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Allen, Edward Heron-locked

  • Brian W. Harvey

Allen, Edward Heron- (1861–1943), lawyer and scholar, was born in London on 17 December 1861, the fourth child of George Allen (1823–1911), head of the firm of Allen & Son, Solicitors, Soho, London, and his wife, Catherine Herring or Heron (b. 1830). His father's firm, of which Heron-Allen became the senior partner in 1889, had been founded by his grandfather Emmanuel Allen in 1788, and acquired many county and parochial appointments, which were held in succession by his descendants down to Heron-Allen himself.

Educated at Harrow School from 1876, where he developed an interest in classics, music (particularly violin playing), and science, Heron-Allen entered articles at his father's firm in 1879. The office being temptingly placed in the violin-making district of Soho, Heron-Allen attached himself at the same time to the distinguished French émigré maker nearby, Georges Chanot, and made there two accomplished violins. Keeping careful notes he then produced in 1884, the year of his admission as a solicitor, Violin-Making as it Was and Is, a comprehensive and pioneering treatise still in print a century later. At the same time he developed an interest in reading personality through a study of hand and finger formation (as well as palmistry), and his Manual of Cheirosophy (1885) and The Science of the Hand (1886) also went through many subsequent editions. Becoming well known at a young age in these two disparate fields, he contributed violin-related articles for the second edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians and for the Dictionary of National Biography on British violin-makers and astrologers. In 1886 he was invited to the United States on an extended lecture tour, the subject being cheirosophy. This was hugely successful and remunerative. He spoke and demonstrated in New York, Boston, Chicago, and other American cities. While there he published under various pen-names the first three of a number of short novels or stories of an early science fiction type which have become collector's pieces. They also reflect his fascination with the borderline between science and the occult.

Returning to the more mundane world of legal practice in London after three years of living a literary and bohemian existence, Heron-Allen nevertheless found time to develop other interests. Notably, following on from his study of Persian, he published in 1898 a literal translation of the 'Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam' from the then earliest manuscript in the Bodleian Library, followed by other studies of various versions up to 1908. Fascinated by whether Khayyam was a mere voluptuary or a sublime philosopher, he lectured widely on the place of the rubai in Persian poetry. He also published a translation entitled The Lament of Baba Tahir (1901) from a little-known Persian dialect, Luri.

The death of his father in 1911 enabled Heron-Allen to retire from practice at the age of fifty to Large Acres, the house he had built at Selsey Bill, Sussex. There he produced a large quarto volume on the history of Selsey Bill (1911), built a library for his connoisseur's collection of 12,000 books (the rare violin book content of which was bequeathed to the Royal College of Music), and devoted himself in the main to an intensive study of the foraminifera of the local coast. He published, often with Arthur Earland, numerous studies of a proto-zoological nature, and put together over the rest of his life what the British Museum, to which the collection was donated, describes as one of the two most important type slide collections of recent foraminifera extant in England. It was largely in recognition of his work in this field that he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1919. He had served during the First World War in intelligence, playing a significant part in the production of propaganda, facilitated by his linguistic abilities. Edward Heron-Allen's Journal of the Great War was published in 2002, with a biographical introduction by the editors, Brian W. Harvey and Carol Fitzgerald. The original typescript of this, together with much other unpublished source material, has been deposited at the West Sussex Record Office, Chichester.

Heron-Allen was twice married, first on 1 July 1891 to Marianna, daughter of the artist Rudolf Lehmann. She died in 1902. In November 1903 he married Edith Emily (1872–1943), daughter of William Brown Pepler MD, with whom he had two daughters. The younger one, Armorel, a fortnight after graduating with a first in zoology at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, in 1930, died tragically in a car crash, a catastrophe which he had forecast and secretly recorded in writing many years previously after unwittingly observing her hands. Much affected, he nevertheless completed some of his scientific work, presenting various collections and items to appropriate museums before his death on 28 March 1943 at Large Acres, survived by his elder daughter and, for some two months only, his widow. His ashes were interred at Church Norton, in Selsey.


  • B. W. Harvey, ‘The power of the pen’, in B. W. Harvey, The violin family and its makers in the British Isles: an illustrated history and directory (1995), 269–80
  • W. M. Morris, British violin makers: classical and modern, being a biographical and critical dictionary (1904), 58–62
  • R. L. Hodgkinson, ‘The Heron-Allen and Earland type slide collection of foraminifera in the British Museum (Natural History)’, Journal of Micropalaeontology, 8/2 (1989), 149–56
  • B. W. Harvey, ‘Heron-Allen's fidiculana’, The Strad, 104 (1993), 484–6
  • R. A. Gregory, Obits. FRS, 4 (1942–4), 447–54
  • WWW, 1941–50
  • private information (2004)


  • NHM, corresp., drawings, papers
  • NMM, naval autograph collection
  • priv. coll., MS journals
  • BL, corresp. relating to motto for City of Westminster, Add. MS 40166h
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with John Johnson
  • U. Reading L., letters in files of Bodley Head Ltd
  • U. St Andr. L., letters to Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson
  • W. Sussex RO, papers incl. typescript of Edward Heron-Allen's journal of the Great War and source materials


  • Van der Weyde, photograph, 1884, repro. in E. H. Allen, Violin-making as it was and is, frontispiece
  • Hardman, portrait, 1928, repro. in Harvey, Violin family and its makers, pl. 19

Wealth at Death

£75,810 15s. 3d.: probate, 2 Oct 1943, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society