Category Archives: Newly available (2015)

New catalogue: The Montgomery family papers

A small collection, this is the archive of a close-knit family of intellectuals, Robert Montgomery (1859-1938), his son Neil Montgomery (1895-1979), Neil’s wife Margaret (1896-1984) and their children, Lesley Le Claire (1927-2012) and Hugh Montgomery (1931-2008).

Robert Montgomery was an Argyll-born weaver’s son who became a headmaster in Huddersfield. While the archive is light on his papers, it may contain a long-lost gem of Highland romanticism, Robert’s draft novel The Last of the Clans. Or perhaps not – as his son, Neil, wryly writes in a preface:

“For the main part, however, the novel is hardly a success. My father never intended to publish it, or if he ever entertained such an idea he quickly abandoned it.”

Neil Montgomery was a distinguished psychiatrist who became the superintendent of Storthes Hall Hospital, a Huddersfield asylum. He had a strong interest in metaphysics, literature and theological matters with a particular interest in the philosophical poetry of Denis Saurat (1890-1958), an Anglo-French scholar, writer and broadcaster.

The Montgomery children went on to excel in divergent fields. Hugh Montgomery studied at Merton College, Oxford and  became a physicist, working among other places at the Harwell Research Laboratory in Oxford. He was a member of the Scottish Arctic Club and one of the features of the family archive are his photographs of expeditions to Greenland and Iceland in the 1970s and 1980s. Lesley Montgomery (who in 1986 married Alan Le Claire, also a physicist and originally Hugh Montgomery’s boss) became a much respected librarian, finishing her career as Librarian of Worcester College, Oxford (1977-1992). She was an expert, in particular, on seventeenth-century Britain, a hub of scholarly work on the period, and friend to researchers, reflected in the large pile of letters from Eric Sams, a musicologist and a Shakespeare scholar. The archive also features Lesley’s literary works as a playwright and author, including the script she wrote for Worcester College students to dramatize the Putney Debates of 1647, which was eventually produced for BBC radio. She went on to write other BBC Third Programme documentaries and to write and lecture on subjects including Kenelm Digby (manuscripts collected by Digby can be found in the Bodleian [PDF]).

The Montomery family archive is notable for the warmly affectionate, psychologically informed, intellectually stimulating, and open-minded correspondence between family members. In a letter from Neil Montgomery to Lesley, then 24, on the 16th of June, 1951, he writes about divorce, repression, the emancipation of women and the sexual sphere.

“The insistence on feminine chastity is of course a culture pattern belonging to a firmly based patriarchal society […] the demand for chastity of wives and daughters is basically the jealousy of the “Old Man”, the father, against all younger males. […] Nevertheless in a properly regulated society the vote will be a useful thing to have. So too will sexual freedom. Women will then be able to choose chastity freely and not forced to accept it as something imposed upon them by the lordly male. And that, unless I am much mistaken, will be in basic accord with the normal woman’s nature. […] Deep in her bones woman knows what the biological meaning of all this sex business is. She must have a stable home for the children which are born. Therefore she is instinctively against promiscuity. […] So then I come back to my genial Victorian corner. The sanctity of marriage is not overthrown. Women can still be paragons of virtue, and at the same time I can lay claim to be in the vanguard of modern thought. Did ever you know a better of [sic] example of having one’s cake and one’s halfpenny?”

The archive is particularly strong on early twentieth-century psychological theories, and their intersections with literature, philosophy and theology. It is also notable for Neil Montgomery’s correspondence with Philippe Mairet and W.T. (Travers) Symons, editors of the New English Weekly; the long sequence of letters from Eric Sams to Lesley Le Claire; a series of draft articles written by the mathematician Ethel Maud Rowell; and the transatlantic, wartime letters written by Margaret Montgomery (the honorary secretary of the Huddersfield Association of University Women) to Lydia Lagloire of Quebec City, Canada (a fellow University Woman) which touch on conditions in the U.K. and Canada and the political situation in Quebec, among many other matters.

New catalogue: Robert Perceval Armitage Archive

The second half of the catalogue of Robert Perceval Armitage is now online.


Sir Robert Perceval Armitage.

Sir Robert Perceval Armitage (1906–1990), colonial governor, was the governor of both Cyprus and Nyasaland during times of dramatic and turbulent change. When he first embarked on his career in the colonial services, he could not possibly have imagined the rise of nationalism and violent political activism that would characterise his latter days.

Armitage read history at New College, Oxford and took the tropical African services course (1928-1929) before posting to the Nairobi secretariat. There, he swiftly ascended the ranks to administrative secretary and was appointed MBE in 1944. He then transferred to the Gold Coast in 1948 as financial secretary and later minister of finance in Kwame Nkrumah’s cabinet. He filled his post ably and well; expanding the government’s revenue and expenditure threefold whilst doubling imports/exports. He was appointed CMG in 1951 and promoted KCMG in 1954.

With his excellent service record in Kenya and because no good deed goes unpunished, he was appointed governor of Cyprus along with his KCMG. His task was to convince Cyprus to accept a constitution that excluded the possibility of self-determination amidst escalating Greek demands for sovereignty (enosis), increased friction between Greeks and Turks, and Britain’s transfer of its Middle East military headquarters from Suez to Cyprus.

Report on the Central African Federation including a handwritten reply by Sir Roy Welensky inside.

Report on the Central African Federation including a handwritten reply by Sir Roy Welensky inside.

Pro-enosis demonstrations were escalating, guerrilla operations by EOKA were killing Turkish Cypriots and bombing attempts were being made on Armitage himself. By then the British government had changed its stance on intervention and Harold Macmillan, foreign secretary, invited both Greece and Turkey to discuss Middle East affairs. The discussions were inconclusive and rioting and terrorism followed. By September 1955 Armitage was out and military governor John Harding installed in his place.

Armitage was transferred to the governorship of Nyasaland where he soon faced a fresh set of troubles. In 1953 Britain had established the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (also known as the Central African Federation), comprised of the colony of Southern Rhodesia and the territories of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Black Africans of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland opposed the federation, fearing the influence of Southern Rhodesian racial policies (apartheid). Armitage was tasked with winning over the Africans to federation.

Little progress was made and the Nyasaland African Congress, led by Hastings Banda, was stepping up agitation. On 3rd March 1959 a state of emergency was declared and Banda along with 1300 of his followers was detained. Afterwards the Devlin Commission was appointed to determine whether the declaration of emergency and suppression of dissent was justified. Their findings were highly controversial as it found while the declaration was justified the suppression of dissent was ‘excessive’. The state of affairs in Nyasaland led to the appointment of the Monckton commission in 1960 to help determine the future of the Central African Federation.

Banda was released in April 1960 over Armitage’s objections and the state of emergency was lifted in June, soon to be followed by a new constitution in August that gave the Malawi Congress Party (successor to the NAC) a large majority in the legislature and dominating presence in the executive council. Armitage tied up his affairs and retired to Dorset in 1961, giving much over much of his time to charitable organisations and lecturing.

Playbill for Goody Two Shoes: a pantomime.

Playbill for Goody Two Shoes: a pantomime.

From the juxtaposition of amateur playbills in the midst of national unrest to the urgency of confidential telegrams whilst a suspected terrorist plot is afoot; his papers offer a fascinating glimpse into the public and private life of a colonial administrator in the midst of social change. They include correspondence with notable British and African politicians, including: Roy Welensky, Alan Lennox-Boyd and Hastings Banda.

See also the Dictionary of National Biography entry for Armitage; Retreat from empire: Sir Robert Armitage in Africa and Cyprus by Colin Baker (1998); and the Library’s other Armitage archival holdings.

Catalogue of the papers of the Tilling Society now online


The papers of the Tilling Society (1982-2006), a group set up to celebrate the life and works of the author Edward Frederic Benson (1867-1940), have been catalogued and are available for readers to consult.

Spanning from the early-nineteenth century up until 2009, the papers consist of material collected by the Tilling Society relating to both E.F. Benson and the administration of the Society. It includes correspondence, stories and articles by E.F. Benson and members of his family; as well as ephemera, photographs and audio-visual material relating to theatrical, televised and radio productions of his stories. In addition, it contains circulars, documentation and photographs produced by the Society.

The last page of a letter from E.F. Benson to his friend Canon John Fowler

The last page of a letter from E.F. Benson to his friend Canon John Fowler

Whilst the original letters of E.F. Benson and copies of his early publications will have obvious appeal to researchers, this lively archive also tracks the popular afterlife of Benson’s works in material relating to dramatisations of his stories, and is evidence of the Tilling Society’s admiration and appreciation of the author – papers on and photographs of the annual events the Tilling Society held for its members demonstrate their great love for E.F. Benson and his stories and characters.

A souvenir brochure from a Tilling Society ball

A souvenir brochure from a Tilling Society ball

New catalogue: Stephen Spender archive

The catalogue of the Stephen Spender archive is now online.

Stephen Spender at the B.B.C., n.d.

Stephen Spender at the B.B.C., n.d.

Sir Stephen Spender (1909-1995), poet, playwright, author and critic, was the longest surviving member of the ‘Auden Group’ (Oxford poets Louis MacNeice, W.H. Auden and Cecil Day-Lewis and the Cambridge-educated novelist Christopher Isherwood).

Although he studied at Oxford, at University College, Spender ultimately failed to take a degree and moved, with Isherwood, to the more sexually liberated Weimar Germany, starting a three year relationship with a former soldier called Tony Hyndman (1911-1980). Isherwood’s experience in Germany was worked into his novel Goodbye to Berlin (1939), which was famously made into the film Cabaret (1972), starring Liza Minnelli. Spender meanwhile, wrote The Temple (finally published in 1988) which was unpublishable at the time due to its homosexual content.

Moving back to England, Spender flirted with joining the Communist Party, and was briefly involved in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side as a writer and delegate. In December 1936, he married Inez Maria Pearn (1914–1977), a modern languages postgraduate at Oxford. By 1941, they were divorced and Spender married Natasha Litvin (1919-2010), a concert pianist, with whom he had two children.

Disqualified, by health and age, from military service in World War II, he became a London fireman with the Auxiliary Fire Service while also co-editing the literary magazine Horizon with Cyril Connolly (1903-1974). After the war, Spender earned a living in colleges across America as a lecturer and university professor. From 1965 to 1966 he served as the poetry consultant at the Library of Congress (effectively the U.S. Poet Laureate) and alongside his teaching, he worked as co-editor of the monthly magazine Encounter from its inception in 1953 to its funding scandal in 1966-7, when it was revealed that the magazine had been subsidized by the C.I.A., at which point Spender resigned. He also continued to publish poetry, drama, novels, short stories, essays, literary criticism and journalism right up to his death in 1995, and was well known for his autobiographical works, including World Within World (1951).

Beyond his writing and teaching, Spender campaigned against censorship and the persecution of writers, founding the Writers and Scholars Educational Trust, which became Index on Censorship. He was knighted in 1983.

A longtime member of the literary establishment in the UK and the USA, Spender’s archive includes a rich correspondence with hundreds of notable people, from J.R. Ackerley to Virginia Woolf, and not least with his wife Natasha Spender. It includes long sequences  of correspondence with W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot (mainly photocopies of originals held by U.S. archives), and also sequences of original correspondence with Cecil Day-Lewis, Christopher Isherwood and his partner, the artist Don Bachardy, as well as Spender’s good friends Isaiah Berlin, Joseph Brodsky and John and Rosamond Lehmann. His correspondence also recounts the implosion of his editorship of Encounter. Another feature are numerous notebooks and loose draft material for Spender’s poetry and other literary works.

See also the Dictionary of National Biography entry for Spender; Stephen Spender, the Authorized Biography by John Sutherland (2005); and the National Register of Archives for a list of institutions across the U.K. and the U.S. holding Spender archival material.