Category Archives: Newly available (2024)

May Day celebrations

by Bethany Goodman

Happy May Day to those who celebrate, and well done if you’re still awake from May-eve yesterday.

May Day has a rich history in Oxford, with Magdalen College Choir playing a particularly large part in the day’s proceedings if you’re dedicated enough to make it into town for the 6am start.

Celebrations have happened across the country for centuries, with standard festivities including the anointing of a May Queen, maypole dancing and Morris dancing.

The artist Tom Phillips had an abiding interest in photographic postcards, collecting around 50,000 of them from junk shops and flea markets and painstakingly categorising and sorting them by theme. This rich collection is now in the Bodleian (catalogue online soon) and one box, ‘Patriotic & Fete: May Queen’, presents a view of the enduring nostalgia of May Day. It especially captures the role of children in the celebrations, from a particularly young Queen (where is her Regent!), to a proud note highlighting the dedication of a group of children to their contribution in the festivities.

Figure 1 The May Queen (MS. 19966/73)

Figure 2 Maypole dancing (MS. 19966/73)

 

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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