CollectionGB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
Ref NoMS 3407
TitleHelena Mennie Shire, literary scholar: papers
Date1832 - 1990s
Extent82 boxes, 2 rolls and 6 loose files: 30 linear metres
Creator NameHelena Mary Mennie Shire (1912 - 1991), literary scholar
Administrative HistoryHelena Mary Mennie was born in Aberdeen on 21 June 1912. She was educated at the Aberdeen High School for Girls, gaining the Dux medal in 1929, and at the University of Aberdeen, graduating with First Class Honours in English Literature and Language in 1933. After taking a First in Part II of the English Tripos in 1935 at Newnham College, Cambridge, she continued her studies there over the next two years, undertaking a special study of broadside ballads of the seventeenth century, focusing particularly on the 'Bedlam Ballads'. In 1936 she married Edward Shire, a physicist and Fellow of King's College, and they had three children.

Her teaching career began in 1935, when she started lecturing in Cambridge. During World War II, she lectured in Cambridge and the surrounding counties for the Workers' Educational Association and the University Board of Extra-mural Studies. With the outbreak of war, many colleges and universities from London were evacuated to Cambridge. During this time Mrs Shire held an appointment as a Lecturer in Mediaeval English Literature at Queen Mary College, London, for two years, and another for three years at the London School of Economics as a lecturer in English for Foreign Students. She built up particularly strong and lasting friendships with Polish students. After the War, she supervised for several Cambridge colleges and was for some time a College Lecturer for King's College, Cambridge. She was a Fellow of Robinson College from its foundation in 1974.

In 1952, Mrs Shire successfully applied for the first of several small expense grants from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for help with research to investigate the poetry and music of Scotland between 1500 and 1700. The Trust subsequently awarded her a Senior Research Fellowship in Arts from 1961 to 1963 and a travelling bursary for a research visit to the USA in 1971.

This large and important project, under the auspices of Professor Thurston Dart, then Lecturer in Music at Jesus College, and general editor of the Musica Britannica series, was to continue over many years with the assistance of Kenneth Elliott (of the University of Glasgow), who was then beginning his research work into early Scottish music. The aim of the project was to survey and publish Scottish music and poetry found in manuscripts and relatively inaccessible early printed books, in order to provide an overall picture of the literary and musical situation in Scotland between 1500 and 1700. It uncovered several important sources, such as the Robert Edwards' commonplace book (Panmure MS 11) and resulted in the publication in 1957 by Stainer and Bell of Music of Scotland 1500-1700, Musica Britannica, 15, ed. by Kenneth Elliott, song-texts ed. by Helena Mennie Shire, (2nd ed. 1964, 3rd ed. 1975). She also published the Ninth of May series, and many shorter articles and papers. During the 1950s she broadcast for the BBC Third Programme on the subject. She took part, too, in a number of presentations of Scottish music and song organised by the Saltire Society in Edinburgh and Cambridge. Helena Mennie Shire's work in this field culminated in the publication of her influential work, Song, Dance and Poetry of the Court of Scotland under King James VI (Cambridge University Press, 1969). As a writer on a Scottish subject, and in recognition of her parents, she adopted the name Helena Mennie Shire.

The subject of Scottish court poetry and culture and its relationship with court culture in France, England and Italy continued as Helena Mennie Shire's special field of interest, and during the Seventies and Eighties she attended many conferences on Scottish literature and language, both in Scotland and abroad, at which she delivered papers, in English or French, later published in the conference proceedings.

From 1961 until an advanced age she was on the Council of the Saltire Text Society.

She also undertook research in several other areas. In the Seventies she embarked on a large research project on Edmund Spenser, entailing a visit to Ireland. In 1975, she attended the North Cork Writers' Festival. Her book A Preface to Spenser was published in 1978. In the mid-Seventies she was also asked to contribute a chapter on The Lyric and the Renaissance to Literature and Western Civilisation, ed. by David Daiches and A Thorlby, vol. 3: The Old World: Discovery and Rebirth (London: Aldus, 1974).

Over the final decade of her life, Mrs Shire undertook another major project as a memorial to Olive Fraser, a friend of Aberdeen and Newnham days, who died in 1977. A short volume of Olive Fraser's poems was published in 1981 by Aberdeen University Press as The Pure Account. A second larger volume, with an account of Olive Fraser's career, was published as The Wrong Music by Canongate Press in 1989. Helena Mennie Shire continued to be involved in academic life, teaching and attending conferences, almost up to the time of her death. In 1988, in recognition of her enormous achievement and contribution to the field of Scottish culture, she was awarded an honorary LLD by her alma mater, the University of Aberdeen. Two years later she was further honoured by a festschrift , with contributions by colleagues and friends from many countries and universities, edited by Alisoun Gardner-Medwin and Janet Hadley Williams: A Day Estivall: Essays on the Music, Poetry and History of Scotland and England and Poems Previously Unpublished in honour of Helena Mennie Shire (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1990).

Helena Mennie Shire died on 16 Nov 1991.

Further information about her life and career can be gained from material in the collection (particularly sections MS 3407/1, 3, 4); the University of Aberdeen Roll of Graduates , and the Aberdeen University Review, 30 (1942-44), 366; 53 (1989-90), 69-71, 166, 329-32; and 54 (1991-92), 392-5, 413-4. A Day Estivall contains a very useful list of Helena Mennie Shire's scholarly contributions.

One articles found amongst her papers after her death was published posthumously in Stewart Style 1513-1542, ed. by Janet Hadley Williams (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1996): 'Music for Goddis Glore and the Kingis', pp 118-141. Another article, written especially for 'Stewart Style', was all but complete at the time of her death, 'The King in his House: Three Architectural Artefacts belonging to the Reign of James V', (pp 62-96).
Source60 boxes deposited in the University in 1993, by Dr Alisoun Gardner-Medwin, Helena Mennie Shire's daughter, (in accordance with her wishes); with a further deposit of 9 boxes in the later 1990s. Gifted in 2017.
DescriptionPersonal and professional papers of Helena Mennie Shire (HMS), c 1929 - c 1991 (together with some earlier printed records), arranged in 9 series, as follows:

MS 3407/1: Personal papers, c 1929 - 1990s MS 3407/2: Correspondence, 1936 - 1991 MS 3407/3: Papers relating to HMS's' academic career, 1929 - 1990 MS 3407/4: Papers and correspondence relating to HMS's teaching career at Cambridge, 1953 - 1988 MS 3407/5: Papers and correspondence relating to HMS's published works, 1953 - 1990 MS 3407/6: Papers relating to broadcasts, musical presentations, lectures, and conference papers of HMS, 1954 - 1984 MS 3407/7: Miscellaneous research papers, 1939 - 1991 MS 3407/8: Material presented to HMS by colleagues and friends, 1937 - 1990 MS 3407/9: Miscellaneous material, 1832 - 1990

The personal papers contained in MS 3407/1 relate to HMS's time in Aberdeen and Cambridge, and include diaries, 1935 - 1991; photographs, c 1930s - 1970s; printed papers relating to her personal and scholarly interests, 1950s - 1990s; and a manuscript of her unpublished autobiography, As I Recall, n.d..

The correspondence listed in MS 3407/2 extends to 4 boxes. Wide-ranging in nature and content, it covers matters of personal, professional and scholarly interest, with correspondents represented including close friends, colleagues, former students, publishers and societies. Occasionally, it also includes other material, for example, work sent to HMS for comment or refereeing. Although subject to a 70 year closure period, the series has been arranged chronologically by year, and an index of correspondents compiled, which will permit access to the earlier letters from 2007.

Papers relating to HMS's academic career (MS 3407/3) include a copy of her dissertation, Garland for Tom 'o Bedlam, submitted to Newham College, 1936; material relating to grant applications and overseas research trips, 1954 - 1971; applications for teaching posts at Cambridge,1959 - 1983; material relating to her honorary LL D from the University of Aberdeen, 1988, and correspondence re. publication of a proposed volume of Studies in Music and Poetry in Scotland, 1500 - 1700, 1955 - 1967 [subject to 70 year closure].

The papers and correspondence relating to HMS's teaching career at Cambridge (MS 3407/4) are comprised chiefly of material relating to her teaching and lecturing activities, 1953 - 1988, but also include some material relating to her role as undergraduate and postgraduate project supervisor, 1956 - 1986 [closed until further notice]; and regarding more general administrative matters at the university, 1953 - 1984.

The largest series in the collection, relating to HMS's published works (MS 3407/5) includes research notes, manuscript and published copies of her works, with associated correspondence, advertising material, etc. Works represented include Song, Dance and Poetry of the Court of Scotland Under King James VI , 1966 - 1974; A Preface to Spenser , with related Spenser work, 1968 - 1983; Music of Scotland 1500 - 1700 and related works, 1950s - 1987; Alexander Montgomerie: a Selection of his Songs and Poems (Edinburgh: Saltire Society, 1960), 1950s - 1968; The Poems from Panmure House (Cambridge: The Ninth of May, 1960), 1953 - 1962; Poems and Songs of Sir Robert Ayton (Cambridge: The Ninth of May, 1961), 1957 - 1964; The Thrissil, the Rois and the Fleur-de-Lys (Cambridge: The Ninth of May, 1962), 1950s - 1983; King Orphius, Sir Colling, The Brother's Lament, Litel Musgrave (Cambridge: The Ninth of May, 1973), 1973 - 1976; and The Sheath and the Knife or Leesome Brand (Cambridge: The Ninth of May, 1974), 1975 - 1986. Also included here is miscellaneous material relating to The Ninth of May series, 1957 - 1989; material relating to HMS's research on the writer and poet, Olive Fraser, 1932 - 1992; articles and essays published in journals, anthologies, newspapers, etc., relating predominantly to Musica Scotica , 1954 - 1990; and reviews written by HMS, 1970 - 1987.

Another substantial series relates to broadcasts, musical presentations, lectures, and conference papers with which HMS was involved, 1954 - 1984 (MS 3407/6). These include papers and correspondence relating to a series of broadcasts and talks on Scots song given between 1954 - 1956; various concerts given by the Saltire Society, based on the work of HMS, 1955 - 1971; copies of lectures delivered in relation to the Musica Scotia project, 1952 - 1981; and conference papers for the Congres de l'Association Internationale des Historiens de la Renaissance, 2 - 7 Sept 1957, the First (1975 ) and Second (1988) International Conference on Scottish Language and Literature, the North Cork Writers' Festival, 1975 - 1976, various SAES conferences (including the 1981 conference at which HMS presented a paper on Olive Fraser), and many others. The papers listed in sections-7 - 9 complement the contents of these 6 main series. Section 7, miscellaneous research papers, contains research notebooks on various topics, 1951 - 1954; miscellaneous unpublished articles, lectures and essays, 1962 - 1970, including items drafted for Music in Scotland 1500 - 1700 , Song, Dance and Poetry , Music and Poetry under King James V, 1512 - 1537 , Stewart Style , Musica Scotica ; research notes on festivals in Scotland, 1950s - 1976; and a selection of books and other printed matter from HMS's library, 1924 - 1984. Section 8 contains material presented to HMS by colleagues and friends, 1937 - 1990, often for refereeing and comment, but also copies of articles and books received as gifts. The miscellaneous material described in section 9 comprises articles and photocopies from academic journals and books relating to HMS's research interests, 1832 - 1990; draft manuscripts of papers by colleagues and friends, 1950s - 1980s (including 2 sacred dramas by George Buchanan, Jephthah and The Baptist, c 1956; 4 poems by A. Green, n.d.; and novel Penultima Thule, by Ian Dahl, n.d.); newspaper cuttings and scrap book, 1955 - 1991.
AppraisalThis material has been appraised in line with normal procedures.
ArrangementSummary of main sections of catalogue:

MS 3407/1 Personal papers, c1929-1990's

MS 3407/2 Correspondence, 1936-1991

MS 3407/3 Papers relating to Helena Mennie Shire's academic career, 1929-1990

MS 3407/4 Papers and correspondence relating to Helena Mennie Shire's teaching career at Cambridge, 1953-1988

Ms 3407/5 Papers and correspondence relating to Helena Mennie Shire's published works, 1953-1990

MS 3407/6 Papers relating to broadcasts, musical presentations, lectures,and conference papers, 1954-1990

MS 3407/7 Miscellaneous research papers, 1939-1991

MS 3407/8 Material presented to Helena Mennie Shire by colleagues and friends, 1937-1990

MS 3407/9 Miscellaneous material, 1832-1990
Access StatusRestricted
Access ConditionsMain correspondence files (section 2) are closed for 70 years as are items of correspondence distributed throughout the collection. Sections 1 and 9 are fully open, yet section 3-8 have some closed material. Some of the more personal material in the papers relating to Olive Fraser has also been closed for 30 years (section 5/11/1-132). Please see relevant catalogue entries.
Physical DescriptionNo physical conditions affecting use of collection.
Related MaterialPapers of Olive Fraser, 1920s - 1970s (MS 3336). This collection was used by Helena Mennie Shire in compiling The Wrong Music, ed. by Helena Mennie Shire (Edinburgh: Canongate Press, 1989)

Material relating to Helena Mennie Shire's work for Robinson College and to the Ninth of May series is deposited in Robinson College, Cambridge.
Publication NoteC. Sian Yates, The Helena Mennie Shire Papers, MS 3407, Reports and Surveys of Archives in Northern Scotland, Northern Scotland , 18 (1998), 104-108.

A Day Estivall: Essays on the Music, Poetry and History of Scotland and England&Poems Previously Unpublished in honour of Helena Mennie Shire , ed. by Alisoun Gardner-Medwin and Janet Hadley Williams (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1990) Stewart Style 1513-1542, ed. by Janet Hadley Williams (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1996)
Finding AidsAbbreviations used -

HMS = Helena Mennie Shire

AUP = Aberdeen University Press
CUP = Cambridge University Press
SDP = Song, Dance and Poetry of the Court of Scotland under King James VI
SSMP = Studies in Scottish Music and Poetry - a proposed volume of essays, never published, which developed into SDP
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