The Gatty/Ewing Papers: 19th-Century Celebrity Culture and Children’s Fiction

Spotlight of Sheffield Archives # 2

Throughout the summer and autumn of 2015 I undertook a huge scoping project at Sheffield Archives, looking to identify materials of interest to the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Sheffield. Now, as I look to help convert these findings into future research opportunities, I find myself in the unique and hugely privileged position of having so many incredible stories to tell!

In this strand of posts on my blog I hope to give you a fleeting insight into the many remarkable wonders held at Sheffield Archives. If you feel inspired, I implore you, make an appointment at 52 Shoreham Street and see these treasures for yourself.

Sheffield Archives

52 Shoreham Street, Sheffield Archives.

The Gatty family lived in the Sheffield area throughout the 19th century and were incredibly well-connected.

Margaret Gatty, a children’s writer and marine biologist who regularly challenged Charles Darwin on the topic of evolution, married Rev. Alfred Gatty, who had previously served as the personal Chaplain to Lord Horatio Nelson during the Napoleonic wars. Their daughter, Juliana Ewing, also went onto have a successful career as a Children’s Writer, with the archive collecting her regular correspondences with the likes of Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling. In addition to the family’s own extraordinary notes and correspondences, Alfred Gatty also instigated an impressive autograph collection which was continued on in later generations, bestowing upon the archive a number of volumes featuring the writing of such figures as William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Christina Rossetti and Florence Nightingale.


A letter from Rudyard Kipling.

However, for me, the material that is most impressive resides within a box of family ‘Juvenilia.’ Typically used with reference writers like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters the term ‘juvenilia’ is defined in the OED as ‘works produced by an author or artist whilst still young’ – and believe me, as children, teenagers and young women both Margaret and her daughter Julia were prolific.

One of the most extraordinary set of compositions present itself in the form of over sixty meticulously detailed ‘family magazines’, written in pen in imitation of those periodicals and magazines available in print at the time. More remarkable still, the collection demonstrates that this is a family tradition, with Margaret penning her own ‘Scorton Gazette’, whilst two decades later her daughter Julia produces the ‘Gunpowder plot’ and ‘Anon’ (described as being ‘a new periodical for the literary table’). And these were not fleeting of faddish endeavours, a new issue of ‘The Gunpowder plot’ appears every month from 1862-1871!

Scorton Gazette

‘The Scorton Gazette’

The detail and dedication implicit in these pieces is astonishing. What is more, Margaret’s satirical ‘Scorton Gazette’ is hilarious from the very first issue (published May 4 1832). Here, on the incredibly detailed ‘advertisements’ page we find a ‘matrimony’ section.

It reads:

“An elderly gentleman unembarrassed by fortune or personal advantages will be most happy to unite himself to any Lady possessing 3000 a year – beauty – accomplished – and good tempered. NB. In case of necessity the last three qualifications will be dispensed with.”

And then, beneath this, beside an ornately detailed manicule the works: ‘No joke is intended.’

No Joke

‘No Joke’! Humorous advert inside the ‘Scorton Gazette.’

Elsewhere in the collection there are (once again) immaculately presented examples of extended prose, produced in imitation of their printed counterparts. At age 23 Gatty embarks on a ‘multi-volume’ series under the title ‘Tales of a Chambermaid’, the first installments being ‘James Jackson or, ‘tis six years since.’ Fascinatingly, Gatty does not write as herself but instead adopts the persona of that ‘Author of Waverly’, Sir Walter Scott.


Young Margaret’s ‘novel’ in the style of Sir Walter Scott.

In addition to these incredible full ‘works’ there are fragments of pieces now lost (or perhaps never finished), such as a few pages from a untitled and undated play in which two protagonists, Fanny and Annie, find themselves on holiday in the country when they meant to visit the city. Tantalizingly the final dialogue in the manuscript finds Fanny reflecting that:

“Women may say what they please, nobody minds. What comfort it is to be born foolish and not be supposed capable of talking sense! One has some of the privileges of the court fool by virtue of the contempt in which one is held.”

As you’ll also have seen, Margaret and her daughter Juliana habitually and meticulously kept up their pocket diaries – Juliana more than Margaret.

Teenage Juliana details her daily activities in quite a lot of detail, listing where she’s been, who she’s spoken to, what she’s working on – even what she’s been reading.

By comparison Margaret is less thorough, but her diaries as objects are far more interesting in and of themselves, because every year – without fail – Margaret uses the branded Mr Punch’s Pocket Books; a humorous child-friendly diary complete with all of the facts and figures a young person might need, games, poems, songs, stories and illustrations. And the humour in these things is, well, frankly – cutting. See for instance, this Cat Tax on Spinsters:

Cat Taz

Please feel free to get in touch to discuss any academic research opportunities that might arise from working further with these collections.