Tag Archives: Novels

Just Catalogued! Willie Riley and the story of Windyridge

Willie Riley

Willie Riley circa 1900

We are delighted to announce that the Archive of Willie Riley is now catalogued and available to readers. The Archive is rich in detail about 19th and 20th century Bradford and district, Lancashire, Methodism, and the life of a professional author.  We have already seen glimpses of the stories it has to tell e.g. Three Yorkshire Romances, Sweet Memories of Chamonix.

Willie Riley was born in Bradford in 1866.  After a business career involving wool and magic lanterns in particular, he turned to authorship, writing the delightful Yorkshire tale Windyridge to entertain friends who had recently been bereaved.  It was a great best-seller, leaving its traces in the names of houses across Yorkshire.  Riley followed it up with over 30 other books, characterised by his love of Yorkshire, his ability to tell a good story, and his religious faith.  He lived in Silverdale, Lancashire for the latter part of his life: he died in 1961.   He fell out of fashion recently and was almost forgotten even in Yorkshire.  However he is now being revived and Windyridge is back in print!

The Archive catalogue and more information about Riley can be found on the Archive webpage.  The website created by Riley fan and scholar David Copeland is also packed with useful detail about this intriguing writer.

Sadly a few items in the Archive were badly water damaged during their history and are too fragile to make available without further treatment.  But everything else is freely available … please contact us if you would like to use it.

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Priestley goes to the Parody Party

Parody Party

Parody Party

Here’s an interesting bit of Priestleiana I hadn’t seen before.  Parody Party (Hutchinson, 1936) is a collection of parodies of popular authors by other well-known authors, edited by Leonard Russell, and featuring illustrations by Nicolas “Clerihew” Bentley.

J.B. Priestley is one of the authors parodied, in a piece called “Eden Week-end: after you Mr J. B. Pr**stley” by A. G. MacDonell.

MacDonell was a satirical writer and journalist.  His most famous work was England, their England (1933), a Scotsman’s view of the English including a very funny cricket match.  MacDonell was himself parodied in the piece immediately following his Priestley one, in which an Inca prince endures English dinner parties and golf.

The Priestley parody is very affectionate and reveals that MacDonell knew J.B.’s works well.  It is dominated by The Good Companions and Angel Pavement, with elements from the time plays.  The parody tells the story of a weekend at Tunnicliffe Towers, home of the mill-owning Wainwright family, in the “woolly” valley of the Kilner.  At the climax, the Staffordshire-born butler, Mr Arnold, turns out to be from Yorkshire, to the delight of everyone else, and fulfils his dreams of acting fame.

MacDonell parodies J.B.’s theatrical interests and reflections on time and the meaning of life …

“Life, after all, is only a tragi-comedy, and who can blame Mr Arnold for longing so desperately to play his part among the puppets of grease-pot and cold-cream, as well as among the puppets of reality that we almost all are”.

His way of looking at commerce …

“The managing director of the firm lived in London, but he knew his job.  He might be a hard man, and a ruthless man, but he could tell a badly groined saucepan a score of yards away, and when he did it meant trouble on Humberside.”

And J.B.’s evocations of the richness of Yorkshire dialect, life and customs …

“Young James, the handsome first valet, whose grand-uncle had owned Susan Oglethorpe, the finest brindled bitch-whippet that ever coursed a hare across Sutcliffe Fell.  She was by Bolton Abbot out of Fishcake …”.

We don’t yet have a copy of this book in Special Collections.  I borrowed this one from a colleague!  We will certainly acquire one in the future.

Images of the Month: Three Yorkshire Romances

For Valentine’s Day, a trio of Yorkshire novels with bittersweet love stories at their heart.  Caution … spoilers!

Love on the Stage

Lost Empires

Lost Empires

This cover for a 1965 Popular Library paperback reprint of J.B. Priestley’s Lost Empires seems all wrong.  The novel is set in the music-hall world of 1913!  However,  more by accident than design (I doubt the designer read the book), the cover conveys a deeper truth about the story.  Like many of Priestley’s novels, which draw on the picaresque comic English tradition, it shows a young man – Richard Herncastle – facing difficulties but discovering wisdom, and love with the right woman. Lost Empires is more than a cosy nostalgia-fest though: the music-hall world is glittering, but sordid, and the hero faces betrayal and unhappiness.  Over it all is our knowledge, and Priestley’s, of the shadow of the Great War.

(The jacket refers to a major motion picture, which did not happen, but the 1986 Granada TV series was a wonderful adaptation, starring Colin Firth as Richard).

Love in the Dales

Olive of Sylcote

Olive of Sylcote

W. Riley’s delightful Yorkshire tales often feature romantic problems, which are happily resolved.  Here we meet Olive, who lives in Sylcote, a village in Nidderdale.  She looks rather glam, and is described as “a goddess come down to earth in the likeness of woman … she looked very cool and sweet”. Olive is torn between John, “a simple big-hearted fellow of her own county”, and Gordon, “a man from the town, with all the town’s allurements”.   I think we can guess how this will end, but the journey is interesting.  There is lots of detail about life in the Dales and insight into the Methodism that was so important to Riley.

Special Collections has copies of all Riley’s books, and his Archive.  We are helping to encourage interest in this long-neglected writer.  His first and most famous book, Windyridge, was recently reprinted – a delightful read.

Love and the Looms

The Price of Adventure by William Holt

The Price of Adventure by William Holt

The Price of Adventure (1934), by William Holt, is set in the Calder Valley in “Luddenbridge”.  It tells the story of the restless weaver Jack Coates, how he finds his way in life, and his relationship with Victoria Marle.  The striking cover design, I think, relates to the couple’s (platonic) running away together to Spain, which contrasts with the milltown setting of the rest of the book.

Special Collections has (as far as I know) nothing else about this intriguing Communist writer and artist, who apparently had many different jobs, founded a mobile library, and was filmed in later life travelling round Europe on a rescue horse called Trigger .  A flavour of his extraordinary life can be found on his  Wikipedia entry.  He seems to be well remembered as a local character in Hebden Bridge and Todmorden.


Priestley’s finest hour part 2: Let the People Sing

As promised in a previous post, over the next few weeks I will be discussing Priestley’s Postscript broadcasts and some of his World War II writings. I will try to stick to the Postscript broadcast schedule, starting with his first Postscript on 5 June.

Cover of Let the people sing

Cover of Let the people sing

Meanwhile, a look back at a novel published just as the war was beginning, in September 1939.  Let the People Sing was serialised by the BBC before its publication in book form.  Priestley explained in his Author’s Note that there was a special reason for his agreeing to the BBC’s commission, when he had never allowed such serialisation before: “I agreed to let the BBC have a novel, partly because I felt we might be at war in the autumn … and that broadcasting would then be extremely valuable to the public”.  He read the first broadcast himself, “on Sunday, the Third of September, the very day war was declared”.  Priestley already understood the value of radio.

BBC Archive: front cover of Radio Times 3-9 September 1939, advertising Priestley reading the novel, with picture of him at the microphone.

Let the People Sing contained many of the elements that had delighted the public in Priestley’s Good Companions in 1929.  It offered escapism at a dark time (the start of the Depression in GCs, the coming of war for LTPS).  It is comic, lighthearted and benevolent in tone.  Three diverse entertainers meet by chance (one a music hall comedian), and campaign to save Dunbury Market Hall for local music lovers, rather than United Plastics, who want to use it as a showroom for their products. The title became a popular catchphrase, and the novel was filmed in 1942 with Alastair Sim as Professor Kronak, the Czech professor who delights in etymology.

Windyridge Reborn

“Windyridge”, the best-selling novel of Yorkshire life by W. Riley, is to be republished on 12 April by Northern Heritage Publications, thanks to David Copeland, who rescued Riley’s archive and has been researching his life and works.   Further detail about the new book and David’s work in this Telegraph and Argus article.