Category Archives: Newly available (2020)

New catalogue: Archive of David Astor

The catalogue of newspaper editor and philanthropist David Astor is now complete and available online via Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts.

In the middle of July I took a trip to the village of Sutton Courtenay –it was a sunny day, lockdown and there was not much else I could think of doing. Besides, I’d been meaning to visit for a while. I’d heard that George Orwell was buried in the churchyard there. How Orwell came to be buried in Sutton Courtenay is quite a well-known story –  Orwell wanted to be buried in the nearest Church of England cemetery to where he died, but finding there were none in central London with any space, his family appealed to his friends for help, and David Astor, who lived in Sutton Courtenay stepped up. And as it happens, Astor is now buried just behind his friend.

The graves of George Orwell and David Astor at All Saints’ Church, Sutton Courtenay

Orwell was one of many writers who, though not strictly journalists, were recruited by Astor to write for The Observer, but as you can see their friendship extended beyond the literary. When Orwell was suffering from a bout of tuberculosis and was recommended clean air by doctors, Astor arranged for him to stay on the island of Jura, a place where the Astor family had large estates and where David Astor had spent many childhood holidays. It was while staying on Jura that Orwell wrote 1984.

George Orwell is certainly not the only big name to crop up in the David Astor archive – going through his correspondents is almost like reading Who’s Who, including, of course a large amount of correspondence with his mother Nancy Astor, the first woman to take a seat in Parliament. There is, however, a definite lean towards Astor’s philanthropic interests. Members of the anti-apartheid movement feature heavily, especially the noted campaigner Michael Scott, and of course Nelson Mandela.

It’s not just the famous in this archive though, but also the infamous. Astor’s great interest in prison reform led him to become, along with Lord Longford, one of the most high profile campaigners for the release of “Moors murderer” Myra Hindley. Though the campaign to get her parole – or at least an end date for her sentence – was ultimately unsuccessful, Astor and Hindley corresponded regularly up until Astor’s death in 2001. He clearly found her letters indicative of her reformed character. Whether others will – well, they’ll have to read them to judge them.

New catalogue: Archive of Michael Sayers

The catalogue of Irish-American writer Michael Sayers is now complete and available online via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts.

Chances are, Michael Sayers is a name you aren’t familiar with, and a brief glance at the catalogue might suggest that he is interesting because of the people he knew rather than in his own right. After all, being a correspondent of the likes of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and a former flatmate of Rayner Heppenstall and George Orwell is a pretty good claim to fame, right?

Early in his career, Sayers aspired to poetry and writing for theatre, but perhaps more interesting that his purely literary output was his work in journalism. Having arrived in New York in 1936 to work for renowned theatre designer Norman Bel Geddes, Sayers soon found himself writing articles for various left wing magazines, including Friday, PM and the anti-fascist newsletter The Hour. While he was working for The Hour, Sayers met journalist and the newsletter’s founder Albert E. Kahn. Kahn’s aim was to use The Hour as a vehicle for investigative journalism to counteract the pro-Nazi propaganda of organisations such as the German-American Bund and to expose acts of espionage and sabotage. He certainly found plenty of it – Kahn and Sayers collaborated on three books, two of which – Sabotage! The Secret War Against America (1942) and The Plot Against The Peace (1945) – dealt solely on the Nazi threat to the United States. Their third book, The Great Conspiracy: The Secret War Against Soviet Russia (1946) was an international best seller, though with its acceptance of the reasons behind the Moscow Purge trials probably put this book on the wrong side of history.

Books by Michael Sayers and Albert E. Kahn, from MS. 12451/83 and MS. 12451/84

Did everything end happily for Sayers and Kahn? Well… Not entirely. It probably comes as no surprise that both Sayers and Kahn had Communist sympathies, and their journalistic works brought them to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Both were blacklisted. Sayers left America and came back to Europe, living first in Britain, then France. Like many other blacklisted writers he was invited to write scripts for Sapphire Films, working on episodes of The Adventures of Robin Hood under then name Michael Connor. Kahn and Sayers never worked together again. Judging by some of the correspondence in MS. 12451/7, it appears they had a disagreement over royalties, which seems like a suitably writer-y way to end a collaboration.

 

The Library of St Michael’s College, Tenbury

Sir Frederick Ouseley

Sir Frederick Ouseley

One of the latest collections to be added to Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts as part of the ongoing Music retroconversion project is the Tenbury Collection. Built up during the course of the 19th century by the English organist, composer and clergyman Sir Frederick Ouseley (1825-1889), it became one of the most important music collections in private hands.

Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley was born into an upper-class family, the son of the diplomat and orientalist Sir Gore Ouseley (1770-1844), and numbered among his godparents the Dukes of Wellington and York. He was a notable musical child prodigy, reputedly playing duets with Mendelssohn at the age of six and composing an opera aged only eight. (His later compositions (mostly anthems and service settings) are worthy and well-crafted, but generally considered to be uninspired.)

Frederick inherited his father’s baronetcy in 1844, while he was still a student at Oxford, and he graduated from Christ Church in 1846. He was ordained in 1850 and served for a while as a curate in the Anglo-Catholic parish of St Barnabas, Pimlico in London. He later became Precentor of Hereford Cathedral, a post he held concurrently with that of Heather Professor of Music at Oxford, during which time he did much to reform the Music examinations.

As a musician as well as a cleric, Ouseley was greatly concerned by the low standards to which church music (particularly music in cathedrals) had sunk by the mid-19th century. He used his considerable private means to set about building the parish church of St Michael and All Angels on the outskirts of the small market town of Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire, close to the borders with Shropshire and Herefordshire. This mini cathedral was to function as the chapel for St Michael’s College which Ouseley founded as a choir school for boys next door. Here, for well over a century, daily, fully choral services were sung as ‘a model for the choral service of the church in these realms’, right up to the closure of the College in 1985. John Stainer (1840-1901) was appointed by Ouseley as the College’s first organist at the age of only 16 and generations of church musicians subsequently received their training at Tenbury, including George Robertson Sinclair, Christopher Robinson and the composer Jonathan Harvey.

Click here to hear Sir John Betjeman’s 1967 radio programme about St Michael’s College in the series ‘Choirs & Places Where they Sing’.

Ouseley was also a collector, pursuing interests in early music theory as well as music for the church. He started collecting seriously around 1850 and is known to have purchased antiquarian books and scores on an extended visit to the Continent in 1851. He bought from dealers and was also given many items by friends and fellow musicians, as well as inheriting some music from his father. The resulting collection is much wider in scope than one might expect, given his principal sphere of activity.

Ouseley’s collection became the college library at Tenbury and, after his death, it was looked after by eminent librarians, notably E.H. Fellowes (many of the sources for his numerous editions of Elizabethan music came from the Tenbury library) and Harold Watkins Shaw, famous for his ubiquitous edition of Handel’s Messiah, based on one of the highlights of Ouseley’s collection—Handel’s own conducting score of his most famous work, used at the work’s première in Dublin in 1742 and all subsequent performances during his lifetime.

A page from Handel's conducting score of 'Messiah', in the composer’s hand.

A page from Handel’s conducting score of ‘Messiah’, in the composer’s hand. MS. Tenbury 346, fol. 66.

As one would expect, the collection is rich in sacred music, both English and continental, and includes many important manuscript part-books dating from Tudor times. Among these are several sets which formerly belonged to the Norfolk Catholic gentleman and amateur musician, Edward Paston (1550-1630). A number of the Tenbury manuscripts were recently digitized for DIAMM (the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Manuscripts) as part of the AHRC-funded Tudor Part Books Project.

The Cantus part of William Byrd's motet 'Memento Domine'

The Cantus part of William Byrd’s motet ‘Memento Domine’. MS. Tenbury 341, fol. 5r.

Another important source for Tudor and Restoration church music is the so-called ‘Batten Organ Book’ which has enabled several pieces, which otherwise exist only in incomplete sources, to be reconstructed.

A page from the 'Batten Organ Book', featuring the anthem 'This is a joyful day' by John Ward.

A page from the ‘Batten Organ Book’, featuring the anthem ‘This is a joyful day’ by John Ward. MS. Tenbury 791, fol. 257r.

The Tenbury collection also contains unique sources for some of the church music by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), known to most people only from his all-pervasive Canon but clearly a composer of some extremely attractive vocal music, demonstrated in a recent recording by the Oxford-based group Charivari Agréable with the King’s Singers. Thought at one time to be the composer’s autographs, it is now considered more likely that most of the pieces are in the hand of his son, Karl Theodor, who emigrated to America in the early 1730s, one of the first European musicians to take up residence in the colonies.

The collection also contains the most important manuscript source for Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and autograph manuscripts by J.C. Bach, Blow, Boyce, Cimarosa, Galuppi and others. Autograph manuscripts of Ouseley’s own music, as well as his juvenile attempts at composition, can also be found in the collection.

Detail of 'Dido's lament', from Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas'.

Detail of ‘Dido’s lament’, from Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’. MS. Tenbury 1266.

Ouseley’s well-known anthem From the rising of the sun can be heard in a 1965 recording from St Michael’s (at around 24’ 25”).

More surprising, perhaps, is the presence of numerous volumes of 18th– and 19th-century Italian opera and a variety of instrumental music, including a manuscript of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, corrected in the margins by the composer himself.

In addition to approximately 1,500 volumes of manuscripts, the Tenbury library also included many thousands of printed books and music scores, ranging from incunables to octavo editions of Victorian anthems, the latter often inscribed to Ouseley by their composers. Of particular note are a number of rare musical treatises, including two 15th-century books by the theorist Gaffurius (1451-1522)—his Theoricum opus musice discipline (Naples, 1480) and Practica musice (Milan, 1496)—and Praetorius’ famous Syntagma musicum (Wittenberg & Wolfenbüttel, 1614-1620), one volume of which belonged to Johann Ernst Bach and another to Telemann. A project to catalogue the printed collection took place in 1990s and this can be searched in the Bodleian’s main online catalogue SOLO.

The College kept going for nearly 130 years but, in 1985, it finally succumbed to the demographic pressures which made a tiny, specialist school in the middle of nowhere unsustainable in the modern world. For a recording of the final Choral Evensong from St Michael’s (13 July 1985), click here.

Owing to an accidental conflict between Ouseley’s will and the terms of the Trust deed made when he endowed the College, the subsequent fate of the Library was something of a compromise. Most of the manuscripts, which had been deposited in Oxford for safe-keeping since the 1970s, passed directly into the Bodleian’s ownership and the Library was then permitted to buy, at a valuation, items selected from the printed collections. A fundraising campaign followed which happily allowed the Bodleian to acquire all the printed books and music scores of which it did not already have a copy.

A catalogue of the Tenbury manuscripts, made by E.H. Fellowes, was published in Paris in 1935, with later supplements by Watkins Shaw. These form the basis of the online catalogue in Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts. Music scholarship has, of course, moved on a good deal in the last 85 years so, within the constraints of Project resources, every effort has been made to incorporate as many updates as possible to the information in the old catalogues; further amendments can be made as time goes by.

The addition of the Tenbury collection the online catalogue is a major milestone in the project to make the music manuscript catalogues accessible online. As Music Curator, I am most grateful to our funders and the Project team for making this possible. The Tenbury catalogue can be accessed at https://archives.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/4976.

Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music, Bodleian Libraries

Illustration of a duck or goose from 'The Braikenridge Manuscript'.

One of the many illustrations in ‘The Braikenridge Manuscript’. MS. Tenbury 1486, fol. 3v.

Lost Leader: The Archive of Mick Imlah

The catalogue of the archive of the poet Mick Imlah is now available online.*

Michael Ogilvie Imlah, better known as Mick Imlah, was born with his twin sister on 26th September 1956 in Lewisham Hospital to James and Bathia Imlah. Whilst James and Bathia both originally came from Aberdeen, the Imlah family relocated from Bromley in Kent shortly after the twins’ birth to Milngavie near Glasgow, where Mick attended the local primary school.

After a decade or so, the family moved back to Kent and Mick attended Dulwich College from 1968. Whilst at Dulwich he wrote poems as well as a short stories for the school magazine The Alleynian, one of which was inspired by Kafka. His early notebooks, started around this time, were (like his later ones) full of ideas and drafts for verse alongside copious notes about cricket scores and teams.

Mick went on to read English at Magdalen College, Oxford in 1976 where his tutors included John Fuller and Alan Hollinghurst. At Magdalen, he also indulged his love for sport, playing in both rugby and cricket college teams. After graduating with a first in 1979, Mick embarked upon a DPhil on Arthurian myth in Victorian Poetry; though this was never completed, he held junior lectureships at the college until 1988.

Whilst at Magdalen, Mick continued to write poetry and his first pamphlet of poems, The Zoologist’s Bath and Other Adventures, was printed by Fuller’s Sycamore Press in June 1982. In the title poem, a dramatic monologue, an eccentric Victorian evolutionary theorist is convinced that mankind will return to its origins – the sea – and therefore refuses to get out of the bath, having convinced himself that he is developing a fin. Imlah was a perfectionist and his poems in particular would undergo revision after revision as demonstrated by the multiple notes and drafts of poems in the collection (he later admitted, ‘I revise, much too much’).

In 1983, following in the footsteps of Andrew Motion, Mick became editor of the Poetry Review (a post shared at first with Tracey Warr) until 1986. The same year, Mick resurrected the publication of Oxford Poetry. From 1987 to 1990, Mick took an editorial post at the luxury travel magazine Departures (ironically, having previously never travelled very far).

Birthmarks, Mick’s first main collection of poems, was published in 1988. He left Magdalen for London that same year and became Poetry Editor at Chatto & Windus in 1989, a post he held until 1993. His income was supplemented by writing reviews of fiction, non-fiction, television programmes, and films for the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent on Sunday among others. His reviews were written out long-hand in his neat handwriting, ready for the fax machine.

Mick Imlah’s drafts for the poem ‘Birthmarks’, c.1988, MS. 12919/1. With kind permission of the literary executors of Mick Imlah.

After Birthmarks, poetry took somewhat of a back seat until 1992, when the Times Literary Supplement commissioned Mick to write a poem on the centenary of Tennyson’s death, ‘In Memoriam Alfred Lord Tennyson’. This would go on to become, along with ‘B.V.’ (a poem about the poet James Thomson), the sequence ‘Afterlives of the Poets’ in his final collection of poems.

In 1992 he joined the staff of the Times Literary Supplement and in 1995 succeeded Alan Hollinghurst as Poetry Editor, a post he held until his death. Having generally avoided word processing until now, Mick was finally forced into using a computer for this role.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Mick also worked on biographical entries for The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry (published in 1994); wrote an introduction to Anthony Trollope’s Dr Whortle’s School (1999); co-edited with Robert Crawford The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse (2000), which also had a profound effect on his own poetry; and published a selection of verse by Alfred Lord Tennyson for Faber and Faber’s ‘Poet to poet’ series (2004). He published a number of new poems in Penguin Modern Poets 3 in 1995 and the Clutag Press printed Diehard in 2006, a taster of poems for his final collection of poems, then still work in progress.

In autumn 2007, Mick was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. His second – and final – collection of poetry, The Lost Leader, which had been at least 10 years in the making, was published in 2008 and won the Forward Prize for best poetry book of the year. Drawing heavily upon his Scottish roots, Mick also paid tribute to his partner and daughters. Mick died in early January 2009, aged 52, and was buried in Ayrshire after a funeral service at Magdalen College.

The archive contains many drafts of verse and prose: much of the material in the archive (especially the notebooks) demonstrate how the different strands of Mick Imlah’s work (poetry, prose, criticism and review) and interests (particularly cricket) were inextricably entwined. Similarly, there is evidence that Imlah’s notes written at college and university were re-used and re-cycled throughout his career.

– Rachael Marsay

A recording of Mick Imlah reading his poem ‘Muck’ (from The Lost Leader), recorded in 2008 as part of the Archipelago Poetry Evening at the Bodleian Library, can be heard as part of The Bodleian Libraries (BODcasts) series.

*Please note that this collection is not currently accessible to readers as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

The Economist or The Political, Commercial, Agricultural and Free-Trade Journal

A catalogue of the archive of The Economist newspaper is now available online*.

Portrait of James Wilson

Hon. James Wilson by Sir John Watson-Gordon, oil on canvas, 1858, NPG 2189 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The archive was donated to the Bodleian Library in 2017 by The Economist Newspaper Limited. The newspaper, originally called The Economist: The Political, Commercial, Agricultural and Free-Trade Journal, was founded in 1843 by James Wilson (1805-1860), a self-educated businessman, economist and Liberal politician, to campaign for free trade. It was solely owned by Wilson for the first 17 years and he was Editor until 1849. The basis of the paper was a systematic weekly survey of economic data and it quickly became invaluable as a source of trade and financial statistics. Wilson wrote much of the paper himself, assisted by Richard Holt Hutton (1826-1897) and Walter Bagehot (1826-1877). (Bagehot became Editor in 1861.)

The archive has suffered from the bombing of the newspaper’s London offices in 1941, when many records were lost. The bulk of the archive thus dates from the second half of the 20th century. It contains an incomplete set of minutes of the Board of Directors of The Economist Newspaper Limited and related papers, from its incorporation in 1929 to 2015, and correspondence and papers of Managing Directors (later CEOs), Editors, and staff of editorial departments. Other records include materials relating to property, finance, staff, production, and promotion and marketing.

In 1847, James Wilson entered Parliament as MP for Westbury. From 1848 until 1852 he served as Secretary of the Board of Control, which oversaw the East India Company’s relationship with British India. He later served as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Paymaster-General, and Vice-President of the Board of Trade. In 1859 he resigned his offices and his seat in Parliament to sit as the financial member of the Council of India. A bundle of letters received by Wilson and other items addressed to the Wilson family, 1838-1860, was passed to The Economist by Wilson’s great great granddaughter in 2008 and now forms part of the archive. This includes letters to Wilson from Earl Canning, Governor-General of India, Jan-May 1860, during Wilson’s time in India, tasked with establishing a tax structure and a new paper currency, and remodelling the finance system. Wilson sadly died of dysentery in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in August 1860 at the age of 55. These papers complement the correspondence of James Wilson and his family, 1840-1924, concerning political, literary and family matters, acquired by the Bodleian in 1979 (shelfmarks MSS. Eng. lett. d. 468-9), containing letters from Walter Bagehot and Lord Palmerston.

The archive also contains records of the celebration of the company’s 150th anniversary in 1993, and research for The Pursuit of Reason: The Economist 1834-1993 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1993) by Ruth Dudley Edwards. This is an engaging and well-researched history of the newspaper and the personalities behind it. Incidentally, Dudley Edwards is known not only as a historian but also as a writer of crime fiction. One of her novels features a copy of The Economist as the murder weapon!

*Please note that the collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

 

The Composer who Defied the BBC

Robert Simpson. ©Robert Simpson Society

Robert Simpson (1921-1997), was an English composer and writer on music and, from 1951 until 1980, a well-respected BBC producer and broadcaster. His pioneering and popular radio programme ‘The Innocent Ear’ ran for many years introducing the British public to music of lesser-known composers. As well as his work for the BBC, he published a distinguished body of music, including 11 symphonies, 15 string quartets and other chamber music. He was a highly regarded composer and was even afforded the unusual honour of having a society founded in his name during his lifetime (https://robertsimpson.org.uk/). As a particular expert on Beethoven, Bruckner and Carl Nielsen, he wrote extensively and illuminatingly on these and other composers.

Robert Simpson’s contract with the BBC, dated 1953 (MS. Simpson 21).

Housed in the Bodleian’s Weston Library in Oxford, the Simpson collection brings together the archive of the Robert Simpson Society and additional material gifted by the late Angela Simpson, the composer’s widow, and others.

A small section of the Robert Simpson archive

Simpson’s original music manuscripts are in the British Library but the Archive in the Bodleian includes photocopies of many of the music manuscripts, often further annotated by the composer himself. The Bodleian archive also contains original correspondence and writings, broadcasting scripts, concert programmes, recordings and more. It has recently been catalogued for Archives Bodleian (https://archives.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/3681#) as part of the ongoing Music Manuscript cataloguing project. All the archival material quoted in this post can be found in a box bearing the shelfmark MS. Simpson 21.

It reveals that the 1980s were a trying time for Simpson. His disagreements with the BBC, particularly over the Proms, eventually resulted in his resignation, and his passionate hatred for the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher led him to move to the Republic of Ireland in 1986.

In 1980, tensions between various musicians, music producers and the BBC came to a head due to severe cuts in funding, which threatened the loss of a third of the BBC’s musicians and the scrapping of five of its orchestras. In fact, a strike by the orchestras caused the cancellation of 20 Proms concerts that year. Despite this, the BBC were not planning to showcase less music but to increase its output of records and foreign tapes. The Musicians’ Union stated that ‘over 60% of B.B.C. radio output consists of music but less than 5% of radio expenditure is on staff orchestras’ (such leaflets can be seen below), claiming that the BBC had therefore broken its agreement with the Union.

Material documenting the musicians’ dispute with the BBC (MS. Simpson 21)

Robert Simpson disapproved greatly of the BBC’s decision on this issue, believing Britain’s cultural integrity to be at risk. It also becomes clear from the papers in MS. Simpson 21 that the composer, always forthright in his views, was rather irritated by the BBC and those who defended it.

In a letter to Robert Ponsonby, Director of the Proms from 1974 to 1986 and Controller of Radio 3 (who died last year at the age of 92), Simpson scathingly wrote, ‘Your public support of them wins no respect…’. Regarding other people in the music profession who had written to the press in defence of a dwindling cultural life, Simpson declared, ‘I wish I could follow their example, and it is contractual duress not false loyalty that prevents me from doing so’ (12 March 1980). However, just four months later Simpson would rebel against this ‘contractual duress’.

After The Times had jumped the gun and falsely reported Simpson’s resignation on 11 July, Simpson retaliated with a response that the BBC had persuaded him to delay his resignation due to the fragile negotiations with the Musicians’ Union and their wish to avoid negative publicity. However, after the hearsay over Simpson’s relationship with the BBC he brought his resignation forward, just months away from retirement, which would have enabled him to claim a full pension.

In his letter to the editor published in The Times on 18 July 1980 he states ‘I have resigned from the BBC, for reasons wider and deeper than the current argument over the orchestras, which is only the symptom of a larger problem.’ Simpson argues that, ‘When I first joined the Corporation nearly 30 years ago it was a wonderful and promising place to be at, with the Third Programme at the height of its achievement… Since the BBC’s capitulation to the urge to compete on the lowest level with commercial broadcasting values have degenerated.’

Simpson ends this letter with a harsh testimonial: ‘I can no longer work for the BBC without a profound sense of betrayal of most of the values I and many others believe in… It is now necessary for me to be able to say what I wish to whom I wish when I wish, without the shackles imposed by that all too sinister phrase “corporate loyalty”. This is why I have resigned’.

Simpson immediately began to receive overwhelmingly supportive responses from fellow composers, musicians and admirers. Many key phrases such as, ‘courage’, ‘marvellous letter’, ‘what you said certainly needed saying’, and ‘thank you’ jump out from this correspondence, showing how much opposition there was to the BBC’s attitude and its decisions at the time.

A small selection of the responses, all dated 19-20 July 1980
One such letter, dated 19 July 1980, begins with ‘I read your letter… with some sadness as I have obtained great pleasure for many projects with which you have been associated as producer, but also with a feeling of reassurance that there are still people who are prepared to act according to their professed principles… am grateful for your example.’
After his resignation Simpson remained a vocal critic of the BBC and campaigned for music funding. He also continued his career as a composer, completing several further works. With time tensions with the BBC subsided slightly, and his compositions were once again played on BBC stations, although perhaps not as often as they deserve.

Robert Simpson suffered a debilitating stroke in 1991 which all but ended his composing career. He died in 1997, aged 76. The Robert Simpson Society continues today. 2021 marks the centenary of Simpson’s birth so do look out for performances of his music next year. It’s well worth getting to know!

Jen Patterson, Archives & Modern Manuscripts
Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music, Bodleian Libraries,
and Robert Simpson Society Archivist

New catalogue: papers of Edmund Blunden

The catalogue for a collection of letters and papers relating to the poet Edmund Blunden is now available online.*

Perhaps best remembered for being a war poet, Edmund Blunden is commemorated alongside fellow war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Many of his war poems, however, were written in retrospect and have the added poignancy of being written by an author over whose entire remaining life the First World War cast a long shadow. His poetry, like that of his literary hero John Clare, often evoked nature and explored how the natural world was affected by the devastating effects of war.

Born in London on 1st November 1896, the eldest of nine children, Edmund’s formative years were spent in Yalding, Kent. He attended Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, Sussex. When he left school in 1915, he joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as a Second Lieutenant and fought on the front line. His war years were not without distinction and he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917. He would later write about his experiences in his acclaimed prose work, Undertones of War, published in 1930.

During the last year of the war, when on camp in Suffolk, he met, fell in love with, and married Mary Daines, a local 19-year-old girl. Their first child, Joy, was born the following year but tragically died after only a few weeks. Joy’s death was to haunt him for the rest of his life. Mary carefully kept the letters Edmund sent her during their courtship when he was away with military duties; as she requested, however, her own love letters to him have not survived.

Edmund Blunden and Mary Blunden (née Daines), by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1920 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

After demobilisation in 1919, Edmund started studying at The Queen’s College, Oxford but this was cut short, partly for financial reasons. He travelled alone to Buenos Aires in 1922 and then accepted the post of professor of English at the Imperial University of Tokyo in 1924. Both times he left Mary and his family behind, their daughter Mary Clare having been born in 1920 and a son John Clare in 1922. Edmund, always a prolific correspondent, sent home copious letters, postcards, and Japanese prints, which Mary and later Mary Clare kept carefully. However, the strain of living apart took its toll on an increasingly fragile relationship. Edmund returned home in 1927 and the couple were divorced in 1931.

Despite an inauspicious start at Oxford, Edmund became Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Merton College, Oxford between 1931 and 1947. In these years he met and married the writer, Sylva Norman (née Nahabedian). The marriage, perhaps based more on intellectual need than compatibility, was short lived. Shortly after the marriage was dissolved in 1945, he married Claire Margaret Poynting, a young teacher and Oxford graduate, who shared his love of literature and cricket. They had four daughters.

Edmund returned twice again to the Far East – firstly in a diplomatic role between 1947 and 1950, before returning for a longer period as Professor of English Literature at the University of Hong Kong between 1954 and 1964. This time, though, he took his entire family with him.

Publicly acknowledged for his works to literature, in 1951 he was made a CBE, received the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry in 1956, and was made a companion of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962. Upon his retirement in 1964, the family returned to Suffolk. Though his health was deteriorating, Edmund Blunden was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1966, a post he had to resign after two years. He died at his home in Long Melford in 1974 aged 77.

The collection contains an extensive series of correspondence, dating from 1918 to the 1960s, mainly comprising letters sent from Edmund Blunden to his first wife Mary. The collection also includes commonplace books, scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings, various papers and correspondence relating to biographies, and papers relating to Mary Blunden.

– Rachael Marsay

*Please note that the collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

New catalogue: Papers of C. Day-Lewis and his wife Jill Balcon

The catalogue of the poet and novelist C. Day-Lewis and his wife, Jill Balcon, is now complete and available online via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts.* These papers were generously donated by Daniel Day-Lewis and Tamasin Day-Lewis to the Bodleian Library in 2012.

C. Day-Lewis was Poet Laureate between 1968 and 1972; his earliest collection of poems, Beechen Vigil, was published in 1925, but the publication of Transitional Poem in 1929 saw Day-Lewis’s true emergence into the poetry world. Along with W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Louis MacNeice, he became one of the influential young poets of the 1930s (perhaps unfairly given the collective name of ‘MacSpaunday’ by Roy Campbell). For some years a member of the communist party, his early poetry collections, including Magnetic Mountain (1933), reflected his left-wing political views. In 1934, Day-Lewis also wrote a manifesto, A Hope for Poetry, claiming the young poets of the generation to be the direct descendants of the previous generation of poets, in particular Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wilfred Owen, and T.S. Eliot.

With a young family to support, Day-Lewis also turned his hand to writing detective fiction under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. A Question of Proof, published in 1935, was the first of twenty Blake novels featuring the detective Nigel Strangeways. The success of the Blake novels allowed Day-Lewis to give up teaching to become a full-time writer. The novels achieved global popularity and were translated into several languages including Polish, Finnish, and Japanese.

Cecil Day-Lewis, by Howard Coster, bromide print, 1954, NPG x1808 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Day-Lewis worked for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War. In 1941, he began an affair with the novelist Rosamond Lehmann which was to last several years. After the war, Day-Lewis took up a part-time position at the publisher Chatto & Windus, a role he maintained until the end of his life; his autobiography, The Buried Day (1960), was published by them.

In 1948, Day-Lewis met Jill Balcon, a young actress and the daughter of the Ealing film producer Michael Balcon. Despite family opposition (Day-Lewis was still married to his first wife at the time), the relationship flourished and the pair married in 1951. They had two children, the writer Tamasin Day-Lewis and the actor Daniel Day-Lewis. The family moved to Greenwich in 1957.

C. Day-Lewis was awarded a CBE in the 1950 King’s Birthday Honours and was elected Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford in early 1951. In 1964, he took up the post of the Charles Eliot Norton Chair in Poetry at Harvard. Both Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon championed the reading of poetry and literature and were active members of the Apollo Society along with Stephen and Natasha Spender, and Peggy Ashcroft.

Draft autograph manuscript of poem by C. Day-Lewis, ‘At East Coker’, n.d. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 6681/38. By kind permission of the estate of C. Day-Lewis.

Just before C. Day-Lewis’s death, the couple filmed a television series entitled A Lasting Joy at their home in Greenwich exploring some of Day-Lewis’s favourite poems. Day-Lewis died at the home of his friends, Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard in May 1972, composing poetry almost until the end. He was buried in Stinsford, Dorset, not far from his literary hero, Thomas Hardy.

Jill Balcon was a successful actress and broadcaster in her own right, becoming for many people the voice of George Eliot. After her husband’s death, Jill continued to act in both radio and film productions. She moved to a cottage in Steep, Petersfield and became the neighbour of Alec Guiness. She worked hard to promote Day-Lewis’s poetic legacy, editing both Posthumous Poems and The Complete Poems. She died in July 2009 and was buried near her husband in Stinsford.

The collection includes literary manuscripts, including early drafts, of Day-Lewis’s poetry and prose. The collection also contains photographs and audio recordings, alongside a wealth of professional and personal correspondence demonstrating their wide connections to the worlds of literature, drama and scholarship.

-Rachael Marsay

*Please note that this collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

Have I Got A Hymn For You

‘A Hympne of Thanksgiving, composed by John Roe’ (MS. Eng. c. 7963, fol. 71) has recently been catalogued as part of the current project to incorporate the Bodleian’s music-related manuscripts into the online catalogue. The item contains the text of a previously unknown seventeenth-century hymn. It is in the hand of the herald and antiquary, Sir William Dugdale (1608-1686), many of whose other papers are held by the Library. Dugdale held the title of Chester Herald of Arms in Ordinary from 1644 to 1660. As part of the role, heralds would travel across England to deliver messages on behalf of the monarchy.

An early form of social media!

The hymn celebrates the Battle of Preston (1648), which ended with a victory of the Parliamentarians under the command of Oliver Cromwell over the Royalists and Scots led by the Duke of Hamilton during the English Civil War. John Roe is credited by Dugdale as the ‘composer’; however, his identity cannot be confirmed.

As an Assistant Archivist, I had the opportunity to take part in a Digital Editions Course at the Taylor Institutions Library. This course entailed for the digitisation of a chosen text, and creation of an XML file consisting of a transcription.

In order digitise the text, I had taken the photos using a digital camera and employed the software programme GIMP to ensure high-resolution and quality images. I then used Oxygen Editor to write the XML coding. The image and XML files were uploaded onto ORA data for future use and to provide access for researchers and students without the need to have the physical copy, which after about four hundred years is, unsurprisingly, showing some wear and tear. You can find these at the ORA deposit site here.

Following the convention of diplomatic transcription, I kept the spellings the same as they appear in the text; some of the writing though is illegible. For example, in stanza 6 (shown in the image above) I was unable to transcribe the last word in line 2: ‘‘Ye kings give ease, ye people […] / I even I will sing / And sweetly raise my voice in praise / To England’s God and king.’

Can you read the missing word? Heaze, wave, haze, or something else?

This catalogue is now online.

New catalogue – Oxford Women in Computing: An Oral History project

The catalogue of the Oxford Women in Computing oral history project is now available online.

This oral history project captures the experiences of 10 pioneering women who were active in computing research, teaching and service provision between the 1950s and 1990s, not only in Oxford, but at national and international levels. The rationale for the project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, through grants held by Professor Ursula Martin, was that women had participated in very early stages of computing; aside from a few exceptions their stories had not been captured – or indeed told. Among the interviewees are Eleanor Dodson, methods developer for Protein Crystallography and former research technician for Dorothy Hodgkin and Linda Hayes, former Head of User Services at the Oxford University Computing Service – now University of Oxford IT services. Leonor Barroca left Portugal in 1982 as a qualified electrical engineer to follow a boyfriend to Oxford – later that year she was one of three women on the university’s MSc in Computing course. Leonor also worked briefly as a COBOL (common business-oriented language) programmer for the Bodleian Libraries.

Themes throughout the interviews, which were conducted in 2018 by author and broadcaster Georgina Ferry, include:

  • career opportunities and early interests in computing
  • gender splits in computing
  • the origins and development of computing teaching and research in Oxford
  • development of the University of Oxford’s Computing Service and the commercial software house the Numerical Algorithms Group (NAG).

The Oxford Women in Computing oral histories serve as a source for insight into nearly half a century of women’s involvement in computing at Oxford and beyond.  The collection will particularly be of use to those interested in gender studies and the history of computing.

The interviews can be listened to online though University of Oxford podcasts here.

Communications programmer Esther White in the early days of the University of Oxford’s Computing Service. © University of Oxford