Fonds SC015 - John Betjeman fonds

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Title proper

John Betjeman fonds

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  • Textual record

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  • Source of title proper: Titled based on contents of fonds.

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  • 1913 - 1986 (Creation)

Physical description area

Physical description

24 m of textual records

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Name of creator


Biographical history

John Betjeman was a poet, journalist, free-lance writer, architectural commentator, broadcaster, and television personality who was popular in England in the 1960s and 1970s and was active in the campaigning for the preservation of churches, buildings and landscape. He was knighted in 1969 and became poet laureate in 1972. During his time at Oxford University, Betjeman's active social life included writers such as Evelyn Waugh, Bryan Guiness, Graham Greene, and W.H. Auden. He married Penelope Chetwood in 1933; and travelled extensively in Europe, North America and the Middle East between 1948 and 1975 giving lectures, slide shows and readings. He was an officer and patron of more than 40 organizations, including Royal Commissions of Fine Art and of Historic Monuments. With all his public exposure, he became Britain's most popular poet by 1962, when his "Collected Poems" sold more than 100,000 copies. His poetry publisher throughout most of his career was John Murray.

Custodial history

The records of Sir John Betjeman in the University of Victoria Libraries Special Collections contains the majority of the personal papers, manuscripts, and correspondence accumulated by the 17th British Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, during the years 1913-1984. University of Victoria Libraries began to acquire the Betjeman papers in 1971. They were purchased through Mr. A.T. Miller, a London antiquarian bookseller and Betjeman's agent. The first and largest part of the archives was shipped to UVic by Blackwell's Bookshop of Oxford and arrived in July 1971.

In 1972, Betjeman's agent announced that a second lot of letters and manuscripts dating from 1928-1967 had been found in the basement of Betjeman's house. These additional papers subsequently arrived through Blackwell's.

In November 1973, a bundle of letters dating previous to 1968 was found, badly mildewed and damaged by damp, in the same basement, where they had been forgotten following the sale of Betjeman's house. A small number of these which were deemed salvagable were sent to UVic and later another group of letters, these only slightly damaged and dating largely from the 1930s and 1940s arrived.

In April 1974, another installment of Betjeman papers was offered to the University. It followed along chronologically from the first installment and covered the years 1968-1971. It included a selection of books from Betjeman's personal library. It was aquired and added to the existing archive at UVic.

Two years after the death of Sir John in 1984, Lady Betjeman asked the firm of Bertram Rota, a London bookseller, to offer a further large collection to UVic. Lady Betjeman wanted the material to be housed in the same facility. The new material nearly doubled the size of the collection.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of correspondence, published and unpublished literary works, notebooks, sketchbooks, desk diaries, financial accounts and agreements, and ephemera. Correspondents include family and friends, professional and business associates, and aspiring poets and fans. Many letters include enclosures such as pamphlets, manuscripts, drawings, reports, plans, contracts, scripts, clippings, and bills. The correspondence series include occasional replies from Betjeman. Major correspondents (more than 35 letters) include: J.R. Ackerly, John Arlott, Betjeman family, John Edward Bowle, Maurice Bowra, B.B.C., Bryan House School, Hugh Casson, Leonard Clark, William Clonmore, J.N. Comper, Patrick Cullinan, Curtis Brown, Daily Telegraph, Tom Driberg, T.S. Eliot, Frederick Etchells, Faber and Faber, Peter Fleetwood-Hesketh, The Georgian Group, Grand Opera Productions, Great Britain Department of Environment, Great Britain Ministry of Housing and Local Government, Greater London Council, Ken Griffiths, Samuel Gurney, David Higham Associates, Bevis Hillier, Historic Churches Preservation Trust, Helen Holmes, Edward James, Wilfrid Jarvis, Oliver Kenross, G.A. Kolkhurst, Osbert Lancaster, Brazley Mitchell, John Murray Publishers, National Association of Alms Houses, National Trust, Edmund and Margaret Penning-Rowsell, John and Myfanwy Piper, Percy Popkin, Alan Pryce-Jones, Ann Reed, Royal Fine Art Commission, Camilla Russell, Martyn Skinner, John Sparrow, The Spectator, Olivar Stonar, John Summerson, Geoffrey Taylor, Time and Tide, Victorian Society, Evelyn Waugh, Keith Wedmore, Weekend Telegraph, and Mary Wilson.

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Some of the materials (reel to reel audio tapes) are restricted due to lack of compatible equipment. Consult Special Collections for information about these materials.

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Revised by JF, July 23, 2013.

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  • English

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