A Man of Letters and Words

Jane Speller writes:

This final blog about the Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth Archive cataloguing project looks at his literary interests. The project was funded by the John Rylands Research Institute.

In addition to his career as a brilliant civil servant and pioneering educationalist, Kay-Shuttleworth was a lover of literature and throughout his life he penned many works, two of which were published.

His first attempt at having a poem published was unsuccessful. The poem, ‘To the Echo in Seashell,’ was rejected by the Bolton Express in 1823. He was nineteen years old. The archive contains two of his other unpublished poems, ‘Serenade’ (1834) and ‘The Winter Wind Howls through the Woods of Lime’ (1840). In 1842, he wrote, ‘A Masque: The River of the Under-world; and Other Poems.’ This was privately printed as a wedding gift for his wife, Lady Janet Shuttleworth.

Kay-Shuttleworth’s interest in prominent writers of the day led him to seek an association with two literary luminaries who lived in the region, Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell.

It was on a visit to Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire, the home of Caroline Ann Davenport (née Hurt, later Lady Hatherton), in 1850, that writer Elizabeth Gaskell met Lady Janet Kay-Shuttleworth, wife of Sir James.

Gaskell image
Elizabeth Gaskell, c. 1864; photograph by Alexander McGlashon

Caroline was the cousin of Lady Janet Shuttleworth, and a close friend of the writer Elizabeth Gaskell, who visited Capesthorne Hall regularly from 1836 onwards. Caroline and Elizabeth were both keen on social reform and helping the working classes of the Industrial Revolution. Gaskell wrote two of her earliest stories, ‘The Sexton’s Hero’ and ‘Sunshine’ as a contribution to her friend’s grand fete on Whit Monday 1850, in support of Macclesfield Baths and Wash Houses.

Correspondence and a copy of an extract from Caroline’s journal (May 1841-June 1843), describe how she embarked on a spot of match-making when she introduced Lady Janet Shuttleworth to James Kay. They were married in March of 1842.

Lady Janet Kay-Shuttleworth was an acquaintance of writer Charlotte Brontë who visited Gawthorpe Hall on several occasions. In August 1850 Lady Janet invited Brontë and Gaskell to stay at The Briery, the summer home of the Kay-Shuttleworths at Bowness in the Lake District. The two, who had already corresponded, struck up a lasting friendship. Elizabeth Gaskell was later to become Charlotte Brontë’s biographer.

The Drawing Room at Gawthorpe Hall. Charlotte Brontë later recalled sitting on the green sofa (just visible in this picture) and enjoying conversation by the fireside. Photograph courtesy of Gawthorpe Hall.

In a bid to keep Brontë close to him, Kay-Shuttleworth in November 1854 offered her husband, Arthur Nicholls, the living at the Parish Church of Habergham, near Burnley.

This offer was made during the absence of the existing incumbent, the Rev. Edward Arundel Verity, a larger than life character who Kay-Shuttleworth found troublesome. Nicholls declined the offer.

After he retired from work due to ill health, Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth wrote two historical novels, Scarsdale; or Life on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Border, Thirty Years ago (1860), and Ribblesdale: or Lancashire Sixty Years Ago (1870). They are novels of the recent past, the former set in 1826-27, and the latter in 1812. Both are accounts of Lancashire life – local people and local customs (using local dialect) – during the turbulent years of the industrial revolution. Both novels were published, although they attracted little critical acclaim. Kay-Shuttleworth asked various people to comment on the novels, one of whom was his friend, writer and civil servant, William Rathbone Greg (son of Samuel Greg of Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire).

The correspondence around the novels and the reviews are in the archive.

A third novel, Cromwell in the North. 1648. A Story, was written in 1875. The manuscript copy of this is in the archive, and it remained unpublished at Kay-Shuttleworth’s death two years later. Kay-Shuttleworth was fascinated by the life of Oliver Cromwell and it is no coincidence that he made his final home at 68 Cromwell Road, Kensington, London.

1 comment on “A Man of Letters and Words

  1. Peter Arundel Verity

    Well, well! A random search linking “Arundel” & “Verity threw this up… I have told my neighbour (a Bronte) that we will have to resume a family feud :-).
    I have a painting of grandfather Edward Arundel Verity, if you would like to see the image?

Leave a Reply