Papers of Allan Monkhouse

Scope and Content

The collection primarily consists of letters sent to Monkhouse by friends, acquaintances, authors, playwrights, actors, directors and publishers, relating to: literature in general, their own work, Monkhouse's writing, his work as a critic, his job at the Manchester Guardian, and personal matters. His correspondents include such figures as Arnold Bennett, H.E. Bates, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Ransome, John Galsworthy, Harley Granville-Barker, Sybil Thorndike and Annie Horniman. In addition, there are cuttings of reviews, both of Monkhouse's published works and productions of his plays, along with a small number of theatre programmes and photographs.

Administrative / Biographical History

Allan Noble Monkhouse was born on 7 May 1858 at Barnard Castle in Durham, the third son of John W.S. and Mary Brown Monkhouse. He was educated at private schools, after which he moved to Manchester and joined the cotton trade. He was to remain in the north west of England for the rest of his life, ultimately settling in Disley, Cheshire (the `Darley' of his novels). In 1893 he married Lucy Dowie, who died the following year, and in 1902 he was married again, to Elizabeth Dorothy Pearson, with whom he had two sons and two daughters.

The year 1902 also marked a change in career for Monkhouse, for this was the year in which he left the cotton business to join the editorial staff of the Manchester Guardian, a position he held until 1932. The Guardian editor, C.P. Scott, gave dramatic criticism an important place in the newspaper, and soon after his appointment Monkhouse had become one of the regular critics, working alongside James Agate and C.E. Montague among others.

He became highly regarded as a dramatic and literary critic and did much to strengthen the Guardian's book columns, establishing a regular feature, `Books and Bookmen', in which he wrote essays on the contemporary world of letters. He also contributed numerous reviews to the New Statesman. The Manchester Stage 1880-1900, a volume published in 1900, included dramatic reviews by W.T. Arnold, Oliver Elton, Monkhouse and Montague. Although the book did not enjoy much success, it foreshadowed the important role Manchester would play as the foremost city in Britain outside London for the presentation of the `new drama' which came into prominence in the years leading up to World War I.

It came as no surprise that Monkhouse, and the Manchester Guardian, wholeheartedly supported Annie Horniman in her enterprise when she opened the newly refurbished Gaiety Theatre in the city in 1908. This was the first repertory theatre to be established in Britain, following Miss Horniman's success in Dublin with the Abbey Theatre. She gathered an able group of actors and actresses to form her repertory company in Manchester, with the aim of offering an alternative to the `star' system and long-run method which prevailed at the time, thus opening opportunities for new playwrights.

Monkhouse had already written two novels - A Deliverance (1898, whilst still working in the cotton trade), and Love in a Life (1903) - and he now wrote his first one-act play, Reaping the Whirlwind (1908), for Miss Horniman's company. It was among the first productions at the Gaiety, and is usually considered to be the first manifestation of the so-called `Manchester school' of drama, a phrase coined by the Manchester Grammar School magazine in October 1909. Other dramatists prominent among this group of Lancashire writers included Stanley Houghton, best remembered for Hindle Wakes which was produced by the Gaiety in 1912, and Harold Brighouse, the writer of Hobson's Choice (1916), although this particular play was never performed by the Gaiety company. The new plays were written in reaction to the predominant drama of the late Victorian and early Edwardian period, their chief characteristics being realism and an intellectual element which forced audiences to think more deeply about the action unfolding on the stage. Many of the Manchester plays were set in the industrial north west; they included characters drawn from the lower-middle and working classes, and plots which reflected moral and social issues of the time.

A number of Monkhouse's subsequent works were also produced at the Gaiety Theatre, namely The Choice (1910), Mary Broome (1911), and Nothing Like Leather (1913), all one-act plays. In its subject matter (an affair and forced marriage between a housemaid and the son of her middle-class employer) the comedy Mary Broome covered ground tackled by several playwrights of the time, exploring issues of class and the emancipation of women. The play was both praised and attacked, and prompted controversy over its morality. Nevertheless it enjoyed some success and was transferred to the West End the following year; much later, in 1962, it was adapted for television. Nothing Like Leather was a satire on the Gaiety Company, in which Miss Horniman appeared briefly as herself. It was the last of Monkhouse's plays to be performed by the Gaiety Company, which was disbanded in 1917; the theatre itself was sold in 1921 to be converted to a cinema.

Although Monkhouse continued to write novels for the rest of his life (seven more - largely portrayals of provincial life in the north, culminating in Farewell Manchester in 1931), he won more success with his plays, which were widely performed in repertory theatres in Britain and America; the comedy, The Education of Mr Surrage, for example, was first produced not at the Gaiety, but at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in 1912. Other notable plays by Monkhouse include: The Grand Cham's Diamond (1918), a one-act comedy which incorporates fantasy elements, set in a lower middle-class London suburb; The Conquering Hero (1923), which depicts a young and unwilling soldier who has survived the horrors of the First World War to be greeted with the irony of a triumphal homecoming, and which was considered at the time to be the definitive anti-war play; and Paul Felice (1930), written in Monkhouse's old age, which concentrates on the psychology of its characters, abandoning all overt references to contemporary social and political issues.

In 1929 Monkhouse's contribution to the world of letters was formally recognized when he was awarded the honorary degree of D.Litt by the University of Manchester. He retired from the Manchester Guardian in 1932, although he continued to contribute to its literary columns, and his last play, Cecilia, was published in 1932.

He died on 10 January 1936, leaving a substantial body of work which included much journalism, various essays, 9 novels, and 14 published volumes of plays. He was always more interested in conveying ideas than in creating realistic characters in his literary works, and consequently his books have not enjoyed sustained popularity. Probably his most enduring plays are The Conquering Hero, The Education of Mr Surrage and The Grand Cham's Diamond. During the period in which he was writing, however, he was widely respected by writers and critics, and his connections with eminent literary figures of the time are illustrated in this collection. His critical talents were also valued highly by many of the writers represented here, with gratitude frequently being expressed for his literary reviews, in which he often displayed a precise understanding of the author's intentions.


The collection was obviously kept very carefully by Monkhouse, who made a habit of noting the contents of each letter on the envelope. A list of the collection was originally made in the 1950s, and its arrangement possibly reflected Monkhouse's own way of storing his correspondence, since he seems to have grouped together letters on different subjects, such as his plays or his novels, and kept together the letters from one correspondent where these formed an extensive sequence, as with James Agate or Dixon Scott. This arrangement has to a large extent been retained, although certain changes have been made where, for example, subject divisions were rather vague, or where items had been removed from a long sequence of letters written by the same correspondent in order to fit them into subject groupings. For researchers wishing to reconstruct the original arrangement, all former reference numbers are given throughout and the original list has been included in the final subgroup of the collection.

Allan Monkhouse is referred to as ANM throughout the list.

The collection has been divided into 3 main subgroups, reflecting the general division between Monkhouse's work as an author and critic, and more personal and family matters, such as his terms of employment at the Guardian, his 70th birthday and his retirement. A third subgroup contains related material which was not included in the original list. The subgroups are as follows: 

  • ANM/1 Literary letters and papers.
  • ANM/2 Personal letters and papers.
  • ANM/3 Related material.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

This finding aid may contain personal or sensitive personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) has the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately, according to the Data Protection Principles.

Other Finding Aids


Custodial History

The collection was deposited at Manchester University Library in 1953 by Allan Monkhouse's son, Patrick James Monkhouse. It was subsequently transferred to the Deansgate building after the University Library merged with the John Rylands Library in 1972.

Related Material

The John Rylands Library (Deansgate) holds the papers of C.E. Montague (CEM), Monkhouse's contemporary and fellow drama critic at the Manchester Guardian; this collection contains material reflecting the journalistic and literary world in which ANM was working, with letters from various mutual acquaintances.

Also at the John Rylands Library are the papers and correspondence of Annie Horniman ( AEH), relating to her Gaiety Theatre enterprise and the work of various authors and playwrights of the time.

The Guardian archive itself, which contains some Monkhouse correspondence (handlists are available).


See also:

Rex Pogson, Miss Horniman and the Gaiety Theatre, Manchester (London: Rockliff, 1952): a history of Miss Horniman's company and those associated with it.

George Rowell and Anthony Jackson, The Repertory Movement (Cambridge: University Press, 1984) : general information on the history of the repertory movement in Britain.

Frank Swinnerton, The Georgian Literary Scene (London: Hutchinson, 1935):  an outline of literary movements at the time Monkhouse was writing, including a section on Monkhouse himself and many of the literary figures whose letters are included in this collection.