17 January 2023
By Catherine Angerson, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts.
The Blavatnik Honresfield Library is a collection of books and manuscripts of exceptional historical and literary importance formed by the Lancashire mill owner William Law (1836–1901) in the late 19th century and cared for by subsequent generations of the family until the sale of the collection in 2022. The collection includes manuscripts and rare editions of the work of Jane Austen, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, the Brontë siblings, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Honresfield House, just outside Littleborough near Rochdale, was where William Law lived with his brother Alfred, who inherited the collection after William’s death in 1901. It then passed to a nephew, the Conservative MP Sir Alfred Law (1860–1939). Selected scholars were granted access during the 1930s and transcriptions of several of the manuscripts were made, but the collection then largely disappeared from public view after the death of Alfred Law in 1939.
The Blavatnik Honresfield Library was purchased for the nation in 2022 by the Friends of the National Libraries with the support of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and many other generous supporters. The collection has been shared between cultural heritage institutions in the UK who are all committed to making the items in their care publically accessible.
The British Library was one of the beneficiaries, receiving 102 printed books, four manuscript items, and the William Maskell chapbook collection. The manuscript items have now been digitised and you can access the images by following the links below.
One of the highlights of the Blavatnik Honresfield Library is the notebook of Emily Brontë’s poems (Add MS 89488) which she kept between 1844 and 1846. Few of Emily Brontë’s literary manuscripts survive and the notebook is a fascinating record of her creative process. Brontë transcribed neat copies of 31 of her own poems into this notebook, recording the date of original composition next to each.
The first poem, ‘Loud without the wind was roaring’, is dated 11 November 1838 when Emily was 20. She composed the final poem, ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’, on 2 January 1846 at the age of 27. Some of the poems include further revisions in the hand of her sister Charlotte. Beneath the poem ‘How beautiful the earth is still’ of 2 June 1845, pictured below, Charlotte has written, ‘Never was better stuff penned’, in the miniature script shared by both sisters.
The notebook is the source for 15 of the 21 of Emily Brontë’s poems selected for Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846). The other six poems came from Emily’s ‘Gondal Poems’ notebook which she kept at the same time. Emily Brontë’s own signed copy of Poems (1846) is also among the treasures of the Blavatnik Honresfield Library.
Another treasure allocated to the British Library is a miniature book by Charlotte Brontë titled, 'Characters of the Celebrated Men of the Present Time by Captain Tree' (Add MS 89486). The tiny book, created by Charlotte when she was just 13 years old, is one of seven early Brontë manuscripts now jointly owned by the British Library, the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds. The book is narrated by Captain Tree, one of Charlotte’s childhood pen names. It consists of ten chapters that feature ‘Celebrated Men’ such as the Duke of Wellington, Lord Charles Wellesley, Captain Bud and Young Man Naughty. These figures were drawn from real life as well as from the fictional world of Glass Town. The Glass Town Federation was a complex fantasy land created by Charlotte and her siblings Branwell, Emily and Anne.
The book measures a tiny 5 x 3.7 cm, the size of a small matchbox. The digital images allow us to zoom in on Brontë’s tiny script and to examine the pages of the manuscript in detail. The pages are slightly uneven in size. This is because Charlotte cut the paper by hand and sewed the pages together using a needle and thread, and the book is still bound in its original yellow sugar paper cover.
The manuscript items allocated to the British Library also include a letter dated 10 November 1847 from Charlotte Brontë to William Smith Williams of Smith, Elder & Co., the publisher of Jane Eyre (1847) (Add MS 89487). In this letter, Brontë (using her pen name ‘C. Bell’) complains about the ‘exhausting delay and procrastination’ that her sisters Emily (‘Ellis’) and Anne (‘Acton’) have had to endure in the publication of their novels by Thomas Newby. Emily Brontë’s only novel Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontë’s first novel Agnes Grey were both published by Newby in December 1847 shortly after Charlotte wrote this letter.
In addition to the Brontë manuscripts described above, the British Library also received two leaves from the manuscript of Walter Scott’s Kenilworth (Add MS 89485), a novel of intrigue and deception set in Elizabethan England. These handwritten pages were part of the manuscript which Scott sent to the printer John Ballantyne for the publication of the novel in January 1821. The Library also holds the larger part of the manuscript of Kenilworth and two further leaves acquired in 2017.
The manuscripts have been digitised in full and images can be accessed via the archives and manuscripts catalogue and through the links in this blogpost. The printed items are described in the main catalogue and can be identified by the shelfmark prefix ‘Hon’. See our new collection guide for further details.
A small selection of books and manuscripts from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library is currently on display in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library in London (until 19 February 2023). The display includes a leaf from Walter Scott’s Kenilworth manuscript, the letter from Charlotte Brontë to WS Williams, Emily Brontë’s poetry notebook together with her own copy of Poems (1846), and two of the chapbooks from the Maskell collection.
We are delighted to be working with the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brotherton Library to make the Brontë material available to new audiences (online and in an exhibition) over the coming months and years.
30 September 2022
By Greg Buzwell, Curator, Contemporary Literary Archives.
‘Does anyone seriously believe that Beatles music will be an unthinkingly accepted part of daily life all over the world in the 2000s?’ wrote the philosopher and politician Bryan Magee in the February 1967 issue of The Listener. The passage of time has subsequently given a resounding answer to Magee’s question, and it turned out not to be the one he was obviously expecting. His comment highlights the now almost eye-wateringly unbelievable notion that, even after Beatlemania, several albums including A Hard Day’s Night, Rubber Soul and Revolver - and on the verge of the Summer of Love and the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band - the Beatles’ lasting contribution to popular culture was still being questioned in certain quarters.
Someone else also pondering the Beatles and their legacy in 1967 was the journalist Hunter Davies. The British Library has recently acquired Davies’s archive of Beatles-related material consisting of photographs, press cuttings, concert programmes and ephemera together with the notebooks he kept when carrying out his research for his 1968 biography of the band – The Beatles: The Authorised Biography. Hunter interviewed dozens of people prior to writing his book, including of course John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, but also wives and girlfriends including Cynthia Lennon and Jane Asher, along with other key contributors to the band’s success such as their manager Brian Epstein; their producer George Martin; Astrid Kirchherr whose early photographs of the group were instrumental in defining their look, and their road manager Mal Evans along with many, many others. Among the collection there is also a draft of Hunter’s original letter to Brian Epstein suggesting the idea that he write an authorised biography of the Beatles and asking for Brian’s approval.
One of the points Hunter makes in the letter is that the book would provide a record of the Beatles phenomenon and allow everyone involved with the band to have their say while events were still relatively fresh in their memories. In essence the book would be, in Hunter’s words, ‘not a fan book, but a full study of what happened and why during the last five years’. Perhaps, even in 1967, this was ambitious. In particular the band’s recollection of their early days in Hamburg was already a little hazy. Unsurprising given the relentless nature of the gigs they had to play and the outrageous nightlife offered to those on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn where the clubs the Beatles played were situated. When talking to the Beatles about their Hamburg days Hunter’s notebooks contain details of John Lennon sleeping behind the stage and of Pete Best, the band’s drummer before Ringo Starr joined in 1962, being so exhausted he once collapsed over his drum kit mid-performance. Then again, all the more reason to have those recollections and thoughts put down on paper before they became even more lost in the haze between actuality and memory.
The highlight of the collection is undoubtedly to be found in one of the notebooks in which Hunter recorded his interviews with Paul McCartney. At one point Hunter asked Paul to describe how John Lennon and George Harrison looked back in their late-1950s pre-Beatles days with the band The Quarrymen. Paul duly obliged, but he also borrowed Hunter’s notebook and quickly sketched George and John: the former all boyishly innocent with upswept hair and bushy eyebrows and the latter with sideburns, glasses and a stare firmly focused on the future. There’s something touching about the sketches – an authenticity and affection that comes from Paul reflecting on two friends and the impression they made on him in the very first days of their friendship.
Also among the archive is the transcript of a television interview, the recording of which is now thought to be lost, between Hunter Davies and Ringo Starr dated December 15th 1970. A date by which point the band had effectively split. In the interview Ringo talks about how one of his childhood ambitions, at least according to his mother, was to be a tramp and to wander the world. There’s also a list of the questions Hunter is hoping to have answered in the interview, such as whether Ringo worries that film companies only want him in their movies so they can put his name on the poster; whether he still goes back to Liverpool to revisit his roots and whether his fame prevents him from ordinary pleasures such as evenings out in a pub with friends. Much of the interview comes across as a touching attempt to discover Ringo the private individual, husband and father beneath the surface glamour of Ringo the rock-star drummer.
At its heart though the archive is really about Hunter’s authorised biography of the Beatles. First published in 1968 and the only book about the group ever written with the backing of the whole band and those within their inner circle. As such it offers an invaluable insight into what made the Beatles tick, and how they managed to achieve so much in such a relatively short space of time. There have been, quite literally, thousands of books written about the Beatles and while they all offer something perhaps only a dozen or so are absolutely essential to anyone who loves the music and wishes to know more about how it all came about. Hunter’s book is definitely towards the top of that select list and his archive reveals a great deal about how he put it together.
To learn more about The Beatles: The Authorised Biography, along with the archive behind its creation and Hunter Davies’s long association with the Beatles, please follow the link below for details of an event on November 11th 2022 featuring Hunter in conversation: Hunter Davies: Writing The Beatles.
23 September 2022
by Dominic Newman, Manuscripts Cataloguer.
Donald Michael Thomas (b. 1935) made his name as a writer when, in the early 1980s, his novel ‘The White Hotel’ scored a sudden success in the United States. With its psychedelic expedition into the subconscious, Freud and the Holocaust, and the vertiginous buckling and melting away of trust in its fickle narrator, the sensation it caused then spread back across the Atlantic to Britain.
Yet Thomas had been writing steadily and copiously for many years beforehand, as his archive, now fully catalogued and available in the Reading Rooms, records. In his early career he considered himself mainly a poet: between the 1960s and the 1980s he filled thirty-five notebooks (preserved in photocopied form) with sketches and drafts of verse. A home-made chart (Add MS 89363/9/6) chronicles appearances of his early poems in magazines and journals.
It was only at the end of the 1970s that Thomas turned to writing novels. His first, ‘Birthstone’, set in his native Cornwall and already exploring his interest in the ideas of Sigmund Freud, is preserved in a first-edition copy (Add MS 89363/1/4) with annotations and amendments by the author. Draft material and annotated typescripts and proofs record work on the other titles that then followed in quick succession, including ‘Russian Nights’, a sequence of novels which, though originally planned as a trilogy, expanded first into a quartet, then a quintet.
Russia is a recurring theme in Thomas’s work. He has translated the poetry of Pushkin and Anna Akhmatova, and made radio adaptations of Russian literature. In the late 1990s he embarked on a substantial biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ‘A Century in his Life’, which won the Orwell Book Prize in 1999. The archive contains a great deal of draft and research material for this book, as well as photographs and interview transcripts.
A more unusual series of papers (Add MS 89363/8) records one of the great frustrations of Thomas’s career: the seeming impossibility of making a film adaptation of ‘The White Hotel’, in spite of at least three separate attempts by different producers over the years. The idea of a film first surfaced almost immediately after the novel’s overnight success, and at various junctures it seemed almost certain to be made. But each time the project ran into difficulties, including of the legal variety (Thomas even found himself being dragged unwittingly into an American court case). He relates the whole saga in his memoir ‘Bleak Hotel’ (2008), a typescript of which is also present in the archive (Add MS 89363/3/4-5).
Thomas has retained much of his correspondence with publishers and well-known writers (Charles Causley, Stevie Smith, Peter Redgrove, and others), along with hundreds of messages from his sister Lois (Add MS 89363/9/18-24). There are also dozens of family photographs (Add MS 89363/9/8-11), starting at the time of his parents’ courtship in Cornwall in the 1920s and continuing through his childhood and adult life. Lively scenes at home in Truro, where he returned to live in the late 1980s, are preserved for posterity. Most of the snaps are captioned by Thomas himself: ‘Rugby with Dad’ – ‘I was always distant at visits to beach / sea’ – ‘Singing my face off’. Family and friends too are fondly epitheted. There is even a calendar entitled ‘Singing Thomas’s’, each month with a different picture of the family singing, drinking and generally making merry. Thomas has still found time to write, however: the latest drafts and sketches in the archive (Add MS 89363/2/9-23) date from as recently as 2017.
The D. M. Thomas archive is available under shelf-mark Add MS 89363.
09 October 2020
by Tabitha Driver, Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts. Add MS 15225 is a collection of largely religious songs and poems, many on Catholic themes, dating from the early years of the 17th century. It has now been made available online through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts, as part of the Heritage Made Digital programme’s project to digitise the Library’s collection of Tudor and Early Stuart manuscripts. An introduction to the project can be found here.
The contents of the quarto sized volume are written in a cursive secretary hand, probably by a single writer. Some of the pieces take a moralising tone, while others are broadly Christian in character, but it is quite clear from several of the songs that the compiler was a Catholic (e.g. “A songe of foure Preistes that suffered death at Lancaster” ff. 31r–33r). It has been suggested that the volume was compiled at Birchley Hall, Lancashire, home of the Catholic Anderton family. The collection is of particular interest for the study of Catholic recusancy and the role that music played in the clandestine practice and dissemination of the faith, at a time when being a Catholic or harbouring a Catholic priest were treasonable offences in England.
Just as is the case with most printed broadside ballads, the words of the songs are presented without any musical notation. They were set to popular secular tunes which would have been familiar to both singers and audience. For instance, “A dittie most excelent for euerie man to reade, that doth intende for to amende & to repent with speede”, was to be sung to the tune of “A rich merchant man, or, John come kiss me now” (ff. 56r–58r). This tune was used for several ballads, several of which can be seen and heard in the online English Broadside Ballad Archive. Despite their profane connotations these melodies had the benefit of instant recognition and ease of assimilation and may have added an element of good cheer to the performance.
A dittie most excellent for euerie man to reade that doth intend for to amende & to repent with speede, to the tune of a rich marchant man or John come kiss me now. Add MS 15225 f. 56
Some of the songs have identifiable authors, and date from earlier decades. For example, “My mynde to me a kyngdome is”, by Sir Edward Dyer, f. 43, was first published as two separate songs in William Byrd’s Psalmes, Sonets & Songs (London, 1588); and “A song in praise of a Ladie” (“Giue place, yea ladies, and be gone”), by John Heywood, f. 16v, was previously published in Songes and Sonettes, edited by Richard Tottel (London, 1557).
Other ballads mark recent events, such as the martyrdom of the four priests at Lancaster 1600-1601 (ff. 31-33) and the execution of John Thewlis in 1616 (ff. 25-27).
A songe of foure Preistes that suffered Death at Lancaster to the tune of Daintie come thou to me. Add MS 15225 f. 31
Besides martyr ballads, the collection includes a Christmas carol (f. 47v), poems focusing on the passion of Christ, and the believer’s readiness for suffering, as well as simple verses suitable for children’s religious education. “In dayes of yore when words did passe for bands” (ff. 29v-30v) is a satirical attack on puritans which takes particular delight in targeting the puritan women (“Rachell, Maud, Jane, Doll and Grace, / Kate starchèd with a Ruff half an inch longe; / and Mistris Mince-pepin with her mumpinge face”), whose “puer, unspotted” ways are a hypocritical cover for lasciviousness.
The volume was purchased on 18 June 1844, at the sale of manuscripts belonging to the deceased antiquarian Benjamin Heywood Bright (1787-1843). Bright’s remarkable collections (including many treasures which have ended up in the British Library) were dispersed in three sales from 1844 to 1845, of which this was the first. The Gentleman’s magazine reported the sale in detail the following month, censuring Bright for alleged “dog in the manger” secrecy over his hoard of treasures, and rejoicing that many items previously hidden from sight were now publici iuris, “safely brought to an anchor in the National Collection” (the British Museum library).
Gentleman’s magazine (August 1844) p. 147
Now not only is Add MS 15225 safely made fast in the national library but it is available freely online. The Gentleman’s magazine would certainly have approved.
Emelie K M Murphy, “Music and Catholic culture in post-Reformation Lancashire: piety, protest, and conversion”. In British Catholic History, Volume 32, Issue 4 (October 2015), pp. 492-525.
15 July 2020
By Zoë Wilcox, Curator of Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts
Drawing of Steerpike from the Gormenghast books. © Estate of Mervyn Peake
Today we are announcing the acquisition of over 300 drawings from the pen of one of the 20th century’s greatest illustrators, Mervyn Peake. The archive includes fearsome and funny illustrations for classics such as Treasure Island, The Hunting of the Snark and Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm, as well as illustrations for his own books including Gormenghast, Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor and Letters From a Lost Uncle. This newly-acquired archive – also containing juvenilia and unpublished work - joins his literary manuscripts already held here at the British Library, together forming the largest public Mervyn Peake collection anywhere in the world. From completion of cataloguing in 2022 you will be able to research the Mervyn Peake Visual Archive for yourself and there will be opportunities to see the illustrations in upcoming British Library exhibitions, but for now here are a few highlights to whet your appetite and stimulate those research ideas.
One of the undoubted gems of this new collection is Peake’s series of illustrations for Treasure Island, which were published in 1949 and are regarded as some of the finest examples of his illustrative work. It probably helped that Treasure Island was his favourite book from childhood and that he had been poring over the drawings of others, including the anonymous original illustrator, and drafting his own versions since he was a schoolboy (as evidenced by the fact that two watercolour illustrations survive in the archive executed when Peake was only 15). But Peake’s familiarity with the illustrators who went before him was not purely down to childhood fandom. On receiving one of his earliest commissions to illustrate Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark in 1941 he set out to learn everything he could from the artists he most admired – from Hogarth and Blake to Cruikshank and Bewick. As a writer himself, he maintained a healthy respect for the authors whose work he was reinterpreting, ‘sliding into another man’s soul’ as he put it and subordinating himself to the story, which perhaps explains why he often chose to show us characters divorced from their setting, leaving it to our imaginations to conjure the action of the story. The results have been highly praised and Peake is credited with reimagining the story and showing us the true evil potential of the pirates (see John Lewis’ The 20th Century Book: Its Illustration and Design).
The pirate crew from Treasure Island, 1949. © Estate of Mervyn Peake
These Treasure Island illustrations are also a particularly fine example of Peake’s mastery of the technique of cross-hatching, as you can see from the above drawing of the Hispaniola’s shipmates as they approach Skeleton Island. Elsewhere, his innovative use of closely-drawn broken lines results in the incredible image of Israel Hands falling from the mast with a swirling sea behind him. Part of the rich research potential in this new archive lies in the many preliminary drawings and annotated proofs for Treasure Island which Peake retained, allowing us to trace his creative process in detail as he carefully honed each picture.
Israel Hands falling from the mast, Treasure Island, 1949. © Estate of Mervyn Peake
Too scary for bedtime?
Once dubbed by critics ‘eerie’, ‘sinister’ and ‘quite unsuitable for sensitive children’, it is Peake’s children’s book illustrations that are at the heart of this archive. Peake’s work has thrilled and unsettled children since he started publishing in the later 1930s, sometimes with an outcry from adults who have worried about nightmares and the ‘indelible mark’ left on their offspring. Here is an example from Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm (1946), which again uses cross-hatching to evoke the dark, foreboding atmosphere.
Illustration for 'Our Lady's Child' from Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm. © Estate of Mervyn Peake
For older readers, Peake will be best-known as the author of the Gormenghast books which earned him the status as one of the best fantasy writers of the 20th century. Fans of the series will find ten illustrations of Gormenghast characters in the Visual Archive, including depictions of its hollow-eyed anti-hero Steerpike, the grotesque chef Arabiatha Swelter and the delightfully-named doctor’s sister, Irma Prunesquallor.
The earliest item from the Visual Archive is a drawing by seven-year-old Mervyn, sketched on a Sunday afternoon in China, where he spent his childhood as the son of a missionary doctor. The Peake family returned to England for good when Mervyn was 11 years old but the sights and sounds of his early years were never forgotten. The sense of being an outsider came from living in a walled missionary compound looking like a miniature version of Croydon set down in a distinctly different culture, and it continued on his return to England where there seemed to be no thread linking his two very different lives. Peake’s perspective on Chinese culture and this sense of isolation have both been consistent influences on Peake’s later work, from the ritualised world of Gormenghast to the stylised brushwork of some of his drawings. In the Visual Archive, the Chinese influence can be seen in his juvenilia and also in his exquisite illustrations for an early unpublished book of nonsense, ‘The Moccus Book’, which he produced in the late 1920s from an idea developed with his best friend, Gordon Smith.
A Sunday evening walk in China. Earliest surviving drawing by Mervyn Peake, aged 7, around 1918. © Estate of Mervyn Peake
The pirate who never grew up
The thread running through the entire archive is Peake’s piratical spirit. He was obsessed with pirate stories from childhood, cultivated a piratical appearance and was very fond of jokes and pranks. It is not surprising therefore that Peake went on to write his own pirate tale in the form of his 1939 children’s book Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor. Although Peake’s early literary influences reflect the colonial society in which he grew up, it is notable how he could turn these tropes upside down. The bloodthirsty Captain Slaughterboard, for instance, gives up his piratical ways and sets up a cosy, domesticated life on a foreign island with an ambiguously-gendered ‘Yellow Creature’ in what appears to be a very happy queer relationship – marking the picture book out as ‘way ahead of its time’ in the opinion of former Cambridge Professor of Children’s Literature, Morag Styles. The Visual Archive holds the complete set of all 45 final illustrations for this book and you can see a glimpse of an early version of the Slaughterboard story in this beautifully illustrated manuscript from the collection which is available in full on our Discovering Children’s Books site.
The pirate Charlie Choke sporting a tattoo of Mervyn Peake's wife Maeve on his arm. Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor, 1939. © Estate of Mervyn Peake
Words and pictures
Utlimately, in the fashion of other great writer-artists from Blake to Wyndham Lewis, it is impossible to separate Peake’s art from his writing. To understand his imagination and his synaesthetic creative process as a whole, we need to consider his writing and drawing side by side, and this acquisition will enable researchers to do just that. You can read more about the Mervyn Peake Visual Archive in our press release.
The Mervyn Peake Visual Archive was acquired by the British Library with the generous support of the Art Fund with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation and a contribution in memory of Miranda Stonor, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the British Library Collections Trust and the Friends of the National Libraries.
- G. Peter Winngton, ed., Mervyn Peake The Man and his Art (London: Peter Owen, 2006)
- G. Peter Winnington, Mervyn Peake’s Vast Alchemies: The Illustrated Biography (London: Peter Owen, 2009)
- Maeve Gilmore, A World Away (London: Gollancz, 1
20 March 2020
By Chris Beckett
- Joseph Brearley Papers: Add MS 89422.
- Guy Vaesen: Papers Relating to Harold Pinter: Add MS 89421.
- Susan Engel: Theatre Papers and Photographs: Add MS 89420.
The British Library’s collections of material relating to Harold Pinter continue to grow. Just released into the Manuscripts Reading Room are two small but significant acquisitions, one from Susan Engel, who acted in the first production of The Room (15-16 May, 1957), and another from the Estate of Guy Vaesen, who was Assistant Director to Pinter for the double-bill The Lover and The Dwarfs produced by Michael Codron at the New Arts Theatre in 1963. The third and more extensive deposit also now open to researchers is the archive of Joe Brearley, Pinter’s teacher and mentor at Hackney Downs School.
Susan Engel was a drama student at the University of Bristol when she took the role of Rose Hudd in Pinter’s first play, The Room. The play was produced and directed by Henry Woolf, one of Pinter’s close circle of Hackney Downs friends, who was at the time a postgraduate student in the Drama Department. As well as directing, Woolf also played Mr. Kidd. Woolf’s passion for the theatre, like Pinter’s, was strongly inspired by Brearley’s enthusiasm for poetry and drama. Engel has provided her programme for the play, seven original photographs of the production and her typescript copy of the play. Rose’s part is underlined throughout, and Engel’s occasional annotations show something of Woolf’s direction.
Michael Billington’s biography of Pinter tells how, one evening in July 1957, Engel was instrumental in bringing together Pinter and his future theatrical agent, Jimmy Wax. Engel’s papers include a letter and a card from Pinter that show he kept her informed. Following Harold Hobson’s influential review of The Room (when it was revived at the National Student Drama Festival, again at Bristol, in December 1957), Pinter wrote to Engel (January 1958) that The Birthday Party, ‘my 3-acter is expected to go on at the Lyric Hammersmith. Quite a thing. Thank God you were Rose’. Although the play flopped badly on its first run, Pinter remained resolute: ‘a cheer for Hobson. I ain’t finished yet!’ (postcard to Engel, 4 June 1958).
Guy Vaesen kept a fascinating theatre journal in which he recorded, over eighty-eight closely-written notebook pages, the 1963 Pinter-led rehearsals for The Lover and The Dwarfs. Pinter and Vivien Merchant, who played ‘Sarah’ in The Lover, had previously acted together in several of Vaesen’s productions in repertory. At Bournemouth, in the summer of 1956, Merchant played Jane Eyre to Pinter’s Rochester; at the end of the season, they married. Vaesen’s journal is therefore not only illuminating about Pinter’s approach to stage direction but is enriched by personal observation and it displays particular insights that only close association brings. Of the two plays, it was The Dwarfs that proved the more challenging in rehearsal. Pinter’s response to the actors’ difficulties with some of his lines was that they should simply follow the rhythm of the words: ‘In short,’ Vaesen reports Pinter as saying, ‘if you hit a line with particular emphasis (within the rhythm) the line will become clear. Listen to the sound first – and the meaning will clear through this […]. Music and rhythm. They must be your guides.’ Here, Pinter’s approach to performance exhibits a poet’s confidence in the cadence of his words.
Vaesen’s papers include thirty-two letters and cards from Pinter, beginning in 1963 with a letter confirming that he is to work with Pinter in directing the double bill: ‘Codron is completely happy about the idea! So am I, as you know.’ In typical Pinter style, the letters tend to be brief and direct. They continue until 1995, when we find Pinter ‘off today to Chichester where I’m directing Harwood’s new play.’ Lifelong friends, Pinter kept Vaesen abreast of his writing and directing projects for stage and screen. In later life, Vaesen enjoyed considerable success as an artist. Pinter bought his cricket scenes. In 1980, he wrote to say that he has a Vaesen ‘in almost every room in both houses now’.
Pinter’s acceptance speech for the Cohen Literature Prize (1995) included a warm tribute to his ‘inspirational’ teacher at Hackney Downs, Joe Brearley, who ‘possessed a passionate enthusiasm for English poetry’, especially the dramatic poetry of Shakespeare and John Webster. Pinter said that Webster’s words made him feel ‘dizzy’. Henry Woolf has recalled the vivid impression that Webster made on ‘the Hackney gang’ when Brearley took some of his pupils to see The White Devil. In his Cohen speech, Pinter remembered long walks with Brearley when they would ‘declare into the wind, at the passing trolley-buses or indeed to the passers-by, nuggets of Webster’. Betrayal, cruelty, moral corruption, and torture – mainstays of dark Jacobean theatre – were to be repeatedly re-inscribed in Pinter’s plays. The memorial poem he wrote for Brearley, who died 19 November 1977, evokes these excited walks and talks of his youth, perambulations so indelible that it seemed to Pinter he was, in some ever-necessary way, undertaking them still: ‘You’re gone, I’m at your side, / Walking with you from Clapton Pond to Finsbury Park, / And on, and on.’ When Mr. Kidd in The Room says ‘So I thought to myself, I’d better have a look at those pipes’, one can imagine an inward chuckle as Woolf performed, reminded as he surely must have been of Webster’s visceral line, cited by Pinter in his Cohen speech: ‘There’s a plumber laying pipes in my guts’.
Joe Brearley retired from Hackney Downs School in 1971, at the age of 62. He spent the next six years of his life – all that was to remain to him – in Germany. A German speaker, and a teacher of German as well as English, Brearley had spent his summers in the 1930s in Germany as a private English tutor, where he witnessed at first hand the rise of the National Socialist Party. In 1933, he heard Hitler speak at a rally at Rüdesheim on the Rhine. After the War, he returned to teach at Hackney Downs School, where fifty per cent of the pupils, including Pinter, were from Jewish families. Although Brearley’s final years in Germany were few, they were nevertheless eventful. At the Gymnasium where he taught English (his retirement did not bring an end to the impulse to teach), Brearley met the artist and teacher Mara Loytved-Hardegg, thirty-three years his junior, with whom he was to share his last years (and who has now donated Brearley’s papers to the British Library). They lived in Nuremburg. To an out-going yet conservative former Deputy Head, Mara’s circle of young friends – avant-garde artists, teachers, film-makers, and Marxists – were a rich source of intellectual stimulation (although, as the papers show, he drew the line at Marxism and at smoking cannabis).
Brearley’s archive is weighted towards these final and personally-fulfilling years: there are extensive files of correspondence and two journals that record, in poetry, photographs and watercolours, holidays with Mara in Greece and Ireland. But the collection also includes some earlier Hackney Downs material. There are printed programmes for the school plays that Brearley produced, and school exercise books that record the staging and lighting schemes for the two plays by Shakespeare in which Pinter acted, as Macbeth and as Romeo. Brearley did not act in his production of Macbeth, but in Romeo and Juliet he played Prince Escalus.
In September 1977, only weeks before his death in November, Brearley returned to England to meet up with a longstanding American friend and his wife. Much to Brearley’s frustration, they are determined to visit – whistle-stop fashion, guide-book in hand – every cathedral city in southern England. Along the way, however, Brearley manages to augment the repetitive schedule. They visit Henry Woolf, ‘an old (actor) pupil of mine’ then living in Folkestone. Two days later, they detour to Brighton where Brearley is reacquainted with Pinter’s parents (in 1948, Brearley had interceded on Pinter’s behalf when, much to the dismay of his parents, he decided to register as a conscientious objector). At the end of the exhausting itinerary, on Friday 30 September, Brearley lunches with Pinter, at ‘The Little Acropolis’ in Charlotte Street. Inevitably, much of their conversation touches upon Pinter’s changed personal circumstances, sensationally reported at the time in the newspapers: the end of his marriage to Vivien Merchant and his new life with Antonia Fraser. When Brearley and Pinter met for the last time, they were both were embarking on new futures.
Pinter is a presence throughout the archive, which includes his correspondence with both Brearley and Loytved-Hardegg, continuing solicitously until his death in 2008. But there is a second consistent presence who must be mentioned. On the same tour of southern England, Brearley slipped away to make one further personal call. Passing through Cambridge, he called upon his old tutor, F. R. Leavis, whose health was then rapidly declining. Queenie Leavis greeted him: ‘It’s good to see his really old students from the great days … one has to be so careful now. I have to keep away people who come out of mere curiosity … and journalists out for a story.’ Brearley read for the English Tripos at Cambridge under Leavis’s supervision. In an autograph testimonial in the archive, Leavis wrote (14 March 1932): ‘[Brearley] has in particular studied critical method, especially as it bears upon the problem of teaching English. He is a cultivated man with a trained mind, & is himself well qualified to teach. I recommend him with great confidence.’ Among the many letters of condolence Mara received was one from Q. D. Leavis, who admitted to having initially hesitated in agreeing to Brearley’s visit, ‘Dr Leavis so changed and not able to converse’. She paints a poignant picture of their last meeting: ‘I shall never forget how kind and sympathetic [Joe] was to my husband, sitting by his bed & holding his hand’.
Leavis outlived Brearley by five months. His persistent presence in the archive – which extends even to a final brief entry (2 November 1977) in Brearley’s last journal, written from his hospital bed – serves as a reminder that Brearley’s enduring influence upon the young Pinter in the late 1940s, including the ‘revelation’, as Pinter described it, of Webster’s plays, had a particular critical and pedagogical setting. It also supplies a context to Pinter’s advice to the actors rehearsing The Dwarfs, that their guide should be the music and rhythm, the movement – to borrow a favoured term from Leavis – of his words. If Brearley’s teacher was not far from his thoughts in hospital, nor was his pupil. The first note in the same hospital journal (15 October) registers a dream of a dream, a dream of Pinter acting in a ‘school production’ of Midsummer Night’s Dream.
13 March 2020
by Eleanor Dickens, Curator of Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts, Politics and Public Life. The Beryl Foster Archive( Add MS 89305) now available to consult, for free, in our Reading Rooms.
During the late 1960s, London was home to many revolutionary groups and radical collectives that were part of the greater wave of student and worker action that spread across Europe that decade. In West London, community activists sought to fight local issues -- such as poor housing conditions and lack of play space for children -- by forming groups such as the Notting Hill Community Workshop and the Notting Hill People’s Association. In this environment, there was a need to spread information and updates quickly and cheaply, to promote the local community activities and share the successes and the campaigns.
To meet this need student nurses Beryl Foster and Linda Gane co-founded Notting Hill Press LTD in 1968. It was the beginning of almost three decades of radical printing in North Kensington and, although the press would change hands and identities over the next decades, its output would remain a consistent and important resource for the neighborhood until the late 1980’s.
Foster and Gane had initially wanted to produce a newspaper for local community groups to share updates but all the groups they had contact with had wanted to print their own material. So the idea of the Notting Hill Press LTD was born. The Press was designed to meet the needs of the local radical community by allowing them to design and print their own material using in-house equipment. Foster recounts: “In the 1960’s printing was a powerful medium. Organisations, groups and movements all sought to get their message across to others and to put their information in print. […] Controlling the means of production had a particular appeal to anyone wanting to make a revolution and the offset lithographic process could make these means more affordable and flexible. It could deliver long runs, colour printing, flexible graphics and even photographs.” (Foster:2017)
Through their friends, Myrtle Solomon, general secretary of the Peace Pledge Union, and the pacifist and suffragist Sybil Morrison, Foster and Gane procured a printing machine - a Rotaprint 30/90 - from a mutual friend. Another friend emptied out an old laundry room as a home for the machine and the first premises for Notting Hill Press was established. Given the precariousness of Foster and Gane’s living situation and that of the radical communities which they served, Notting Hill Press organised a careful legal arrangement that protected the expensive printing equipment. They ‘sold’ their machinery, for a peppercorn, to two neighbourhood centres and the Community Workshop, who then leased them back to them, again for a peppercorn.
‘Playspace in North Kensington: Report on local play programmes 1967 – 69’ published by the Notting Hill Social Council Leisure and Amenities Committee, printed by Notting Hill Press, July 1970. Copyright – Beryl Foster
‘People’s News’ published by Notting Hill People’s Association, printed by Notting Hill Press, January  Copyright – With kind permission of the Mike Braybrook Archive Group
In 1969 the press moved to premises at on Ladbroke Road, beneath an opticians. This new premises required rent so Foster and Gane, who had both had children by 1970, were beginning to struggle to put in the long hours the press required. In 1971 they trained up and handed over the press to two students, Vicky Hutchin and Carola Ker. Just as they had anticipated with the earlier financial arrangements Notting Hill Press LTD could be declared bankrupt with the machines remaining safe in the hands of local community groups.
This was the end of Notting Hill Press LTD in name but not the end of community printing in this area. In fact, the people, ideas and even machines through which it emerged continued to flourish. The press formed itself into a new company, Crest Press Ltd., which functioned in much the same manner as Notting Hill Press; printing for local community organisations and on local issues such as housing, nurseries and play spaces for children. As before, all the staff were volunteers who drew no real wage and no commercial work was taken.
Senta Kandler joined Crest Press in around 1973 and in 1975 she and Mike Braybrook took over the press and moved it to the Community Action Centre (CAC) on Kensington Park Road. CAC as an organisation was formed the same year to secure rights to the Talbot Tabernacle, known as ‘The Tab’ and used as a community center. Another new iteration of the press was born, this time known as Printshop W11.
'Losing Out': A study on Colville and Tavistock, printed by Crest Press. Copyright – With kind permission of the Mike Braybrook Archive Group
The Un-Supported Mothers Handbook by members of the Claimants’ Union, printed by [Crest Press]. Copyright – With kind permission of the Mike Braybrook Archive Group
In 1978, moved on again by the council, Printshop W11 moved to ‘The Point’ on Tavistock Road. By this point those that ran the press were still working for free but they were breaking even and had developed an impressive list of local customers. Before it ended, the press was to go through one final move, forming in 1982 into ‘Words Illustrated’ run by Braybrook, Conor Lynch and George Robertson. Words Illustrated ran in this format for much of the eighties before finally folding in 1988. As his next move Mike Braybrook started A-Priori Press and though this was more commercial in the sense that people earned a wage (and so commercial work was undertaken) it remained the go-to for local community printing until it was finally bought in the 1990s by Portobello Press.
Through all these changes – and the many wider political and national changes over these decades - the press and the essential community activism around it remained the constant. There had been differences: Notting Hill Press wanted to be embedded in the broad left community coalition which was active in North Kensington at the time, they wanted to serve that movement; Crest Press worked as a collective of political activists who were involved in local and national movements; later incarnations, Printshop West 11 and Words Illustrated, functioned more as worker collectives serving community groups and supporting movements for social and political change. Through it all, one thing remained the same – the Rotaprint 30/60 which was used until this final iteration in 1988. As Forster re-calls, “from 1968 to 1990’s the names of the printers and of the press change, but the machines carried on”. Beryl Foster (2017).
05 July 2019
by Sarah Ellis, Archivist and Cataloguer of the Penelope Fitzgerald Archive (Add MS 89289). The archive is now available to consult, for free, in our Reading Rooms.
In 2017, the British Library acquired the archive of Penelope Fitzgerald (née Knox), English novelist, biographer and essayist (1916-2000). Her 1979 novel, Offshore, won the Booker Prize and the work acclaimed as her masterpiece, The Blue Flower, secured a National Book Critics Circle Award in the USA in 1997.
Penelope Fitzgerald, by Jane Bown: copyright of Jane Bown Estate
Audiences loved Penelope Fitzgerald’s novels for the worlds they conjured into being; drawn – at least at first – from her own life experiences. Her biographical writing is similarly grounded. In one revealing note in her papers she outlines the necessary preconditions for beginning a work of biography: "if it's not possible to have had personal contact with the subject”, she writes, “then at least I need contact with someone who once knew him or her, however long ago."  Such an emphasis on personal connection was no doubt informed by the varied social contexts which make up Fitzgerald’s own biography. (A houseboat community at Chelsea Reach; the BBC during the Second World War; and a Southwold bookshop, to name but a few.) The archive reveals an artistry fuelled by human connection but informed and supported by wider documentary evidence gathered during intensive periods of research. As the two approaches collide, we can see how the rich worlds of her fiction and the sensitive portraits in her biographical writing become possible.
Behind the Silence
One of the qualities most frequently ascribed to Fitzgerald is that of 'reticence'. Terence Dooley, in his introduction to Fitzgerald’s posthumously published letters, tells how she could convey what she wanted in letters in a way she didn’t feel able to in person . If the written word was where Fitzgerald’s communicative gifts lay, then her archive represents a relative wellspring of expressive power. Far from displaying reticence, Fitzgerald’s personal writings – from her earliest letters written to her parents from Wycombe Abbey School, to diary entries in her later years – reveal a voice free from constraint. Hers was a growing, industrious and expansive mind, constantly observing, recording and expressing itself through the written word, rather than through speech.
Add MS 89289/2/17 ‘My China Diary’ and ‘Small Memo Book’
© With kind permission of Penelope Fitzgerald’s Literary Estate
However expansive the archive might seem, though, Fitzgerald’s papers are fragmentary: the largest part is at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas and the British Library holds a smaller but significant portion (170 files). Tragically, some material was lost when her houseboat sank in the 1960s. The extant parts being dispersed in this way has resulted not only in a physical but also an intellectual disunity – but what we have here in London is both delightful and revealing. As with any archive, partial or not, Fitzgerald’s papers are mere glimpses of the author and her work – never a complete picture but perhaps as close as it’s possible for us to get.
Add MS 89289/6/2 Fitzgerald’s Silver Reed typewriter operating instructions &
Add MS 89289/1/11 Review of A N Wilson’s biography of C S Lewis (verso)
© With kind permission of Penelope Fitzgerald’s Literary Estate.
So, What's in This Archive?
The archive covers the period of 1865-2012, extending beyond Fitzgerald’s lifetime and including materials captured posthumously by her children and Literary Estate. The contents of the archive include research, draft and proof materials for a number of her works, 26 of her notebooks, correspondence (business and personal), her annotated library and collected writings about her life and literary endeavours.
In addition to illustrating aspects of her professional life and working practices as an author, the archive provides insights into her personal life, relationships, interests and other involvements outside, or predating, her writing career. For instance, Fitzgerald involved herself with literary societies and campaigned to support the local library in the face of funding cuts, channelling energy not just into her creative output but also into her local community.
Further to the many facets of Fitzgerald’s personal and professional life, her papers reflect a selective cross-section of Knox family history in various documentary forms. Knox family members whose stories feature prominently are the subjects of the group biography which she composed about her father, ‘Evoe’, and his three brothers, published in 1977. Remarkable in their own rights, papers once belonging to those individuals now sit integrated with Fitzgerald’s papers, much gathered in research for The Knox Brothers. Another notable component of the archive is the material relating to Fitzgerald’s first novel, The Golden Child (1977), in her original notebooks. Initially called ‘The Golden Opinion’, the work was extensively cut by Duckworth Publishers.
Add MS 89289/2/1, Knox Book 1, from Fitzgerald’s notebooks.
© With kind permission of Penelope Fitzgerald’s Literary Estate
So much in the archive holds the potential for researchers to garner rich insights about the working practices, creative processes and day-to-day engagements of Penelope Fitzgerald during the period when she was a published author. These are complemented by items pre-dating that period which show the vital preparation building up to it, such as her committed studies of literature and art or copious notes relating to her teaching work.
“How does she do it?” asked Julian Barnes over a decade ago , about Fitzgerald’s ability to paint the vivid and entirely believable worlds of her novels, so succinctly. Come and see for yourself – the archive is now available for consultation in the Manuscripts Reading Room.
 Penelope Fitzgerald, Writing about Human Beings (London, British Library, Add MS 89289/1/15, undated; 1993?).
 Terence Dooley (ed.), So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald (London: Fourth Estate, 2008), p. xiv.
 Julian Barnes, 'How did she do it?', Guardian, 26 July 2008, Culture - Books Section <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/jul/26/fiction> [accessed 5 July 2019].
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