Wednesday, February 8, 2023

601. A Vale Press Collector: Constance Astley (1)

A wealthy but lesser-known collector of the Vale Press was Constance Astley. There are few records about her.

Incidentally, there are at least two Constance Astleys, one of whom lived from 1851 to 1935, a traveller and diarist whose full name was Constance Charlotte Astley. She travelled extensively through New Zealand; her family lived at Arisaig House on Arisaig Island, Scotland.

She was not the collector of books.

Brinsop Court, near Hereford

The bibliophile's name was Constance Edith Corbet (1866-1940). She married Sir Richard Francis Sutton (born 1853) in 1888. From this marriage a son was born in April 1891, a few months after Sutton's death in February. This was such a severe blow that Constance suffered from a near suicidal depression (see Calderonia). Her son Richard (Dick) Vincent Astley would die in France when on active service just after the Great War; he died of influenza on 29 November 1918, and was buried in Haaltert (Belgium).

In 1895 Lady Constance Sutton born Corbet married the reverend Hubert Delaval Astley (1860-1925). With him, she had two children, a son (Philip Reginald Astley who lived from 1896 to 1958) and a daughter (Ruth Constance Astley who lived from 1900 to 1984). Since her second marriage, Constance was called Constance Astley. In 1912, the Astleys bought a thirteenth-century house, Brinsop Court near Hereford, and they had it renovated, restoring the gardens and adding an extension to the house.

Hubert Astley was a keen ornithologist, an editor of and regular writer for the Avicultural Magazine, and author of My Birds in Freedom and Captivity (1900). After his death, Constance continued his collection of live birds, and became a member of the British Ornithologists Union.  

A portrait of Constance Astley appears to have been made by Augustus John in 1913. It was sold by Christie's in 2015 and can be viewed here, on Christie's websiteIncidentally, it is not entirely certain which Astley was depicted by the artist: the bibliophile was about 47 years old in 1913, the older traveller was 62. It is likely that the portrait is indeed of the bibliophile.

Constance Astley published three books: one about her first son: Richard Vincent Sutton. A Record of his Life together with Extracts from his Private Papers (1922), one about her dog, containing text by her second husband: The Memoirs of No-nosi, a Prize-Pekingese (1931) - and, in between, a book about her library was printed: Catalogue of the Library of Constance Astley at Brinsop Court, Herefordshire (1928). All were designed and printed for her by George W. Jones at the Dolphin Press in London. It is supposed that only about fifty copies of each book were issued. 

Richard Vincent Sutton (1891-1918)

After her second husband died, she remained at Brinsop Court were her library was located. The catalogue of her collection - set in Linotype Grandjon Old Face and Civilité type and printed on handmade paper in a large format - contains quite a few 'Books on Birds and other Natural History Books' listed on pages 245 to 273. The 'General Collection' is described on pages 49-244. However, in regard to Ricketts the first fifty pages are of significance. These show the depth of her collection of books on book bindings and bookplates - and, extensively, the private presses section of her library.