corps base at the time, it looks like he was injured in a training accident. From the dates in his creative writing books, Arthur spent the rest of the war staying at Selma and East Cliff Manisions in Bournemouth writing jocular romantic short stories.
After the war Arthur became an independent gentleman. When asked to give a profession, he used ‘merchant’ (perhaps when helping with the family business) and ‘author’. A selection of his poems was published in 1929 but the rest seem to be unpublished. He also had a go at writing music in the 1940s and we have his manuscript book with this work.
Arthur never married and died without a direct heir (more on that below).
So what about his family? His elder sister Mary married a Mr Galistan/Galestan (another prominent family from Singapore).
Gerald, his younger brother, was born c. 1904. Gerald trained as a barrister following education at Pembroke College. He worked for a firm called Escombe, Mcgrath and Co before quitting to run the family business on the death of his father Thaddeus. In his spare time Gerald was a songwriter.
In the 1920s he collaborated with Billy Mayerl on the compostion of songs like, ‘Love’s Lottery’ ‘Did Tosti Raise His Bowler Hat (When He Said Goodbye)’, I Loved, I Lost‘, ‘Lullaby Baby’ and Georgie Porgie which was a big hit. He was credited as the lyricist Gee Paul. He also wrote the song Never Again on his own.
Arthur’s immediate family faced almost complete tragedy in the 1930s-1940s.
Mary Sophia (already a widow) died in 1930, leaving a small fortune to her father Thaddeus. He then passed away, in London, the following year. Most tragically, Gerald died of heart disease, still in his 30s, just before Christmas 1938, leaving a small part of his own fortune to a charity helping poor or sick musicians. He died shortly before the premiere of Keep Smiling, and so never got to see his song on the big screen. Finally, Arthur’s mother Mary died in 1942. Arthur was the only one left.
However, one last breadcrumb from the archive shows that he still had some family in Britain.
Arnold (1909-1971) and Cecil (1913-1983) were the sons of Mary Arathoon’s sister Lily and were Arthur’s cousins. Both lived in the North of England.
We still haven’t completely solved the mystery of why Arthur left a fortune to the SPNM, but they were very glad he did. Following years of financial insecurity, the money allowed them stability at a crucial time and contributed to the future careers of composers such as Peter Maxwell Davies. If you know anything about this fascinating family please get in touch!