the Printer

 Alberta’s editorial experience led her, with her father’s financial backing, to invest in a small hand- operated printing press, which she installed in the attic of Beamsley House. This press now stands in the entrance to the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds.  She later invested in a foot-operated Platen Number 2 Postcard Press to speed the production process.

 It is not known yet how she learned the craft of printing, but she was on good terms throughout her life with Sydney Matthewman, a fellow poet and owner of ‘The Swan Press’, in Leeds - a small private press that produced literary books. It was ‘The Swan Press’ that had produced The Forsaken Princess and Alberta would have been consulted by Matthewman about its illustrations, lay-out, typography etc.  It is likely, therefore, that Mathewman helped her in the early stages of her new venture.

 By 1927, Alberta had decided she wanted to produce her own literary magazine, so with the help of poems donated by her friends, Alberta produced the first copy of  The Jongleur.

From 1927 for nearly thirty years, Alberta produced quarterly copies of The Jongleur, plus limited run work for other poets, including Wilfred Gibson and another poet in the Dymock Group, Lascelles Abercrombie. Each page took an hour of work to set the manual type in the press. This was followed by the printing of the pages, which then had to be bound together, then distributed to her subscribers. Alberta did most of this work herself, although her sister Marian (May) helped her with the page collation, binding, and the administration of subscriptions.

Alberta was drawn to printing because of her love of literature. However, she was also conscious of a long and independent craft tradition in printing and particularly William Morris’s ideas of gaining personal fulfilment through finely designed and crafted printed work (see her poem ‘Master Printer’).

In 1937 she wrote in a Jongleur editorial:

“‘The Jongleur’ is now ten years old, and with this forty-first number begins its second decade. The magazine was started in 1927 with some idea of encouraging a Romantic movement in modern poetry, but it lost this aim in a world whose sole notion of Romance seemed to be to tack an ‘e on to ‘lady’…

Throughout these ten years the quarterly numbers have been produced in my private workshop, and the setting and machining have been almost entirely the work of my own hands. During this time about 1200 ‘Jongleur’ poems have been set and printed apart from book work – surely a unique labour and a record in patience!  For the first three years the magazine was ‘run’ (at a snail’s pace) on a small Albion hand-press, very much as books were printed a century or more ago.

The installation of a modern 7 by 11 ‘Peerless’ platen, foot-run, made a great saving of time and labour.  How, ignorant but determined, I went to buy this at a well-known local works which supplies the world with leviathan presses – it was like going to Mssrs Rolls Royce to buy a scooter – and how I met with help and courtesy there instead of being shown out disdainfully, would make an amusing and pleasant story. The magazine is printed folio and set in ‘Veronese’ Monotype.

 I wish that contributors could see this attic workshop with its two small machines, its litter of impedimenta, and its sky-high window over-looking a typical Yorkshire hillside – fields, mill chimneys, and over tree-tops to the left, the moor line.”

The copies of the Jongleur produced in the 1920s and 30s displayed a high printing quality and the peak days for Alberta were undoubtedly during the 1930s, when the magazine attracted poems from all over Britain.  Contributors included Wilfred Gibson, Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, Wilfred Rowland Childe, A.W. Housman and May O’Rourke.

Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, in particular, was a faithful subscriber and contributor to the magazine, contributing a poem to every edition of The Jongleur over its 30 year life. She also dedicated one of her own poems to Alberta, T’Dancin’ Star, in her collection of poems: Under T’ Hawthorn, published in 1947.

However, her commitment to Jongleur led to her producing her subsequent books of poetry herself, and as a result, although they were well-received in Yorkshire, they did not get the national attention they deserved.

Her light as a poet on the national scene gradually dimmed. The general taste in poetry changed too, away from Romantic to genres more in tune with the bleaker times of the 1930s.

The Jongleur’ published by Alberta between 1927-1956

The Albion hand-press used by Alberta Vickridge in the early years of her printing business  (now in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds)

Beamsley House (circa 1870).  It was demolished in the mid 1960s. Alberta’s printing room was in the attic. 

Beamsley House was demolished in the 1970s and replaced with a block of flats (also now called Beamsley House), but it was a originally a detached property of some size and status, built mid 19th Century, and typical of the large houses on the edge of the city designed for a flourishing, growing and prosperous middle class community in the city.

It stood in its own acre of grounds between the junctions of Shipley Fields Road and Beamsley Road, Frizinghall.  The house had large rooms downstairs, including a side conservatory, nursery, kitchen, scullery & cellars. It had four bedrooms on the first floor, plus two on an attic floor.  There was a tennis court and a coach house.