Extravagant storyteller immortalised in novel

Looking down London Road circa 1903. The Horndean Light Railway tracks are on the right.  Picture: Barry Cox Collection

NOSTALGIA: Tramlines await the first cars to climb to top of Portsdown Hill

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On this day in 1763 Melchisedick Meredith appears to have been christened at St Mary’s Church, Portsea.

Twenty-two years later he opened a tailor’s business at 73 High Street which later became Gieves and Hawkes.

Little is known of his early life. He claimed to have come from Wales and to have been descended from a family of princes, but was well known for his extravagant storytelling.

Melchisedick was churchwarden at St Thomas’s in the 1800s and became a prominent Freemason in the town.

Old Mel, as he was known, was immortalised in his famous grandson’s novel Evan Harrington, a satire on snobbery, published in 1861.

George Meredith was born over the High Street shop.

He supplemented his vicarious writer’s income with a job as a publisher’s reader and became influential in the world of letters.

He is said to have discovered George Gissing and Thomas Hardy, but rejected George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Butler’s Erewhon.

His friends in the literary world included Robert Louis Stevenson and JM Barrie and in 1892 he succeeded Tennyson as president of the Society of Authors – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.