Nicole McNeill writes:
Over the last few months I have been cataloguing the Elfrida Vipont collection to make its contents available for staff and students at the University of Manchester. I have had the chance to open all the boxes and scope out the content within. Along the way I have seen book reviews, letters from readers whom she touched with her writings – typical things you would expect to see from writers, royalty bills and legal agreements, but what stands out with the Vipont collection is how respected she was for her craft. She worked for the BBC, penning programmes they used in schools, publishers were continually asking her for more work, and she corresponded with many writers of her time including T. S. Eliot. Her works include Lark in the Morn, Lark on the Wing, Sparks on the Stubble, and The Family at Dowbiggins as well as The Elephant and the Bad Baby.
Born Elfrida Vipont Brown on 3rd July 1902, the future novelist was raised as a Quaker – a peaceful form of Christianity, born during the English Civil War, that is centred upon one’s private connection with God. Elfrida would have grown up in a large Quaker community, playing with other Quaker children. The Elfrida Vipont collection has yielded many surprises, and the latest exciting find is a portfolio of short plays/scenes from Elfrida Vipont’s childhood.
These scenes were performed as part of the Mount Street Pageant, a performance by the Quaker children in the Quaker Meeting House – which still stands in Manchester today. Many of the short plays in the portfolio follow people you would expect Quaker children to emulate: George Fox, William Penn and Elizabeth Fry.
One scene in particular is set in Manchester in 1819, and depicts events in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre. The scene, written as a script, follows Quakers treating wounded victims after the massacre so they would not have to go to a hospital, where they feared they would be arrested. The scene is a significant find, not only because of the current anniversary of Peterloo but also because it offers a new viewpoint in the historical debate. That children were performing this in the early 1900s is also important as it lends Peterloo a special significance in local history despite government attempts to suppress it.