Tag Archives: Priestley

News Update: two new exhibitions

We’ll be back with the final three Objects soon!  We put them on hold to get our archives accreditation sorted out – and not to mention working on two exhibitions which readers of this blog may enjoy …

Pots Before Words.  Kate Morrell created artworks inspired by Jacquetta Hawkes.  Gallery II, University of Bradford, until 22 May 2014.

Pots_before_words_GII-500x749

Artwork by Kate Morrell, part of Pots Before Words at Gallery II. Credit: Kate Morrell.

J.B. Priestley soldier writer painter – a rare chance to see the fragile surviving objects from Priestley’s time in the First World War trenches.  Bradford Industrial Museum until 19 August 2014.

We’ve also been busy with the Peace Studies 40th anniversary conference. We’re contributing two elements to this international conference: a display (A Concern for Peace) telling the story of the department and a paper about our wonderful collections of peace-related archives.  1-3 May 2014.  If you aren’t going to the conference, you can find similar information by exploring our Objects!

 

88. Midnight on the Arizona Desert: J.B. Priestley’s Writing Hut (and the Grand Canyon)

Yorkshire inspired J.B. Priestley’s best writing, but he also loved Arizona.  This week we visit his writing hut at the Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg.  The hut was less than 12 feet by 10, made of unpainted boards, and contained very little: a table with his typewriter, some books and tobacco things on shelves, and a small tin stove.

Detail from front cover of J.B. Priestley, Midnight on the Desert, Heinemann, 1937.

J.B. Priestley’s writing hut in Arizona, amongst cacti, hills and stars. Detail from front of dustjacket Midnight on the Desert, Heinemann, 1937.

Priestley first saw Arizona in 1934, when he was sent by Ealing Studios to investigate the possibilities of a film for Gracie Fields.  He fell in love with the landscape, “the clear bright winter mornings and the blaze of stars at midnight, the glittering desert floor with its promise of precious stones, the hillside of giant saguaros, the amethyst peaks and the red-gold fortresses of rock, and, not least, the air so pure, it seems magical”.

J.B. Priestley in a rocking chair, Wickenburg, Arizona, about 1936.  Photographer unknown.  Archive ref: PRI 21/5/7.

J.B. Priestley in a rocking chair, Wickenburg, Arizona, about 1936. Photographer unknown. Archive ref: PRI 21/5/7.

Priestley, his wife Jane and their children spent two winters at the Ranch during the late 1930s, the dry climate being better for Jane’s health.   The family remembered these as times of fun and freedom, though Priestley himself continued to write, to work on US productions of his plays, and to give lectures.

The Priestley family dressed as cowboys, Arizona, 1936.  Photographer unknown.  Archive ref: PRI 21/5/5.

The Priestley family dressed as cowboys, Arizona, 1936. Photographer unknown. Archive ref: PRI 21/5/5.

Priestley wrote most memorably about Arizona in Midnight on the Desert (1937).  In this, and its 1939 companion Rain upon Godshill, Priestley created a kind of descriptive autobiography, “packing reminiscence and discourse into a long reverie”.   This format suited his ability to write engagingly about his own experiences, whether being comically grumpy about the inconveniences of travel, sharing profound emotions, or exploring ideas.

He gave the two narratives shape by beginning and ending “at a certain time in a definite place” and concentrating on the “events, opinions, thoughts” of the previous year or so. In Midnight Priestley is writing in London on a dark, wet Monday, but his mind is back in Arizona, one late night in the hut towards the end of his stay.  He was having a clear-out, burning in the little stove an “accumulated litter of letters and odd papers” and chapters of writing that he felt had failed.

J.B. Priestley with his children Rachel and Tom, Coronado, California, Spring 1936.  Photographer unknown.  Archive ref: PRI 21/5/10

J.B. Priestley with his children Rachel and Tom, Coronado, California, Spring 1936. Photographer unknown. Archive ref: PRI 21/5/10

He reflects on this visit to the United States, and, with frequent returns to his sorting in the hut, tells us about his travels and his thoughts, sharing his views on the state of publishing, his experience of journalists in the USA, memories of his father Jonathan, Hollywood, giving lectures, American railways and much more.  Above all, he ponders the great mysteries of human consciousness and of time.  As we have already seen, he had just discovered and been thrilled by the possibilities of the writings of Dunne and Ouspensky and they were much on his mind that year.

The climax of the book is Priestley’s famous description of a visit to the Grand Canyon, a sight which astounded him no matter how many times he saw it.  Priestley walks out of his overheated hotel in a snowstorm; the Canyon is hidden by mist.  Then, suddenly the fog clears …

Priestley shares his sense of wonder and revelation as he looks at the Canyon – the changing weathers, the sheer scale, the colours.  Above all he feels it gave a view of deep time, a fourth dimension to the landscape.   Priestley realises that he dreamed of the Canyon long ago: maybe that dreaming self had made some Ouspenskian connection with the self now seeing the Canyon.

Midnight ends with Priestley finishing his work in the hut to go out into the cold starlit winter night.  He is sorry to leave Arizona but he knows he can always recapture a place through his imagination, be in London in Arizona or Arizona in London: “I must try to put some of this in a book …”.  Which he did!

Note on sources.  The long quotation in the second paragraph is from an article, “Arizona Revisited” (archive ref PRI 5/7/7: we think it was published in Travel & Leisure Magazine 1974).  Other quotations are from Midnight itself, Margin Released, and Instead of the Trees.   The latter, published in 1977, was a very belated finale to the trilogy of descriptive autobiographies.   The Priestley Companion includes several key pieces from Midnight, including the first part of The Grand Canyon, and is probably easier to get hold of through libraries.

87. Elegant and Convenient Sets: J.B. Priestley’s Shirt and the Apartments at Albany

This week’s Object has been requested by several colleagues: it’s J.B. Priestley’s shirt!  The shirt, which is clean, is folded and wrapped in cellophane (or something similar) marked with the details of the laundry: The Mayfair Laundry, Strafford Road, London W3.

J.B. Priestley's laundered shirt (archive ref. PRI 23/5).

J.B. Priestley’s laundered shirt (archive ref. PRI 23/5).

“Realia” (objects, things, belongings of the creators of archives) can help shed light on aspects of their life or works and give an added dimension to those archives.  Witness Priestley’s pipes, Jacquetta’s arrowhead or her OBE.

Such objects are also often instantly appealing in a way that documentary evidence may not be.  Certainly we have found that the shirt is one of the most popular Objects in Special Collections, the one that many people remember from their visits, perhaps because it is so unexpected (unlike say letters, photographs or other standard archive materials).

Letterhead based on an engraving of Albany from 1800, detail from 1981 letter to the Priestleys acknowledging their departure (archive ref. 16/3).

Letterhead based on an engraving of Albany from 1800, detail from 1981 letter to the Priestleys acknowledging their departure (archive ref. 16/3).

 The shirt is also a reminder of Priestley’s long connection with London, in particular with the fascinating Albany.  This block of apartments (“Sets”), built in the 1770s, is an oasis in the centre of Piccadilly, and has been home to many writers, artists, politicians and other well-known people: Byron, Gladstone, Bruce Chatwin, Georgette Heyer and many more.   It is also rich in literary connections, to Dickens, to The Importance of Being Earnest, and as the home of gentleman thief Raffles.

Albany, Piccadilly, London from HerryLawford's flickrstream (licence CC BY 2.0).

Albany nowadays, from the same direction as the 1800 engraving, above, from HerryLawford’s flickrstream (licence CC BY 2.0).

By the Second World War, Priestley and his wife Jane had made their home on the Isle of Wight.  But Priestley needed a London base for his broadcasting and theatre work. This had been no. 3 The Grove, Highgate (in another literary link, once Coleridge’s house), but a land mine had made this uninhabitable.  Tired of the disruption of moving around hotels and flats in London, Priestley rented flat B4 in Albany in 1943.   Later he also took the flat across the landing, B3.

Detail from the Deed of Covenant for the seven year lease taken out by Priestley in 1943 (archive ref. PRI 16/3)

Detail from the Deed of Covenant for the seven year lease taken out by Priestley in 1943 (archive ref. PRI 16/3)

After the war the Priestleys returned to the countryside, to the Isle of Wight, first to Billingham Manor, then to Brook Hill, where JBP made his home with Jacquetta after their respective divorces.  He and Jacquetta finally moved to Shakespeare country, Kissing Tree House in Warwickshire.  However, the Albany flats continued to be important to the Priestleys for many years, for instance as a venue for committees and campaigns such as the Albany Trust and CND.  Pressure of taxes and expenses meant B4 was given up in 1972 and eventually B3 in 1981.

I imagine the shirt’s laundry wrapping must be connected with JBP’s residence at Albany: the address is about seven miles away which doesn’t seem very convenient, but I expect that the firm collected laundry to do for the residents (this is borne out by a letter of 1975 from the management to residents which alludes to a laundry service).  With archives, there are always more questions …

Sources: this chapter from the Survey of London offers a detailed guide to Albany, its architecture, history and extraordinary list of residents.  Many writers and journalists have written about Albany, see the Wikipedia article  for some links.  The biographies by Vincent Brome and Judith Cook are vital in understanding dating and other details of JBP’s homes.  Legal material, letters, lists of furniture and other material concerning the Priestleys and Albany are in the Priestley Archive, in section 16/3 in particular.

81. Scotch Barley Broth and Fruit Tart: Jonathan Priestley and the “First School-Feeding” in Bradford

This photograph shows  Jonathan Priestley, father of the writer J.B. Priestley, serving school dinners to children at the White Abbey Dining Room, Bradford, in 1907.  Jonathan was Headmaster of Green Lane School, which hosted a new central depot which made meals for children across the city.

The First School-Feeding.  Jonathan Priestley, father of the writer J.B. Priestley, serving school dinners to children at the White Abbey Dining Room, Bradford, in 1907.  Jonathan was Headmaster of Green Lane School, which hosted a new central depot which made meals for children across the city.  Image from Socialism over Sixty Years, by Fenner Brockway.  Copyright holder unknown.

The First School-Feeding. Jonathan Priestley, father of the writer J.B. Priestley, serving school dinners to children at the White Abbey Dining Room, Bradford, in 1907. Copyright holder unknown.

The introduction of “school-feeding” is an example of Bradford innovation in social welfare.  From its earliest days as a booming wool town through the 1890s and 1900s, the fast-growing city saw great poverty among its industrial workers and their families.  It became a centre of radical ideas and practice in alleviating these conditions, often strongly influenced by Nonconformism: social obligations and the value of education.   Witness the fight of Oastler and Forster against “Yorkshire slavery”- cruel conditions in factories – and later the Manningham Mills strike, which led to the founding of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

The photograph is taken from Socialism over Sixty Years: the life of Jowett of Bradford, by Fenner Brockway (Allen and Unwin for the National Labour Press, 1946).  Frederick William “Fred” Jowett (1864-1944) was instrumental in the founding of the ILP and was a pioneer of “municipal socialism” to improve the lives of working people.  Jowett served on Bradford Town and City Councils and later became an MP. J.B. Priestley, by then perhaps the city’s most famous son, wrote the Preface to Brockway’s book.  JBP did not agree with Jowett and the ILP on all issues, but he paid tribute to Jowett’s integrity and what he and they had achieved for poor people. “School-feeding” was one of these  achievements.  The city’s workers suffered in the 1890s and 1900s as the wool trade declined.   ILP activist Margaret McMillan, elected to the Bradford School Board with a mandate to fight “the battle of the slum child”, saw from medical inspections that children were under-nourished and that this was the most serious health concern in the city.  It led to listlessness, disease, and meant children could not benefit from their education.  However, schools were powerless to help.  Charities such as the Cinderella Club could not feed all who needed assistance and the Guardians of the Poor Law provided inadequate meals mocked by activists as “bun, banana and beverage”. The Council finally agreed to supply school meals in 1904, after many years of campaigning by Jowett and others, and despite stiff opposition (McMillan had left Bradford by that time, following the abolition of School Boards).  Bradford was the first Council to offer this service.  The Provision of Meals Act was passed in 1906 in Parliament, Jowett, who had by then been elected member for Bradford West, speaking in favour.

Page from the "Priestley Family Register", kept by J.B. Priestley's grandfather John, and showing the birth of his father Jonathan.

Page from the “Priestley Family Register”, kept by J.B. Priestley’s grandfather John, and showing the birth of his father Jonathan.

As a result of the passing of the Act, a School Meals Depot was set up at Green Lane School in 1907, supplying food to several schools in the poorest parts of the city.  Our photograph shows the official opening in October 1907, which featured a meal of “scotch barley broth and fruit tart, with bread and a mug of water for each child”, Jonathan Priestley serving the broth.  JBP was then aged 13 and recalled in his Preface the great local and national press interest in the story.

It is fitting that Jonathan Priestley is linked with this major innovation in welfare.  A conscientious Baptist, Jonathan Priestley was part of Bradford’s Nonconformist socialist scene.  He came from a poor family; his father, John, was a mill worker (according to the 1881 census, a “cotton warp dresser”, the same trade as Jowett’s father).   The “Priestley Family Register”, a copy of Smollett’s History of England inscribed by John Priestley, shows the harshness of their world: three of Jonathan’s siblings died in infancy.  Education was Jonathan’s way out, and he believed passionately in its value.

Jonathan Priestley and his wife Emma, JBP's mother, in Blackpool.

Jonathan Priestley and his wife Emma Holt, JBP’s mother, in Blackpool. Emma, who was remembered as high-spirited and witty, died when JBP was very young.  Amy, Jonathan’s second wife, fortunately proved to be very kind and loving mother for the young Jack Priestley.

His son remembered Jonathan as a pugnacious, fiery man, rather puritanical, a strict Sabbatarian, kind, dutiful, sometimes funny, and above all a born teacher.  Relations between father and son were strained for a time when JB did not want to carry on with his own education, but JB clearly loved and admired his father.  Many years after Jonathan’s death in 1924, he wrote that Jonathan was  “unselfish, brave, honourable, public-spirited.  He was the man socialists have in mind when they write about socialism”. Note on sources This account is based on that in the Brockway book and many other sources, including,

  • City of Peace: Bradford’s story notably the chapter by Brenda Thomson.
  • Writings by JB about his childhood, in particular Midnight on the Desert and Margin Released, source of above quotations.
  • Oxford DNB entries on Jowett and McMillan (subscription required, often available via public libraries)
  • This Green Lane School web page explains and illustrates with lots of photographs the workings of the Green Lane depot.

Our copy of Socialism over Sixty Years is itself an artefact.  Showing the wear of much reading, it has connections to Margaret McMillan, nursery school pioneer Miriam Lord and her father ILP member Hird Lord!

80. The Fumes of Latakia: J.B. Priestley’s Pipes

This week, some very special objects from the J.B. Priestley Archive: Priestley’s tobacco pipes!   We have over seventy pipes, plus the paraphenalia needed for using them: tobacco tins and pouches, matchbooks, and a bowl for pipes Priestley was currently using.

A couple of J.B. Priestley's pipes, plus a hollowed-out book used to hold them, on show at the Picturing Priestley exhibition, Ilkley, 2006

A couple of J.B. Priestley’s pipes, plus a hollowed-out book used to hold them, on show at the Picturing Priestley exhibition, Ilkley, 2006

The pipes and paraphenalia are important because pipe smoking is crucial to understanding Priestley: as an individual, throughout his writing, and as part of his public image.

Smoking was one of Priestley’s greatest pleasures in life: “I don’t know anything in this lower world of taste and smell that has given me so much pleasure as tobacco” (Rain upon Godshill, 1939).

J.B. Priestley with pipe on seashore, circa 1928 (PRI 22/1/1)

J.B. Priestley with pipe on seashore, circa 1928 (PRI 22/1/1)

More than that, though, he argued that, “Man, the creature who knows he must die, who has dreams larger than his destiny … needs an ally.  (Woman I include here in Man).  Mine has been tobacco.  Even without it I have too often been impatient and intolerant.  Without it I should have been insufferable.  You may retort that I am insufferable anyhow, but, with a pipe nicely going, I do not believe you” (The Moments, 1966).

Naturally, pipes, tobacco and tobacconists crop up all the time in Priestley’s writings.  In Delight, for instance, he wrote about the delight of trying new blends of tobacco and of “lying in a hot bath, smoking a pipe … lost in steam, the fumes of Latakia and the vaguest dreams …”.  He often used pipesmoking in his fiction as an indicator of dreamy, good-humoured characters, think of Jess Oakroyd, Adam Stewart or Mr Smeeth

However, managing a pipe is a complicated business, a hobby which requires care, thought and the aforesaid paraphenalia.  Priestley often advised on these matters in his writings.

His pipes became an iconic part of Priestley the celebrity. Chosen Pipe Smoker of the Year 1979, Priestley is often seen with his pipes in portraits and other images.  Here we see him with another famous pipesmoker and Yorkshireman, prime minister Harold Wilson.

Harold Wilson and J.B. Priestley, with their pipes, at the Opening of the J.B. Priestley Library, 1975 (UNI University of Bradford Archive).

Harold Wilson and J.B. Priestley, with their pipes, at the Opening of the J.B. Priestley Library, 1975 (UNI University of Bradford Archive).

Historian Mark Mason of the J.B. Priestley Society is working with us to clean and identify the pipes.  Eventually we hope to have a full catalogue (there are, apparently, many interesting kinds in Priestley’s large collection) and to match them up with those appearing in photographs and in Priestley’s writings.

Sources: I am indebted to Mark Mason for much of the above, which originally appeared as a post on the Special Collections blog.

79. I Have Been Here Before: J.W. Dunne, J.B. Priestley, Time and Dreams

This week’s Object is An Experiment with Time by J.W. Dunne (1927), which had an extraordinary influence on J.B. Priestley’s work.  Priestley reviewed Dunne’s book when it was published and later got to know him: “though we never became close friends we had some good talks”.

Front cover of Faber edition of Dunne Experiment with Time

A mathematician and aeronautical engineer, Dunne developed his time theory “to account for the startling precognitive element in his dreams”.  Priestley did not follow Dunne into the wilder reaches of his Serialism theory.  But he felt that Dunne had much to say about the mysteries of “Life, Death and Time”, especially the crucial question of dreams.

Dreams were always  important to Priestley (we have seen his interest in Jung):  “I am one of the dreamers. My dreaming self is just as important as my waking self.  I have had dreams that haunted me for days and days …”

Priestley often wrote about his own dreams in his essays and autobiographies: witness the Strange Outfitter in Apes and Angels (featuring horrible masks with movable mouths) or the Berkshire Beasts in Open House.  Not to forget the powerful dream vision of the Birds and the White Flame in Rain upon Godshill.  He sought out examples of powerful and predictive dreams from talking to others and even from a television appeal, on the BBC’s Monitor programme.

Front cover of Priestley Man and Time (Aldus)

So why did Dunne’s ideas interest Priestley?  Dunne proposed multiple selves and streams of time.  As I understand it, Observer 1, our everyday self, lives in Time 1: linear chronological time.  Observer 2 is another self operating in four dimensions (Time 2)  who can see Observer 1’s future and past.  Hence deja vu.  Above all, Observer 2 comes to the fore when Observer 1 is asleep, hence precognitive dreams which seem to bring the future into the present.  Observer 1 will die in Time 1, but Observer 2 is immortal and will continue to exist.  Observer 2 might therefore revisit and improve the life led by Observer 1 …

Priestley also explored the works of other writers reflecting on time, such as Ouspensky’s New Model of the Universe, which features multiple dimensions of which the final one is circular – people live their lives over and over again.  However, at certain points, they can choose a different path, turning the circle into a spiral, escaping the endless repetition and moving into a better or higher state.

Priestley exploited the dramatic or literary potential of these ideas to the full in the famous time plays and many other works.   They make for wonderful plot devices, but go beyond that in evoking deep mystery or emotion.

J.B. Priestley with cast of Russian production of An Inspector Calls, 1945 (PRI 21/8/30)

J.B. Priestley with cast of Russian production of An Inspector Calls, 1945 (PRI 21/8/30) (see Object 19)

Witness the end of An Inspector Calls: all seems to be back to normal after the shocking revelations elicited by the Inspector’s visit, but then the mysterious Inspector is at the door – again …

I Have Been Here Before brings together individuals in a Yorkshire pub – they have certainly been there before, but this time one of the characters makes an Ouspenskian choice, freeing them from the cycle of repeated lives.

In Time and the Conways, a happy family reunion in 1919 in the First Act is followed by the same characters, disillusioned, in Priestley’s present.  In the Third Act we are back to 1919, but it is made poignant by our foreknowledge of what lies ahead.

Johnson over Jordan uses the idea of the “bardo” state from Tibetan beliefs.  An Everyman character has to confront and review his life in a strange limbo immediately after his death.  The scene at the Inn at the End of the World uses the Time 2 idea to moving and comforting effect: Johnson “touchingly re-encounters those forgotten or unrecognised aspects of his existence that had warmed and illuminated it”: his childhood books, photographs, pictures, the characters he knew and admired, the people he has loved …

At the end, Johnson steps into the unknown that so intrigued Priestley:

“JOHNSON, wearing his bowler hat and carrying his bag, slowly turns and walks towards that blue space and the shining constellations, and the curtain comes down and the play is done”.

Front cover of Priestley Over the long high wall

Note on sources: Inn scene quotation from Paul Taylor in the Oberon edition of Johnson over Jordan.  Priestley quotations from Over the Long High Wall and Rain upon Godshill.  The other essential Priestley work on time and dreams is Man and Time, which discusses the Monitor postbag.  Series 17 of the J.B. Priestley Archive contains many of the letters sent to Priestley as a result of this appeal.

PS I put this Object out in this particular week because there are two exciting happenings around Priestley’s speculative fiction.  Find out more on the main Special Collections blog site.

While we’re away …

We’re taking a little break, to edit broken links in our older stories, do some technical tweaks and research the final twenty.  Back in March!

Statue1gifMeanwhile, if you’re interested in J.B. Priestley, the J.B. Priestley Society has plenty to offer you!

The Society’s spring event explores the relatively unknown links between Priestley and another great British author.  Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess liked J.B. Priestley’s Image Men so much he read it ten times!   Dr Andrew Biswall, Director of the Burgess Foundation, explains, at this free event in Manchester on 16 March.  Full details on the Society website or see our Facebook event.