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The Gregory Fellowships in the Creative Arts

Eric Craven Gregory

Genre: Research Document

Article by: Dave Roberts - First Published: 21 September 2011

The Gregory Fellowships in the Creative Arts were instituted at the University of Leeds in 1950 under the patronage of Eric Craven Gregory, Chair of Bradford-based printers Percy Lund Humphries, and "a discriminating patron of the arts." Approved by a Council of the University in 1943, the underlying ethos of Gregory's scheme was to "bring ... younger artists into close touch with the youth of the country so that they may influence it," and to bring and keep artists in close touch with the community. Fellowships in Painting, Sculpture and Poetry were established, loosely connected with the Departments of Fine Art and English Literature; a Fellowship in Music was also established to run on a less frequent basis. T.S. Eliot, Herbert Read, Henry Moore and Professor Bonamy Dobrée formed the core of the Gregory Fellowships Advisory Committee; Gregory stipulated that one of the Fellows should always be a poet. The Fellowships were central to the literary phenomenon that saw significant activity in terms of poets and poetry at the University between 1950 and 1980, the period during which the scheme operated.

The Gregory Fellowship in Poetry was effectively a "writer in residence" scheme, and was the first of its kind at any university in the United Kingdom. Indeed, it became an important point of reference for the establishment of similar schemes at other institutions, perhaps hinting at the national significance of literary activities at Leeds. The Fellows were required to live and work in Leeds during term-time, and to develop their work whilst contributing to the literary life of the Department of English and the University generally. No official teaching duties were assigned; in fact, the Gregory Fellows had no formal commitments at all. In practice, many undertook some teaching work as a means of supplementing their stipend either within the English Department or with the University's Extra-Mural Department. A Fellow's period of tenure was limited to three years.

The poets who took up the Gregory Fellowship generally appear to have benefited from the time it gave them, away from the need to earn a living, to concentrate on writing. In 1956, Bonamy Dobrée noted that within academic departments, the Fellows were "regarded as rather strange fish, as of course they are in the University; they are meant to be." It seems that the presence of creative artists within the academic environment may have, on occasion, created a sense of unease amongst the staff, many of whom, according to Dobrée "[didn't] care two hoots for art of any kind."

Catalogue for the Gregory Memorial Exhibition at Leeds City Art Gallery (1960)

The experimental nature of the Gregory Fellowship Scheme meant that in many ways, the departments were neither sure of how to treat the Fellows nor how to take advantage of their presence. Similarly, the Fellows were often unsure exactly what was expected of them, and often felt quite isolated. However, their presence ultimately benefited the University and its students. Most of the Fellows in Poetry made their expertise available to students through seminars, workshops and "drop-in" sessions. There were also exhibitions and poetry readings; and some Fellows in Poetry contributed to dramatic productions at the University, both as writers and participants. Many students appreciated the informal opportunities the presence of the Gregory Fellows gave them to mix with creative artists. As a student, Tony Harrison came into contact with Fellows in Poetry (Thomas Blackburn and Jon Silkin), Painting (Terry Frost and Alan Davie) and Sculpture (Hubert Dalwood); for him, casual contact with practising artists gave a sense of normality to the idea of being creative. David Kerrison (co-founder of Sixty-One magazine) remembers the encouragement he and others received in their creative endeavours from William Price Turner; Jon Glover found Peter Redgrove's creative writing seminars an invaluable experience.

Eric Gregory's covenant made funds available for the Gregory Fellowship scheme to run for nine years, from 1950 to 1959. When these funds diminished, the University itself provided funds for the scheme's continuation and it continued to run, uninterrupted, for some years. The future of the Gregory Fellowships was seriously called into question in the mid-1970s, with economic factors undoubtedly playing a key role. No Gregory Fellow in Poetry was appointed between 1976 and 1978, although the School of English were successful in attracting funds from the Yorkshire Arts Association for Ken Smith, himself a Leeds graduate, to become a Fellow in Creative Writing during this period. The Fellowship in Poetry was reinstated from 1978 to 1980, but from April 1980, funding for the Gregory Fellowships in Creative Arts was frozen. In 1990, the Henry Moore Sculpture Trust made funds available to re-establish the Gregory Fellowship in Sculpture; but there has been no Fellow in Poetry at the University for over 25 years.

Eric Gregory was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Leeds in 1953. In his presentation speech, Bonamy Dobrée summed up the great contribution he made to the University in introducing and funding the Gregory Fellowship scheme: "It is what he has done rather than what he has said that has made us eager to do him honour ... By introducing into our midst three, or perhaps four people, for whom the practice of art is both life and livelihood, he not only offers the Fellows themselves a brief respite from commercial pressure ... He makes the University a living centre of the arts, creative as well as critical ... [He is] a man of rare imagination, idealistic, practical, seminal."

 

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