Our rare books cataloguer John Smurthwaite has a question for us. What do the following items have in common?
• A printing press
• A chair
• Two shelves of books
• Six boxes of letters and papers
The answer is that they are all connected with Alberta Vickridge (1890-1963), poet and printer. She was one of the three daughters of Albert Vickridge, a wool merchant, and lived all her life at Beamsley House, the family home in Frizinghall, between Bradford and Shipley. As a lady of leisure, she had no need of a paid job, though she did work as a volunteer nurse in World War I, tending wounded soldiers. She could have lived in conventional idleness, but she chose to devote her life to poetry.
Vickridge started writing poems at an early age. In 1905 her father had a collection of her writings printed with the title “The Luck of the Youngest”, as a present for her fifteenth birthday.
In 1926 Vickridge was crowned as a bard at the Southern Counties Eisteddfod in Torquay for her poem “The Forsaken Princess”, the story of a jilted princess who finds that her fiancé is under a witch’s spell. The princess succeeds in breaking the spell and marries her fiancé. As part of her prize Vickridge was presented with a bardic chair which now sits in the University Librarian’s office.
At this time Vickridge had become part of the coterie of poets associated with the Swan Press, a private press in Leeds run by Sydney Matthewman. She soon set up her own publishing operation using a small Albion printing press housed in the attic of Beamsley House. This press can be seen in the Brotherton Library entrance hall.
From 1927 Vickridge produced a quarterly poetry magazine “The Jongleur” which she edited, printed and published. The magazine ran for nearly thirty years. Producing “The Jongleur” on the little Albion press was a very laborious task, and in 1930 she acquired a new Peerless treadle-operated press. In addition to the magazine, Vickridge produced pamphlets of poetry by various writers. Printing and publishing must have been a full-time job for her. It was certainly a labour of love – the modest cover price of one shilling would hardly have been sufficient recompense for her time.
Alberta Vickridge’s tastes in poetry were conservative. She began her writing and publishing in the heyday of literary modernism, but the world of T.S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein passed her by. For thirty years Vickridge and her contributors resolutely continued to produce old-fashioned poems which rhymed and scanned. The final issue of “The Jongleur” appeared in 1956.
The Library has a full set of Vickridge’s own books, a complete run of “The Jongleur”, and many of the poetry pamphlets which she printed at Beamsley House for other writers. We also have a number of her poems in manuscript, and a large collection of letters to her. The collection came to us from Geoffrey Woledge, a former member of Library staff, who had married Vickridge’s sister Hilda.