Monday, June 4, 2012

S. Matthewman

S. Matthewman (b. Leeds, 18 January 1902; d. reg. Surrey, July-Sep. 1970)

**updated 7 January 2016**
Sydney Matthewman*

Sydney Matthewman was the only child  (per the 1911 UK Census) of John Matthewman (1879-1946), a printer, and Matilda Wardman (1878-1965), who were married in Leeds in the spring of 1901.  He was educated at the Leeds Modern School, and the University of Leeds.  Throughout the 1920s Matthewman was especially associated with the poetry scene in Leeds, as well as in London.  He was the founder and editor of Yorkshire Poetry from 1922-24, while also the associate editor of Poetry Review (1921-23) and assistant editor of The Decachord from 1923-29.

In 1921 Matthewman began to produce booklets of poetry out of his father’s printing business in Swan Street, calling his imprint The Swan Press. His first book was a small pamphlet of his own poems, together with a verse dialogue, entitled The Gardens of Meditation (1921). Within a few years he proceeded on to more substantial works by friends and others with whom he had come into contact at Leeds University.  Besides publishing his own writings (all as “S. Matthewman”), the Swan Press also published collections by Catholic poet and Leeds professor Wilfred Rowland Childe (1890-1952), and anthologies like A Northern Venture: Verses by Members of the Leeds University English School Association (1923) and Leeds University Verse: 1914-1924 (1924), which include poems by J.R.R. Tolkien, then also on the faculty at Leeds. Many of the Swan Press books were published in small editions. The first printing of A Northern Venture, published in June 1923, was a mere 170 copies, and the reprint in July was of another 200 copies. This title was an exception, for most of the Swan Press booklets were not reprinted at all. 

Decoration by Albert Wainwright,
for The Crystal Casket
Most of Matthewman’s own small books were published between 1921 and 1930.  These include poetry, The Lute of Darkness (1922), Two Poems of the Road (1924), Six Epigrams (1924), The Harlequin (1925), Poems 1927 (1927), Orchard Idyll (1927), Strange Garden (1928), Epithalamion: An Ode (1929); a small essay collection, Sketches in Sunshine (1926); and a few prose fantasies, The Crystal Casket (1924), and The Vision of Richard concerning the Chapel of the Sword and the Rose (1926). The Crystal Casket is a short original fairy tale of merit. A third prose fantasy is How Brother Theodosius Beheld a Vision: A Little Tale of the Springtime (1928), printed privately in an edition of fifty-seven copies. In an entry for a writer’s directory, Matthewman listed a few further titles that cannot presently be verified, including Interlude (1929), as well as some planned translations: Plum Blossom and Nightingale from the Japanese, The Rubai yat of Sarmad (with B. Ahmed Kashmi), and The Complete Poems of Meleager. None of these seem to have been been published.  For High House Press in Shaftesbury, Matthewman translated Hylas: The XIIIth Idyll of Theokritos (1929), and wrote The High House Press: A Short History and an Appreciation (1930). Four Country Poems (1932) came out from Red Lion Press in an edition of fifty copies. Many of Matthewman’s books have decorations by Albert Wainwright (1898-1943).

Matthewman served as secretary to various scientific societies, and joined the Leeds Civic Playhouse in 1927.  He played the part of Hannan in the first British production of The Dybbuk by S. Ansky (1863-1920). Matthewman married Phyllis Barton (1896-1979) on 22 February 1930.  They had no children and moved around frequently, and sometime in the 1930s Sydney had some sort of breakdown.  Phyllis Matthewman took up writing with Chloe Takes Control (1940), published by the Girls Own Paper Office in London.  Over the next three decades, she would publish over seventy books, most of them novels, many of them published by Mills & Boon. In the mid-1940s she published two novels under the pseudonym Kathryn Surrey. Her final books appeared in 1974.

In 1944, Sydney and Phyllis took temporary refuge from the bombings around their home in Surrey by removing to Hereford, where they became close friends of the writer Elinor Brent-Dyer (1894-1969), author of the popular “Chalet School” series for girls.  Phyllis and Brent-Dyer had known each other as children, but hadn’t been especially close. 

In 1946, after a long hiatus, Sydney published two small books of poetry, Gabriel’s Hounds, a tale in verse, and Christmas Poems. He also served as editor for The Bookmart in 1946-47. 

In 1949, when Sydney set up a literary agency, Elinor Brent-Dyer became one of his first clients.  In 1964, the Matthewmans and Brent-Dyer purchased a house in Redhill, Surrey, where the Matthewmans lived on the ground floor and Brent-Dyer occupied the upstairs flat.  Local residents in Redhill recall Sydney Matthewman as a tall man, around six foot three or four inches tall, who wore a monocle. Brent-Dyer died suddenly in 1969. Sydney Matthewman died the following year.  Phyllis Matthewman lived on until 1979, passing at the age of 83.

*Thanks to Michael Green for the scan of the photograph of Matthewman, the frontispiece to Poems (19 27) 


  1. Hello, I am a secondhand bookseller in London and recently came across some stapled booklets the weekly newsletter of ther Belle Vue Club, they are mostly handwritten, with printed stiff card cover, all dated 1918-19, the General editor was E.Berry, Science Editor, S.Matthewman and Cycling Editor, S.Breed, from internal evidence the contributors and club members were around 17 years old at the time, the booklets contain
    stories, scientific articles, chess problems,and descriptions of new models of bikes, etc. I think the S.Matthewman must be the same fellow as above.

    Let me know if you are interested in further details.

    David Tobin

    Walden Books 38 Harmood St, London, NW 8DP

  2. Thanks for the interesting addition to our knowledge of Matthewman. This sounds like the same person to me too.

  3. Delighted to see some interest in Sydney Matthewman.

    I did a little research into Sydney when I lived in Leeds in the late 1980s. My research notes are now lost, and my memories very sketchy, but I know he had a brother; I met him briefly and spoke with him about Sydney. I can’t be certain but I think his name was Albert, he and his wife were still living in Leeds at the time. His wife phoned me in about 1991/92 to inform me of her husband’s death.

    I do recall he said that their father was a little dismissive of Sydney’s “arty” friends and his “Swan Press” venture. And, their mother did not approve of Sydney’s wife at all; she believed Phyllis ruined him as a writer.

    Sydney’s brother told me that Sydney was very interested in the Commedia dell'arte, hence his verse play “The Harlequin” for which he also wrote some music.

    I only have two of his publications in my possession now, as follows:

    Matthewman, S. Poems 1927. Leeds: at the Swan Press, MCMXXVII. Hardcover, Pp 103, limited to 250 copies of which this is No 151. Decorated by Albert Wainwright. Frontis photograph of Matthewman.

    Hummerston, M.M. Cameos of Leeds Life No. 1: The Battle of Briggate. Leeds: at the Swan Press, MCMXXV. Foreword by Frank Kidson MA. Card covers, Pp 24. A note adds that Hummerston was “Auntie Dora” of the Leeds-Bradford Station of the British Broadcasting Co. and that Cameos of Leeds Life No. 2: The Romance of the Red Hall would be “ready shortly”.

    My copy of Poems 1927 has a Matthewman bibliography listing the following:

    The Gardens of Meditation 1921
    The Lute of Darkness 1922
    Six Epigrams 1924
    The Crystal Casket 1924
    Poems of the Road 1924
    The Harlequin 1925
    Sketches in Sunshine 1926
    At the Swan Press

    The Way to Araby 1923
    Privately Printed

    I hope this is of interest to someone.

    Kind regards,

  4. Hi Michael: Thanks for writing. The brother you met, if he wasn't a cousins (see below), must have been at least ten years younger than Sydney. In the 1911 UK Census, the mother (at age 31) is listed as having had only one child, with that child still living. A few family trees I saw listed only Sydney, so from there I have assumed he was an only child. However, I can't find any other candidate for a [male, with any first name] Matthewman who died in Leeds from 1989-1993 than one Albert Matthewman, who was born 28 July 1902, just six months after Sydney. This Albert's death was registered in August 1991. I suspect he might have been a cousin, but obviously couldn't have been a brother.

    That's interesting to learn of a frontispiece photograph of Matthewman in Poems 1927. Would it be possible to scan it for me, so I can add it to this blog entry? (My contact details are accessible via my profile.)



    1. Hi. I am in possession of information that you will undoubtedly enjoy. My father was Cyril Matthewman who was first cousins with Sydney. I have a letter written by Sydney to my Uncle Aubrey (note the very British names). In this letter Sydney talks about his brother Gilbert. Gilbert was born to Matilda in 1918 in Leeds when she was 38. This letter was written in 1950 from Gervase Cottage, Merstham, Surrey. I am happy to share the information that I have and hope that this helps to clear up any misconceptions. Sincerely, Linda

  5. Thanks, Linda. That helps fit the brother Gilbert in where he belongs!

  6. Hi there, three and a bit years late, but just to note that Gilbert Matthewman was a research chemist, per his mother's probate record- just a minor addition there!