The George R. Sims Collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection primarily consists of printed and manuscript texts and accompanying musical scores for Sims's dramatic works. It comprises: hard-bound manuscript volumes of dramas; hard-bound typescript volumes of dramas; soft-bound typescript play scripts separated into individual acts; typescript play scripts separated into actor's parts; printed (published and unpublished) play scripts; soft-bound manuscript musical scores; and published musical scores. The typescript actor's parts and acts show evidence of having been loaned out to companies of actors, both during Sims's lifetime and posthumously. Works also display evidence of being managed by theatrical agents. Many of the scripts and musical scores also have additional annotations, evidence of being used for performances of the works.

Whilst the hard-bound manuscripts are all of published novels, there is one exception. 'In Vagrant Mood' appears to be unpublished, and rather than being a novel, appears to be a journalistic work on vagrants in the 1890s. This is the only manuscript work in the collection representing Sims's social campaigning journalism and as such is of additional interest.

Additionally, the collection includes two manuscript volumes of Sims's relating to his time at Hanwell College, dating from 1862-1863, comprising a book titled 'Natural Philosophy' and another titled 'The College Gazette'. Also contained within the collection are four large scrapbooks and a small quantity of letters and papers, some showing evidence of having previously been in scrapbooks. Within the letter file, there are papers and correspondence dating from the 1920s regarding negotiations of Sims's widow to sell the film rights to Sims's works, and several were turned into early silent films. There are also contracts, agreements, programmes, printed ephemera and reviews of Sims's dramatic works. Within the letter file and scrapbooks there is evidence of Sims's celebrity status, such as envelopes addressed to Sims using drawings or cuttings of his image, rather than his written name. There are also numerous articles relating to his private and public life and also an entire scrapbook which Sims had made with the title 'Cartoons and Caricatures' which is filled with pasted-in images of Sims. Also well represented in the scrapbooks are papers and printed ephemera relating to Sims's charity work and Society engagements to which Mr and Mrs Sims were invited. There are also papers belonging to or relating to Minty Lamb. These include letters and cards sent to her and printed ephemera relating to productions she was involved in as a child entertainer both before and during the Great War.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Robert Sims was born on 2 September 1847 in Kennington, London, the eldest of six children born to George Sims and Louisa Amelia Ann Stevenson Sims, who gave Sims early exposure to both progressive politics and the London theatre. Louisa Sims was a president of the Women's Provident League and daughter of the Chartist leader, John Dinmore Stevenson, who in retirement lived with the Sims family; Sims attributed his early development of political views to his grandfather's influence. Sims's father was a wine merchant and later a dealer in cabinets and plate-glass. Sims's parents mixed in artistic and politically progressive circles and Sims had a comfortable upbringing in Hamilton Terrace, Islington. Sims was firstly educated at a preparatory school in Eastbourne, followed by Hanwell College (a military school) and then the University of Bonn. He was married three times, outliving his first two wives. In 1876 he married Sarah Elizabeth Collis (b. 1850) and in 1888 he married Annie Maria Harris (b. 1859). In 1901 he married Elizabeth Florence Wykes of Birmingham (b. 1873). He did not have children from any of the marriages. However, through marriage to Florence, he gained a step-niece, Florence Wykes 'Minty' Lamb (b. ca. 1900), who lived with Sims at least intermittently, and Sims appears to have doted on her. Minty's mother, Gertrude Wykes (sister of Florence) appears to have been an actress and her daughter, 'Minty Lamb', was a child entertainer (dancer and actress).

Sims's interest in journalism apparently began at school, where he wrote for The College Gazette (a hard-bound manuscript volume for 1862 is present in the collection; see GRS/9/1). His first appearance in print was a poem called 'A Face in the Crowd', published in a periodical called The Welcome Guest, 21 May 1864 (also present in the collection; see GRS/10/2). He then went on to write pieces for Fun, Weekly Dispatch and The Referee, where he published a popular column of miscellany called 'Mustard and Cress' under the pseudonym 'Dagonet' from 1877 until his death in 1922. This column proved so popular that selections were republished as books, The Dagonet Ballads (1879) and Ballads of Babylon (1880), his best-known ballad, 'It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse', being from the 1879 collection. Through his journalism he was a vocal campaigner for the plight of the urban poor and he was appointed to take part in an 1882 study of social conditions in Southwark and as a witness for the 1884 Royal Commission on Working-Class Housing. Sims was involved with several social campaigns and movements including: campaigning for the promotion of 'improving' entertainments on Sundays with the National Sunday League; the Temperance Movement (for the working-classes); he also co-founded the Children's Breakfast and Dinner Fund (1880), providing free food for poor children, and was active with the Boys' Club Movement. Along with writing about the social conditions of the working-classes, Sims's journalism also included travelogues and articles about leisure and sport, and his hobbies - dog breeding and horse racing. Also reflected in his journalism was a keen and long-held interest in the Jack the Ripper murders and Sims developed his own theories on the subject.

As an author of dramatic works, Sims's output was prolific, diverse and sustained. His work was popular melodrama aimed at the masses, involving contemporary social concerns and gender, class and racial stereotypes. Sims formed a typology of genres for his works and frequently included them in their titles including: Comic Opera; Drama; Comedy; Farce; Burlesque; Musical Comedy; and Melodrama. He frequently collaborated with other writers on the works and co-authors included at different times: Robert Buchanan (1841-1901); Henry Pettitt (1848-1893); Clement Scott (1841-1904); Cecil Raleigh (1856-1914); Leonard Merrick (1864-1939); Sydney Grundy (1848-1914); and Arthur Shirley (1886-1967). He also collaborated with several composers on his musical dramas including Meyer Lutz (1829-1903), Ivan Caryll (1861-1921) and Frederic Clay (1838-1889). Many performances of his dramas included famous stage actors/performers of the time, such as Dan Leno (1860-1904) and Mrs Patrick Campbell (1865-1914). Several of Sims's stage works proved very popular and enjoyed notable longevity. The Lights O' London (1881) ran for 286 nights at the Princess's Theatre, London, before touring the English Provinces, the United States and Europe. Little Christopher Columbus (1893) ran for 421 performances at the Lyric Theatre and then Terry's Theatre, London. Sims is said to have been the first playwright to have four plays running simultaneously in the West End. Besides writing pieces for the stage, Sims was also a prolific published author writing books of poetry, crime fiction, journalism (social concern), dramatic fiction and several volumes of memoirs/autobiography.

Besides being a popular and well-known playwright, journalist, author and social campaigner, Sims could be said to have been a celebrity: during the early 1900s, many articles were published about his home-life and family life, the appearance and contents of his home and also hobbies and interests, including articles on his dogs, his interest in sport (in particular horse racing and boxing) and also articles mentioning his interest in gardening and the occult. His third marriage to Florence, in 1901, received much press coverage and there were many published cartoons which satirised the appearance of the man and his work. In 1906 he used his celebrity status to campaign for the pardon of Norwegian, Adolph Beck, who was twice imprisoned due to mistaken identity. Sims also used his celebrity status to invent, produce and endorse a hair-restoring remedy, known as Tatcho, registered in 1897.

Arrangement

Sims's original order has been lost and therefore the papers have been arranged into 11 series based upon record type and provenance, as follows:

  • GRS/1: Manuscripts of works by Sims
  • GRS/2: Hard-bound typescript dramatic works: library copies
  • GRS/3: Other bound typescript dramatic works
  • GRS/4: Play scripts: typescripts of individual acts
  • GRS/5: Play scripts: typescripts of actors' parts
  • GRS/6: Printed play scripts
  • GRS/7: Manuscript musical scores
  • GRS/8: Published musical scores
  • GRS/9: Correspondence and papers
  • GRS/10: Scrapbooks
  • GRS/11: Posthumous papers relating to Sims

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

David Mayer donated the papers to the John Rylands Library in 1995/1996.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The vast majority of this collection was formed by George R. Sims. There is some evidence of the later custodianship of Sims's widow, Elizabeth, and subsequently his step-niece, Florence 'Minty' Wykes Lamb and also their contributions/additions to the papers. The material came into the possession of Dr David Mayer (then a lecturer in Drama at Manchester University) in 1967/1968 after a chance meeting with Minty Lamb on the Isle of Wight. They were previously being stored partly in a safe-deposit box in London and in a barn near Northampton. The materials had incurred water damage, apparently having been kept next to a building damaged by a bomb during the Second World War. David Mayer kept the papers in his office at Manchester University and added a small amount of additional material relating to a performance of one of Sims's works, using the collection, by Manchester University drama students in 1976.

Related Material

The JRUL also holds the Papers of Sims's collaborator on many dramas, Henry Pettitt (PET).

The collection included a number of published works of poetry and prose. These have been removed from the archival element of the collection and are stored separately in the Library as part of the general book stock. It is possible that some volumes formed part of the Library of George Sims; however, some were published after Sims's death and may have been added by Sims's widow or niece. Volumes are by Sims unless otherwise stated and their accession numbers will be added to this list once records for them are available on the public printed books catalogue. The volumes are as follows:

Bibliography

Allardyce Nicoll, XIX Century Drama 1850-1900, vol. II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1946).

Phillip Walker 'Sims, George Robert (1847-1922), journalist and writer', http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37964 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Accessed 11 October 2011.