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A.J. Cronin

In the foyer of the quaintly named Strathclyde Homes Stadium in Dumbarton, there hangs a framed typewritten letter. It is dated 1972 and is from a supporter of the club to the secretary at that time John Hosie. It congratulates Dumbarton on their return to the top division after a gap of 50 years and the writer recalls his childhood supporting The Sons and on occasion being “lifted over” the turnstile (a common practice in times past so that kids didn’t have to pay). The letter was from one of the best known and prolific writers of the twentieth century, A.J.Cronin. Born about three miles from where I sit, here is Cronin’s story. (Thanks to Wikipedia)

Archibald Joseph Cronin (July 19, 1896–January 6, 1981) was a Scottish novelist, dramatist, and non-fiction writer who was one of the most renowned storytellers of the twentieth century. His best-known works are The Citadel and The Keys of the Kingdom, both of which were made into Oscar-nominated films. The Dr. Finlay character originated in Cronin’s 1935 novella, Country Doctor, which led to further stories that were collected in Adventures of a Black Bag. These provided the basis for the long-running BBC television and radio series entitled Dr. Finlay’s Casebook.
Born in Cardross, Dunbartonshire (now in Argyll and Bute) and raised in Yorkhill, Glasgow, Cronin was the only child of a Protestant mother, Jessie Montgomerie Cronin, and a Catholic father, Patrick Cronin, and would later write of young men from similarly mixed backgrounds. Cronin was a precocious student at Dumbarton Academy and won many writing
competitions. Due to his exceptional abilities, he was awarded a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Glasgow. It was there that he met his future wife, Agnes Mary Gibson, who was also a medical student, and a Protestant. Cronin graduated with highest honours in 1919, being awarded an M.B. and a Ch.B.. He went on to earn additional degrees, including a Diploma in Public Health (1923) and his MRCP (1924). In 1925, he was awarded an M.D. from the University of Glasgow for his dissertation, entitled “The History of Aneurysm.”
Cronin served as a Royal Navy surgeon during World War I, like the medical hero of his novel Shannon’s Way. After the war, he trained in various hospitals before taking up his first practice in Tredegar, a mining town in South Wales. In 1924, he was appointed Medical Inspector of Mines for Great Britain. He drew on his experiences researching the occupational hazards of the mining industry for his later novels The Citadel, set in Wales, and The Stars Look Down, set in Northumberland. He subsequently moved to London and had a thriving practice on Harley Street. While on holiday in the Scottish Highlands, Cronin wrote his lengthy first novel, Hatter’s Castle, in the brief span of three months. It was quickly accepted by Gollancz, the first and only publishing house to which the manuscript had been submitted. The novel was a great success, launching his career as a prolific author, and he never returned to practicing medicine.
Many of Cronin’s books were bestsellers which were translated into numerous languages. His strengths included his narrative skill and his powers of acute observation and graphic description. Although noted for its deep social conscience, his work is filled with colorful characters and witty dialogue. Some of his stories draw on his medical career, dramatically mixing realism, romance, and social criticism. In addition to stressing the need for tolerance, Cronin’s works examine moral conflicts between the individual and society as his idealistic heroes pursue justice for the common man. The Citadel incited the establishment of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom by exposing the inequity and incompetence of medical practice at the time. Not only were the author’s pioneering ideas instrumental in the creation of the NHS, but the popularity of his novels played a substantial role in the Labour Party’s landslide 1945 victory.[1]
In the late 1930s Cronin moved to the United States with his wife and three sons, living in Greenwich, Connecticut before eventually settling in New Canaan. He also had homes on the French Riviera and in Bermuda, and he summered in Blue Hill, Maine. From an early age, he was an avid golfer, and he loved fishing as well. Ultimately, he returned to Europe, residing in Lucerne and Montreux, Switzerland for the last twenty-five years of his life and continuing to write into his eighties. He died on January 6, 1981, in Montreux.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks Robert – I like this kind of interesting snippet of social history. I didn't know about Cronin's letter to the club, though I knew he'd been born locally

  2. Is the Cronin letter still there, Robert? I’ve known of AJ, but only just discovered the Sons connection… There’s a piece about him in the Herald today: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/harry-reid/remember-when-cronin-was-king-of-the-castle-1.1137055?25700

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