Crime in Special Collections

Peter Robinson Archive image
Peter Robinson Archive, page from notebook for ‘Dry Bones that Dream’ (BC MS 20c Robinson/02/08).  Image credit Leeds University Library.

Literary Archivist, Sarah Prescott, talks about the growth of our Crime Fiction Collection.

Special Collections has recently started to collect the archives of writers of Crime Fiction. Our fascinating collection includes the papers of 3 writers who have made significant impacts on crime writing.  All have varying connections to Leeds.

Peter Robinson a Leeds alumni who now lives in Canada, Robinson is known for his crime novels set in Yorkshire featuring Inspector Alan Banks. His latest novel ‘Sleeping in the Ground’, the 24th Banks novel, was published in July.

Sophie Hannah  now lives in Cambridge but lived in West Yorkshire whilst her husband worked at the University of Leeds. Hannah is a poet and internationally bestselling writer of crime fiction. She has twice been commissioned by the Agatha Christie estate to write an original story featuring Hercule Poirot.

Frances Brody  is a Leeds native.  Brody (who also writes as Frances McNeil) has written extensively for theatre and radio. She is best known for a series of crime novels set in 1920s Yorkshire featuring Kate Shackleton.

It is interesting to compare these archives with each other. The archives show a wide variety of writing practices, from rough notes scrawled on the back of dental appointment cards, to notebooks carefully filled with research on a particular subject.

The collections all show the care and attention each writer pays to developing and keeping track of plots. This is particularly relevant to crime writing, where ensuring that alibis are believable, using red herrings and planting subtle clues are key to a successful work.

These 3 literary archives were catalogued over the summer by staff in Special Collections and are now available for use in the Reading Room.

Bradford’s Bard – Alberta Vickridge

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.

Edward Clodd – a man with a talent for learning and friendship

This month we focus our attention on a new accrual of photographs.  The photographs feature the anthropologist, writer and banker Edward Clodd (1840-1930).  A talented writer Clodd was also renowned for his ability to forge lifelong, close friendships with many preeminent scientific and literary authors.

As a young man Clodd joined the London Joint Stock Bank.  After a day at work he would read and study.  Clodd was a prolific user of free libraries.  Interested in philosophic and religious debate, he attended church to listen to the arguments of leading churchmen of different denominations.  This stimulated his interest in science and in 1869 Clodd joined the Royal Astronomical Society.

Clodd’s first book ‘The Childhood of the World’ was published in 1873. This was an introduction to evolutionary anthropology for children, describing recent discoveries about prehistoric man.  Clodd went on to write further books on academic subjects for children and many publications on philosophy, science and folklore.

Photo of Clodd and Meredith
Edward Clodd with George Meredith, taken by Clement Shorter. Image credit Leeds University Library

Clodd had numerous literary and scientific friends including Sir Ray Lankester, George Meredith, Clement Shorter and Thomas Hardy.  Some of them belonged to the Rationalist Group associated with Thomas Huxley and Samuel Lang.  Clodd regularly invited friends to his home Strafford House in Aldeburgh for house parties and our photographs were taken during these events.

Special Collections holds a considerable number of letters written to Clodd by his friends and associates.  Correspondents include Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and Louis Compton Miall.  The letters show Clodd having lively discussions with his friends about reading and publishing material on philosophy, science and literature.  His opinions were evidently highly valued.  In 1910 Miall asked Clodd to read the proof of his history of biology before its publication.

Clodd’s ability to develop close friendships is indicated by the author George Meredith’s comments in a letter of 8 December 1886 ‘Your visit to the chalet marks a happy day with me … When us two touch earth I see that we are brothers’.  By 1908 Meredith addressed Clodd as ‘Dear friend’ and shared the latter’s grief at the death of his son Arnold.  James Milne the literary editor of the Daily Chronicle wrote on 10 May 1914 ‘I’d be quite content to spend the remainder of my abode in this life at Aldeburgh’.  Clodd obviously knew how to make his guests feel welcome!

Commemorating Geoffrey Hill

To mark the release of a Stand magazine Special Edition on Geoffrey Hill, we explore his literary archive

The Geoffrey Hill literary archive is one of the treasures of Special Collections. This near complete record of Hill’s work covers his creative output from the 1940s up to the 2007 collection ‘A Treatise of Civil Power’.

The archive is remarkable not only for its range, but for the detail and evidential value of the material. Nearly 70 notebooks show the minutiae of the research and drafting behind Hill’s poetry. A single poem could be revised many times over several years (and notebooks), before taking on its final form.

Other parts of the archive document Hill’s teaching work at the Universities of Leeds, Cambridge and Boston. Detailed correspondence with publishers, universities, colleagues, friends and associates is also included.

Hill as a child
Geoffrey Hill as a child with a lawnmower

The image shown here is from an often overlooked series in the archive: photographic portraits of Hill (BC MS 20c Hill/8/3). This covers professional and amateur photographs of Hill taken throughout his life.

This photograph of Hill, presumably taken in the garden of his parents’ house in Bromsgrove, is a particularly evocative item.

The photograph is also part of a larger archive: of portraits of Hill throughout his life, or notebooks for poems which would draw on childhood experience. When seen in this context, the individual image becomes part of a much wider network of evidence of a life and work.

Stand Magazine will shortly produce an issue focusing on Hill, including some unpublished poems by him.

Walking Home with Simon Armitage

Collections Assistant Ruth Burton writes about her experience working on the Simon Armitage Archive.

What do we need to find our way? A map? A guidebook? poetry? Poems might not be the first things you put in your rucksack before you head out to the hills, but they can provide new and sometimes startling perspectives on the landscape.

As part of the Simon Armitage archive, Special Collections holds physical and digital material relating to Walking Home: Armitage’s account of his 2010 Pennine Way walk. This includes his journey notebook, prose and poetry drafts; guidebooks; maps; proofs and over 200 photographs.

These materials together show how complex our relationship with landscape is. Ordnance Survey maps identify the Pennine Way as geographical terrain, while guidebooks show the route as a repository of history. These perspectives on landscape are combined in Armitage’s writing with other elements, personal and public, real and imagined. His Pennine Way journey notebook shows the different ways in which landscape can be approached through prose and through poetry: how writing both shapes, and is shaped by, our surroundings.

In Walking Home, Armitage writes that it is ‘in some ways, more essential to know where you’ve been than where you’re heading’, a comment that is relevant to both the historic and the literary past.  Embedded in the Pennine Way are some pertinent historical lessons: the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall for example, ‘in the end a shrine to failure […] and as much a statement of insecurity as one of power.’

Writing, too, benefits from looking back. The Walking Home materials include initial book proposals which show how physical and logistical challenges shaped the project. More broadly, Armitage repeatedly looks back to a poetic past. Invoking literary tradition from Homer’s Odyssey and the journey of Gawain and the Green Knight, to the more specifically Pennine writing of Ted Hughes  or W.H. Auden, he shows how poetry works to locate the reader, if not always to calm them. That it can help us to take our bearings, and find our way.

An online resource including digital mapping of the Simon Armitage Walking Home materials will be available on the Special Collections website from October 2017.

Tony Harrison at 80

This Sunday (April 30th) marks the 80th Birthday of Tony Harrison, whose literary archive is held in Special Collections.

Tony Harrison, one of the UK’s most celebrated (and sometimes controversial) poets, was born in Beeston, South Leeds, in 1937. He won scholarships to Leeds Grammar School and then to the University of Leeds, where he studied Classics and Linguistics. He was a student here from 1955 to 1960. 

Also known as a playwright, film maker and librettist, Harrison has said that ‘poetry is all I write, whether for books, or readings, or for the National Theatre, or for the opera house and concert hall, or even for TV’.

Harrison continues to write poetry, and his work is recognised nationally and internationally. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature since 1984, he has been awarded the Faber Memorial Award, the European Poetry Translation Prize, and a UNESCO fellowship. He won inaugural PEN/Pinter prize in 2009, the European Prize for Literature in 2010, and was awarded the David Cohen Prize for Poetry in 2015.  

Special Collections was able to acquire his archive in 2007. It is an incredibly rich collection, with over 250 notebooks documenting every aspect of his creative work up to the present day. The archive is one of the highlights of our modern literary collections, and is a magnet for researchers from around the world.  

Several events and broadcasts are planned to mark Harrison’s birthday. 

 BBC Radio 3 broadcast a profile of Harrison on 23rd April (see: and will host the world premiere of his new play ‘Iphigenia in Crimea’ this Sunday, 30th. 

 A British Council Conference ‘New Light on Tony Harrison’ will be held in London on  Thursday 27th & Friday 28th April. 

Harrison will be celebrating his birthday on Sunday 30th with a Poetry Reading at Salts Mill, Saltaire. Details are available at:



The Peter Robinson Archive: Cataloguing DCI Banks

Collections Assistant Rebecca Bowd gives an update on her work on the Literary Archive of Peter Robinson.

Do you like crime fiction? Have you ever read the DCI Banks books? Or watched the series on ITV? If so, you will be excited to learn that Special Collections has recently acquired DCI Banks author Peter Robinson’s archive. This is an excellent addition to our growing collection of archives of crime fiction writers.

The archive is a rich collection of notebooks, research files, press cuttings and drafts of Robinson’s published and unpublished work. It covers Robinson’s work from the 1970s through to the present day.

Highlights from the collection include notebooks and diaries written from DCI Banks’ perspective, showing Robinson’s immersion in the character of Banks.

The collection also includes typescript drafts of Robinson’s books. Drafts are often annotated and by comparing them, it’s clear how much each book has developed through drafting and re-drafting. We can also see the input that editors have on the final published content of a book.

Crime fiction is a relatively unexplored area of literary archives, and this collection will provide wonderful opportunities for research.

We hope to make the catalogue available soon.