Winifred Holtby and South Riding

Winifred Hotlby came to Somerville in 1917 following a period of service in France in the First World War.  It was at Somerville that she met Vera Brittain photo0079Holtby(1914 –  author of  Testament of Youth) and after an initial period of antagonism (fictionalised in Brittain’s first novel The Dark Tide) the two became close friends and after graduating they moved to London together to pursue literary careers.

 In 1925 Vera Brittain married George Catlin and Winifred Holtby shared their house in London, helping to care for their two children John and Shirley (the politician Shirley Williams – Baroness Williams of Crosby).  Winifred Holtby continued writing novels and contributing to journals and magazines until her early death at the age of 37. 

Winifred Holtby’s most famous work, South Riding was published posthumously and became an instant bestseller, providing scholarship income for Somerville for many years (a percentage of the royalties having been left to the College in her will).   South Riding was first filmed in 1938 but is now the subject of a new BBC adaptation featuring Anna Maxwell Martin.

Somervillians in the First World War


Hilda Lorimer – Classics Tutor at Somerville 1896-1934.  Like many of her colleagues, Miss Lorimer divided her time during the First World War between teaching at Oxford and helping with the war effort.  Here she is pictured in the uniform of the Scottish Women’s Hospital Service. She worked for them during the long vacations of 1917 and 1918 in Salonika.

1921 Group with Professor Gilbert Murray


A group of tutors and students from 1921 under the Principalship of Emily Penrose (seated in the second row from the front directly under the central pillar). Sitting next to Miss Penrose is Professor Gilbert Murray, noted Classical scholar, internationalist and strong supporter of women’s higher education.  He was a member of the Somerville Council from 1908 to 1957 and chaired the Library Committee untill a few months before his death at the age of 91. 

Members of staff are featured in the second row and include Hilda Lorimer, Emily Penrose, Alice Bruce, Mildred Pope, Maude Clarke and Vera Farnell. Unfortunately we do not have student names for this photo and we would be very interested if anyone can provide any information about them – please use the comments box below or email the library@some. 1921-and-gilbertmurray

Two Principals, two princesses and a pioneering Indian lawyer

In this group from 1891, Miss Maitland the Principal (with dark bonnet) is surrounded by her staff and students, including future principal Emily Penrose (3rd from the right in the 3rd row), pioneering Indian lawyer Cornelia Sorabji (far left end of the second row from the front) Indian princesses Bamba and Catherine Duleep Singh (front row far left) and Clara Pater (on the right of Agnes Maitland). sorabji-and-princesses

Dorothy L Sayers and Vera Brittain at Somerville in 1915


dls-vbMany Somervillians have gone on to great things and in this photo from 1915 we see Somerville College students Dorothy L Sayers (first standing row from the front, far left) and Vera Brittain (same row but at the far right).  Dorothy L Sayers went on to write fiction including the well-known detective novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.  One of her novels, Gaudy Night, was set in the fictional Oxford College ‘Shrewsbury’ which was based on Somerville. DLS was also a noted playwright and Dante scholar. 

Vera Brittain is most famous for her autobiographical ‘Testament of Youth’ which she wrote following her devastating experiences of the First World War.  She wrote many other books and journalistic articles and was a dedicated peace campaigner.  The Somerville archive contains a collection of her letters, diaries, photos and books left to the College by her friend and one-time literary executor Paul Berry.