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Forgotten treasures shed new light on Little Grey Rabbit author

12 Oct 2009

A suffragette poem, penned by a world-famous children’s author and kept privately at a University of Manchester Hall of Residence for over a century, has been made available online.

Uttley, Schuster, physics department staff, and University dignitaries
Uttley, Schuster, physics department staff, and University dignitaries

The passionate lines called “Argument” were hand-written by Alice J Taylor – later to become Alison Uttley - and published in the University’s women’s student magazine of 1904 - itself a unique document.

It is now available on the Alison Uttley Society website with a rare photograph, taken in 1906, of eminent Manchester physicist Professor Arthur Schuster, physics department staff, other University dignitaries and Schuster's current and former students.

Physicist and astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington, who verified Einstein's new theory of gravity by observing the 1919 eclipse, poses alongside Schuster and student Uttley.

The picture was found in pieces at the bottom of a drawer by retired Professor of Physics Robin Marshall from the University’s Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, who digitally reassembled the photo.

Known to millions across the world as the author of Tales Of Little Grey Rabbit and Sam Pig – Uttley was the second woman ever to graduate in physics at The University of Manchester.

She bequeathed a third of her literary income to support students at Ashburne Hall, where the documents are kept.

Ashburne Hall was founded in 1899 as a hall of residence for women students and Uttley lived there between 1903 and 6.

In the journal, Uttley also describes a series of wacky inventions including a vacuum cleaner used to transport students to their lectures, boots with central heating, and a teapot with an alarm which is sprung when running low.

Uttley’s diaries, which are kept at the University’s John Rylands Library, were published last month.

President of the Uttley Society, Professor Denis Judd, said the poem and picture provides a unique glimpse into the early radicalism of the author.

Professor Judd, who edited the ‘Private Diaries of Alison Uttley 1932 to 1971’ said: “This fascinating document has been stored at the University’s Ashburne Hall for more than a century.

“With the recent publication of the Uttley diaries  - it struck me that these documents, which have been lying forgotten in the Hall’s archive, tell us more about her early years.

“So we felt it would be good to draw the public’s attention to them.”

He added: “In her diaries she was scornful and dismissive of her near neighbour Enid Blyton and wrote how she detested her main illustrator, Margaret Tempest.

“But these entries show an idealistic, and playful side of a much younger Uttley.

“And the photograph -  so lovingly restored by Professor Marshall gives a unique glimpse into early twentieth university life.

“We hope the public will enjoy them on the Uttley society web site.”

After her husband James’ suicide in 1930, Uttley launched her writing career  to support her only child John, and went on to write more than 100 books.

Sam Pig, Brock the Badger, Tim Rabbit, Little Grey Rabbit, Squirrel and Hare have mesmerised children ever since.

THE POEM

(Written during the Lent term of 1906)

At Ashburne there is a Society
Which has rapidly gained notoriety,
It’s name I can state with propriety,
“Argument”

We meet after Punch on a Saturday
With tea and sweet cakes we’re a party gay,
Instead of elicit chatting as Students may,
“Argument.”

We talk of meetings Political
And all of us soon are so critical
Our speeches become analytical
“Argument

“The Signs of our age are Synthetical,”
Do you call Walt Whitman poetical?”
“My theory is not hypothetical
Argument.”

We talk of the Status of human kind
Of Suffrage, and greatness of human mind
Equality, love, but we always find
Argument

If we began all our talks at the break of day
They’d continue till after the Sun’s last ray
As we get into bed, the last word we say
Argument!

A.J.T. (Alice Jane Taylor)

Notes for editors

The early student magazine was called Yggdrasill (the Norse tree of Knowledge).

To see the entries, visit www.alisonuttley.co.uk

Excerpts from the journal written by Alison Uttley are available in a separate document.

Images available:

  • The image of Uttley, Schuster, physics department staff, and University dignitaries is available.
  • Alison at a picnic at about the time she became engaged to husband James
  • Drawings of her animal characters drawn by Margaret Tempest, her illustrator.

The Private Diaries of Alison Uttley 1932 to 1971 is edited by Professor Denis Judd and published by Pen-and-Sword.

A blue plaque commemorating Alison Uttley is situated on the steps of the grade 2 listed Behrens House, Ashburne Hall Campus at The University of Manchester.

Photo opportunity available in the Morley Library, Ashburne Hall

Professor Judd is available for comment.

For media enquiries contact:

Mike Addelman
Media Relations Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881 567
michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk