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The archives of poet Anne Ridler and printer Vivian Ridler are now available

The archive of two Oxford literary lights, poet and librettist Anne Ridler and her husband the printer Vivian Ridler, is now available to readers in the Weston Library.

Anne Barbara Ridler OBE (30 Jul 1912–15 Oct 2001), the daughter of Rugby School housemaster Henry Bradby and childrens’ author Violet Bradby, was an English poet whose first job was as a secretary for the poet T.S. Eliot at the publisher Faber and Faber. Early in life she met the poet, novelist and theological writer Charles Williams, a member of Oxford’s Inklings group (along with J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield, who also have extensive archival holdings in the Bodleian, see for example the Barfield catalogue). Anne maintained a close friendship with Charles Williams until his death in 1945 and her archive includes their extensive correspondence. She married the printer Vivian Ridler in 1938 and raised a family while also publishing ten volumes of her poetry and several verse plays (Anne Ridler in the Poetry Archive). Later in life she translated, mainly Italian, libretti for opera companies including the English National Opera. A practicing Anglican all her life, she had a particular interest in Christian poetry and wrote and lectured on poetry and poets including William Shakespeare, Thomas Traherne and T.S. Eliot. Her Collected Poems were published in 1994. She was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1998 and was awarded the Cholmondeley Award for poetry. In 2001 she was appointed OBE for services to literature.

Vivian Hughes Ridler CBE (2 Oct 1913-13 Jan 2009) was a printer and typographer who founded a private press while still in school. In 1931 he apprenticed to a printing firm in Bristol and in 1936 he took a job with Oxford University Press (OUP) as assistant to the Printer of the University of Oxford, John Johnson, whose personal collection now forms the core of the Bodleian’s John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, one of the largest and most important ephemera collections in the world. In 1938 Vivian married the poet Anne Bradby, who in addition to being the daughter of Henry and Violet Bradby was the niece of Sir Humphrey Milford, the publisher at the London office of OUP, and as a result Vivian was summarily fired by John Johnson, who considered Sir Humphrey Milford a rival. During World War II, Vivian Ridler served with the Royal Air Force as an intelligence officer. After he was demobilised in 1947 he became a lecturer in typography and a freelance designer. In 1948 he returned to the OUP and from 1958 until he retired in 1978 he held the post of Printer to the University of Oxford at OUP and from 1968-1969 was president of the British Federation of Master Printers. With his own Perpetua Press and other private imprints like Amate Press he published around thirty books from his garden shed during his retirement, including College Graces of Oxford and Cambridge (a different edition can now be found in the Bodleian shop) and some of Anne Ridler’s own work, including Profitable wonders: aspects of Thomas Traherne (SOLO).

Also newly catalogued and available is a separate album of early jobbing printing work by Vivian Ridler’s Perpetua Press.

The Elspeth Huxley catalogues are now online

Black and white portrait of Elspeth Huxley as a young woman, 1935, held by the National Portrait Gallery, UK

Elspeth Josceline Huxley (née Grant), 3 May 1935
by Bassano Ltd, half-plate glass negative
NPG x26719, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The three catalogues covering the Elspeth Huxley archive are now online [1] [2] [3].

Elspeth Josceline Huxley (née Grant) (1907-1997), an author and journalist who wrote extensively about Kenya and East Africa, was raised on her parents’ struggling coffee farm 30 miles from Nairobi. Educated mainly at home (except for a short stint at an English boarding school before she managed to get herself expelled) she spent her youth in Kenya but returned to England to study for an agriculture diploma at Reading University and then at Cornell in the United States. She never lived in Kenya again but the country continued to occupy her and she visited often and travelled widely across Africa and the rest of the world with her husband, Gervas Huxley, who established the International Tea Marketing Expansion board. They married in 1931 while she was working as a press officer, and Huxley continued to write to earn money.

Her first major commission was the biography of Hugh Cholmondeley, a leader of the European settlers in Kenya. White Man’s Country: Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya (1935) became a definitive history from the settlers’ point of view.  Following this, Huxley stayed briefly on the Kikuyu reserve and out of this experience came her first novel, Red Strangers (1937), about the Kikuyu experience of white settlement of Kenya. She went on to write numerous detective novels including 1938’s Murder on Safari, as well as a stream of journalism on topics including Africa, farming and environmental issues. From the 1950s to the 1980s Huxley published further works about Kenya including a history of the Kenya Farmer’s Association, Out in the Midday Sun: my Kenya (1985) which was an edited collection of tales from European settlers, travel accounts and analyses of East Africa, and her semi-autobiographical, and most popular, works The Flame Trees of Thika (1959) and The Mottled Lizard (1962). Flame Trees of Thika was adapted for television in 1981. Huxley also wrote biographies of explorers and pioneers including David Livingstone and Florence Nightingale and spent time on commissions relating to Africa including a tour of central Africa from 1959-1960 as an independent member of the Monckton commission to advise on that region.

Her archive includes correspondence and diaries as well as working notes and research for numerous books including White Man’s Country and her well-reviewed economic and social analysis of British East Africa The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: A Journey Through East Africa (1948).

For further information see the Elspeth Huxley article in the Dictionary of National Biography.

The archive of John Masefield is now available

On the tote bag that you can purchase from Blackwell’s bookshop on Oxford’s centrally located Broad Street, there is a poem by John Masefield:

I seek few treasures, except books, the tools
Of those celestial souls the world calls fools.
Happy the morning giving time to stop
An hour at once in Basil Blackwell’s shop
There, in the Broad, within whose booky house
Half of England’s scholars nibble books or browse.

Black and white portrait of John Masefield by Elliott & Fry, 1910s, National Portrait Gallery [NPG x82495], CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Deed

John Masefield by Elliott & Fry, 1910s, NPG x82495, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Deed

Masefield, whose archive catalogue is now online, was Poet Laureate for thirty-seven years, and wrote many collections of poems, adventure novels, children’s novels, and plays. And yet when I asked in Blackwell’s out of curiosity whether I could purchase a copy of his poems, I was met with quizzical looks. Few had heard his name, and his works are not stocked. During my time as an intern for the Bodleian Library’s Archives and Modern Manuscripts department, I have learned a great deal not just about archiving, the diligence required, and the many departments involved – conservation, rare books, digital archiving, web archiving – but I have also discovered much about the man behind the tote bag.

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New catalogue: Poems for Anthony Thwaite

The title page of Poems for Anthony Thwaite, 1980

The title page of Poems for Anthony Thwaite, 1980

A volume of manuscript poems written by some of the greatest poets of the twentieth-century has been catalogued online and is now available in the Weston Library.

As Ann Thwaite records: ‘Early in 1980 I wrote to a great many poets, ones whom I thought Anthony admired, asking them if they would be prepared to write out…a poem for him, one they thought would give him pleasure’. The inspiration was a book that Siegfried Sassoon had compiled for Thomas Hardy’s 80th birthday in 1920.

Sixty three poets responded, and the resulting collection includes Philip Larkin’s contribution ‘The View at Fifty’ (unpublished at that time), John Betjeman’s ‘In A Bath Teashop’ (in a hand showing the effects of Parkinson’s Disease), Seamus Heaney’s ‘North’, Fleur Adcock’s ‘Future Work’, Ted Hughes’ ‘The Kingfisher’, Jenny Joseph’s ‘Welfare’, Paul Muldoon’s ‘Ireland’ and Kingsley Amis’ ‘Pill for the Impressionable’ (with an additional ‘Three little tips’).

The original manuscript volume is accompanied by a facsimile copy which contains an additional poem by George Szirtes and an explanatory afterword by Ann Thwaite. The facsimile can now be found in our book collections [order on SOLO].

Anthony Thwaite (1930-2021) was an English poet, critic, broadcaster and editor of the poems and letters of his friend, the poet Philip Larkin. The poets collected in this volume had all been published or broadcast by Anthony Thwaite as literary editor at The New Statesman (1968-1972) and co-editor of Encounter (1973-1985), as editor of the poetry list at publishing company Secker & Warburg, as editor at publisher André Deutsch, or as a radio producer at the BBC and literary editor of the BBC’s The Listener (1958-1965). He also regularly reviewed books for The Observer, Sunday Telegraph and Guardian newspapers and judged numerous literary competions. Ann Thwaite (1932-) is a biographer, including of the authors Frances Hodgson Burnett, Edmund Gosse and A.A. Milne; an author of children’s books; and a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement. She won the Duff Cooper Prize in 1985 for her biography of Gosse. Her AA Milne biography was the Whitbread Biography of the Year in 1990.

Preserved in Time: A Snapshot of Moss Side in the Archive of Daniel Meadows

Moss Side, Manchester, spring of 1972. On a sunny day, a group of children gather round an old barber’s shop, set into a row of single-storey Victorian buildings. They jostle for space as they peer at photographs on display in the window. The eldest among them holds up a toddler on their hip—perhaps a sibling, relation, or friend—to better see the photographs. To their left, outside the shop next door, stands a rack of second-hand clothes for sale. To the right is Jimmy Thomson’s Tattoo Parlour. Three teenage girls stand outside the tattoo shop, watching the flurry of activity. [1]

Moss Side covers just 1.84 square kilometres of Manchester, pushing up against Hulme to the north and Whalley Range to the south. [2]. In the 1950s, this neighbourhood became home to a small but growing Caribbean population, early arrivals of what is now known as the Windrush Generation. In the 1950s and 60s, many Caribbean people chose to move to Manchester where they knew others, family or friends, or if they had been stationed in nearby Lancashire during the war. Settling in and around Moss Side, a Caribbean community soon laid down roots in the neighbourhood. [3]. In the 1950s, Caribbean people made up the second-largest ethnic group in Manchester after white British people and by 1981 there were over 6,000 people from the Caribbean living in the city. These people came predominantly from Jamaica, but there were other from countries such as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and what was then known as the West Indies Associated States. [4].

Moss Side has long been stigmatised as an ‘inner-city problem area.’ [5]. In 1981, protests against racist and aggressive policing tactics in Moss Side turned into violent clashes lasting two nights, further consolidating the view of the neighbourhood as a site of violence and crime. This followed similar events in Brixton, Toxteth and Handsworth, caused by high unemployment, poor housing provision, a lack of investment, and racial tensions. [6]. However, photographs of Moss Side held in the Bodleian Libraries Special Collections show a very different story. Taken almost a decade before the disturbances of 1981, but twenty years after the first arrivals from the Caribbean, they are a window into the daily life of this deprived, but neighbourly area.

The shop described above, around which the children gathered to peek at photographs in the window, was the Free Photographic Shop, which had been set up by a photography student at Manchester Polytechnic called Daniel Meadows. Hailing from rural Gloucestershire, Meadows came to Manchester in 1970 and lived in Moss Side. In January 1972 he rented a barbershop at 79b Greame Street, converting it into a photographic studio in which local people could have their picture taken free of charge. Once developed, Meadows’ subjects received a copy of their photograph to keep. [7]. The studio was open for two months during which time Meadows photographed over 200 people, despite the shop being open only one day per week. [8].

The Free Photographic Shop at 79b Greame Street, MS. Meadows 46

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Notice to readers: Admissions office closure

Exclamation mark graphicDue to staff illness, the  Bodleian Library’s Admissions Office, based in the Weston Library, will remain closed today, 15 August, but will reopen from Wednesday 16 August (with a brief closure from 12:00-13:00 on Friday 18 August).

We offer sincere apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

Reader notice: Library catalogue downtime

Requesting items from closed stacks

Exclamation mark graphicBetween 16 – 23 August, you will not be able to use SOLO to request items from closed stacks or offsite storage. We strongly recommend that you place any requests through SOLO by 5pm on 11 August.

Libraries will extend item due dates, and items will not be returned to the stacks during the upgrade period.

We will be running a limited service to handle urgent stack requests placed between 16 – 23 August. To place a request, email book.fetch@bodleian.ox.ac.uk. You will only be able to pick up ordered items from the Bodleian Old Library or Weston Library. Please allow 48 hours for your item to be delivered.

 

Orders for manuscript and archival material will be unaffected. Rare Books held onsite can be ordered by emailing specialcollections.bookings@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

Please email specialcollections.enquiries@bodleian.ox.ac.uk for further assistance.

Photographer Helen Muspratt’s archive is now available

A bride in a flower-decorated Oxford punt, being steered by the groom or a groomsman, c. 1960s

The punting bride, a wedding photograph by Helen Muspratt, Ramsey & Muspratt, c. 1960s, ©Bodleian Libraries

The archive of the portrait and documentary photographer Helen Muspratt is now catalogued and available in the Weston Library.

Helen Muspratt (1907-2001) first made her name as a skilled, experimental portrait and documentary photographer in the 1930s.

Muspratt was introduced to Lettice Ramsey (1898-1985) by their mutual friend Fra Newbery, the retired head of the Glasgow School of Art. Lettice Ramsey was a Cambridge graduate and a widowed young mother of two who had excellent contacts in Cambridge and in the winter of 1932, Muspratt joined her in Cambridge to create the studio Ramsey & Muspratt. They soon expanded into Oxford. Some of those Ramsey & Muspratt photographed during this period were the intellectual and left-wing luminaries of the day, including Virginia Woolf, C.P. Snow, Dorothy Hodgkin, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt, as well as Julian Bell, who was Lettice Ramsey’s lover. Muspratt’s photographs in the 1930s are notable for her experimental approach, including the use of double negatives and solarisation, inspired by the photographer Man Ray.

Muspratt met her husband, Oxford University graduate and Communist Party organiser Jack Dunman (d. 1973) in Cambridge where he was working for the railway. In 1936 Muspratt went on a tour of the Soviet Union with a group organised by the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR, and her photographs from the trip were used in lecture tours to drum up support for the Soviet Union during World War II. With a commission from the Left Book Club in 1937, Muspratt did her last major documentary series, producing haunting photographs of out-of-work miners and labourers in South Wales and Liverpool, and she also joined the Communist Party. Ramsey and Muspratt’s business partnership was formally dissolved at the end of February 1945, but their respective Cambridge and Oxford studios retained the name Ramsey & Muspratt, and the pair remained friends.

From World War II onwards, while her husband worked as a full-time, rural Communist Party organiser and editor of The Country Standard, Helen Muspratt supported her family as a hardworking studio photographer. From her studio on Cornmarket Street in Oxford she staged lively portraits of everyone from babies to brides to new graduates. Muspratt also loved to photograph architecture, and she photographed Oxford and its environs for John Betjeman. She did a final documentary series when she was commissioned in 1946 by a group of campaigning doctors to photograph elderly patients in the Victorian workhouse-like conditions of the Poor House near Wantage.

Her archive, which mainly comprises prints and negatives, is a wonderful window into Oxford and its environs in the latter half of the twentieth century, as well as pioneering experimental photography of the 1930s. It also includes correspondence with her husband and her parents that are relevant to British Communist Party and left-wing political history. Muspratt’s work, including her 1930s experimental portraiture, is celebrated in the book Face: Shape and Angle by her daughter Jessica Sutcliffe (available from the Bodleian shop).

[Guest post] Lewis Namier and the First World War: the “S.O.S. signal” letter of 5 January 1915

Opening paragraph of the letter from Lewis Namier to Robert Brand written 5 Jan 1915 [from MS. Brand 26/1, Bodleian Library]. The letter opens: "I am so sorry to trouble you on a Mon, but this letter is truly written under the S.O.S. signal." Copyright Lewis Namier

[Click to enlarge] The opening paragraph of the letter from Lewis Namier to Robert Brand, 5 Jan 1915 [MS. Brand 26/1, Bodleian Library], ©Lewis Namier

One of the occasional delights of research is the happy chance discovery of a document unrelated to your project but of value in another field. This is especially satisfying when it relates to a subject famous for the limitations of its archival sources.

Working in the Papers of Robert Brand, sometime Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford and well-connected banker at Lazard Brothers, I came across a six-page letter, written in scratchy black ink, from L. B. Namier. It is dated 5 January 1915, when Namier was a soldier in the Royal Fusiliers in a PSU (public schools and universities) battalion in Epsom. It is located in MS Brand 26/1.

Lewis Bernstein Namier (1888-1960) became, after the war, one of the most admired historians of his generation. Deploying immense knowledge and meticulous scholarship, he set rigorous new standards in documentary research and pioneered the use of prosopography – and delivered his findings in powerful prose. Constructing an account of his life is hampered by the lack of a substantial personal archive.

There are three major studies of Namier. In Lewis Namier: A Biography (1971), his widow, Julia Namier, is protective of his reputation but captures a sense of him as an individual and gives an account of his brief period in the army based on what Namier had told her. She also utilised various unsorted materials Namier had left, but he burned many of his papers in June 1940, perhaps in fear of a Nazi invasion. Namier’s collaborator on the History of Parliament project, John Brooke, helped bring order to these sources for her. On completing her book, she also destroyed some documents (especially her own letters) in this collection, which is now held by the John Rylands University of Manchester Library.

Linda Colley’s concise volume is a deft, incisive analysis of Namier’s outlook and talents as a historian. She tracked down a number of his letters in various collections in the Bodleian Library but her main sources were the same as those available to Julia Namier. It is not surprising, therefore, that her narrative of this period largely follows Julia Namier’s treatment.

D. W. Hayton’s superb large-scale biography, Conservative Revolutionary: the Lives of Lewis Namier (2019) is the product of painstaking research in an impressive range of archives and benefits from his discovery of a substantial number of documents in the History of Parliament offices, sources unavailable to Linda Colley. He makes use of them to challenge some of Julia Namier’s claims.

None of these studies makes any kind of reference to the letter of 5 January 1915; nor do they cite any other text by Namier on his time in the army. It appears, therefore, to be the only example of Namier’s own words revealing his attitudes and depicting his circumstances in this period. The letter also contains details that allow us to expand our understanding of this episode in his life.

By the time Namier wrote the letter he had been in the army for over four months and had a mounting sense of frustration with life in the camp and was growing desperate to find a means of escape – he twice describes his message as an “S.O.S. signal.”

Hayton accurately explains how unpleasant an experience Namier found his time in Epsom and uses the letters of another soldier serving with the Royal Fusiliers to capture the daily routine of recruits – the drilling and the long days full of menial duties (Hayton, p. 68). But the 5 January 1915 letter provides Namier’s vivid descriptions. He objects to having “every atom of self-respect knocked out of me”; and concludes, “Mentally and morally it amounts to slow, gradual bleeding to death.”

The letter also reveals how Namier enlisted as an ordinary soldier, thereby hoping to contribute to the war effort more quickly than “if I waited for a commission.” But he has become deeply disillusioned by his daily experience as a soldier and by the change in the composition of his unit. It began with many public school and university men with whom he shared similarities of outlook but virtually all his friends have departed for commissions and “my foreign extraction makes it much harder for me to be left among strangers.” Namier is desperate to get away.

Yet there is ambivalence in what he seeks. On the one hand, he writes of wishing to secure a commission in the Army Service Corps, since he could bring to it important skills. This, however, is hindered by his colonel who is “wild” about people leaving for commissions. Nevertheless, he asks Brand if he could intercede on his behalf. On the other hand, he mentions how F. F Urquhart, Namier’s tutor when he studied at Balliol College, Oxford, was trying through Lord Eustace Percy, the diplomat and former fellow student at Balliol, to secure some work for him at the Foreign Office. Hayton discounts the role of Balliol and Oxford (Hayton, p. 70) yet Namier’s words indicate that Julia Namier was accurate when she referred to “Sligger” Urquhart’s endeavours (Julia Namier, p. 119).

There appears to be no record of Brand’s response to the request for help in obtaining a commission. Perhaps he knew through his contacts about Percy’s efforts and regarded them as more promising. In any event, this line of escape from Epsom proved more fruitful. On 1 February Percy invited Namier to the Foreign Office, the wheels were set in motion for his transfer, and by 14 February Namier had been discharged from the army and begun working at Wellington House, the Foreign Office’s new propaganda bureau aimed at promoting American sympathy for the Allied cause in the war. Meanwhile, later in the year Brand himself also joined the civilian war machinery as a member of the Imperial Munitions Board of Canada.

Michael F. Hopkins
Sassoon Visiting Fellow, Bodleian Library Oxford, Hilary Term 2023,
and University of Liverpool