John Betjeman collection
Scope and Contents
Betjeman's writing career, as a poet, reviewer, and prose author, is chronicled in the collection. Most notably, the collection traces Betjeman's creative process through initial scribblings in his notebooks to more formal drafts and then the publishing process found in galleys and correspondence with editors and publishers. Since Betjeman often doodled, annotated, and commented on his early drafts these are rich documents of his creativity at work. A number of Betjeman's well-known poetry publications are represented in the collection, including Church Poems, Summoned by Bells, and New Bats in Old Belfries. Betjeman's correspondence chronicles his literary life and acquaintances. For example, in a letter to the journalist Thomas Driberg he discusses his interest in the poet laureateship (May 18, 1969) and in his correspondence with the poet Siegfried Sassoon he explains his approach to reading and analyzing poetry. Numerous clippings provide a sense of Betjeman's public life as poet laureate, such as celebrations and criticisms of his poetry, inquiries into his private life, and more mundane observations, such as his astrological sign and birthday wishes. Ephemera from the Betjeman-inspired production "Betjemania" and menu and matchbook from the "Betjeman Carving Restaurant" further capture his presence as a public figure.
In addition to his poetry, the collection also provides evidence of Betjeman's writings on architecture. His work for Architectural Review and his book-length publications such as Ghastly Good Taste and The City of London Churches attest to his lifelong passion for architecture (particularly buildings of Victorian and provincial design). In addition to drafts for these publications, Betjeman's sketchbook is full of drawings of various buildings (especially churches), which were often later used in print. Betjeman fought to save a number of buildings from destruction through his writings, broadcast work, appearances at fundraisers, and by lending his name to various campaigns. The collection contains an assortment of publications resulting from this work as well as a number of newspaper clippings following Betjeman's involvement in conservation work, whether successful (as in St. Pancras Station) or unsuccessful (Euston Arch).
The collection also includes a few scripts from Betjeman's work in broadcasting as well as several recordings of his radio and television appearances. The majority of the recordings are reel-to-reel audio tapes, although the collection does contain some film and video. As the recordings demonstrate, Betjeman's work in the media industry was predominantly with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Betjeman's radio and television programs reflect his interests in poetry, architecture/urban development, and religion, as his series "Choirs and the Places Where They Sing" and "Three in Hand: Three Churches" illustrate. In addition to the scripts and recordings, the collection contains newspaper clippings reflecting Betjeman's various projects, including his documentary Metroland.
The majority of the collection is comprised of the Duncan Andrews Collection of John Betjeman. Duncan Andrews, of New York, began collecting Betjeman material during the 1950s, and shortly thereafter met both Betjeman and Chetwode. The collection contains items reflecting Andrews's role as a collector, such as his correspondence and printed material, which provide insight into the collecting process and the personality behind the project. Andrews's relationship with Betjeman, Chetwode, their children, book dealers, scholars, and his work to create a bibliography (achieved later by William S. Peterson) can be traced through the correspondence. As Betjeman began to suffer from Parkinson's disease and struggled to maintain his correspondence as Poet Laureate, Andrews replied to letters on Betjeman's behalf. Andrews's willingness to provide researchers with access to the collection and to pull together exhibits is documented. Notes in Andrews's hand throughout the collection further demonstrate his effort to build the collection and to ensure its cohesion for future researchers.
- 1908 - 2002
- Majority of material found within 1936 - 1984
Conditions Governing Access
Boxes 10-12, Oversized boxes 21-22 (audiovisual materials): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.
Conditions Governing Use
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Other material came to the library in small quantities from various sources as indicated on individual folders.
23.42 Linear Feet ((22 boxes) + 1 broadside folder, 1 roll.)
Language of Materials
John Betjeman (1906-1984)
Born in north London to Ernest Edward Betjeman and Mabel Bessie Dawson, Betjeman attended Byron House Montessori School and Highgate junior school (where he was taught by T.S. Eliot) before enrolling in Dragon School and Marlborough College, Oxford, in 1917. Betjeman then attended Magdalen College, University of Oxford (1925-1928), where he was tutored by C.S. Lewis and joined a cohort of other creative-minded students consisting of Evelyn Waugh, Osbert Lancaster, W.H. Auden, Tom Driberg, Edward James, and George Alfred Kolkhorst. Betjeman left Oxford without obtaining a degree, under the pretence of having failed divinity; he rejected joining his father’s furniture manufacturing business, and instead dabbled in a series of positions ranging from insurance broker to cricket instructor and English teacher.
In the 1930s Betjeman's writing career began in earnest, as demonstrated by the publication of his first books, Mount Zion (1931), Ghastly Good Taste (1933), and Continual Dew (1937), and his employment as the assistant editor of Architectural Review (1930-33) and film critic for the Evening Standard (1933-34). Betjeman also wrote and edited a series of guides on British counties for Shell during the mid-1930s. This period was also eventful in Betjeman’s personal life, marking his marriage to Penelope Valentine Hester Chetwode (1910-1986) in 1933, their move to Garrard's Farm, Uffington, Berkshire and the birth of their first child, Paul, in 1937. That same year Betjeman became a member of the Church of England, after a period of experimenting with different faiths.
With the outbreak of the Second World War Betjeman unsuccessfully tried to join the Royal Air Force, and instead served as a press attaché for the United Kingdom in Dublin, Ireland from 1941 to 1942. He then returned to England where he worked for the British Admiralty (1944) and the British Council's Books Department (1944-1946). Betjeman continued to publish during this period, including Old Lights for New Chancels (1940) and New Bats in Old Belfries (1945).
Upon returning to England, Betjeman and his family, which now included their daughter Candida (born in 1942), moved to Farnborough and then to Wantage where Chetwode opened a teashop called King Alfred's Kitchen. Chetwode's conversion to Roman Catholicism and Betjeman's relationship with Elizabeth Cavendish caused a rupture in the couple's marriage. And while Betjeman and Chetwode stayed married and deeply connected throughout their lives, they agreed to separate.
Betjeman's publications during the 1950s, such as A Few Late Chrysanthemums (1954) and Collected Poems (1958), reflect his exploration of themes touched on in his earlier works: an interest in Victorian and provincial architecture, a nostalgia for the past, and religiosity, among others. Collected Poems was popular with critics and the public alike, and helped establish Betjeman's reputation, which was further cemented with Summoned by Bells (1960), an autobiographical account of his early student life and teaching days. While perhaps not as widely read as these works, Betjeman's later writings, such as High and Low (1966), A Nip in the Air (1974), and Collected Poems (1979) were met with pleasure by an audience already devoted to his poetry.
During this period Betjeman received several awards, including the Foyle Poetry Prize (1955 and 1959), the Russell Loins Memorial Fund (1956), Duff Cooper Prize (1959), and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry (1960). Betjeman was also declared Commander, Order of the British Empire (1960) and knighted (1969).
By this time Betjeman was also a beloved radio and television personality. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that his appointment as Poet Laureate in 1972 was much celebrated. While not all of Betjeman's poems written in this capacity were well received, as demonstrated in the criticisms of his hymn for Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, by this point Betjeman had reached celebrity status and was a figure of intense interest and scrutiny.
During the mid-seventies Betjeman was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. However, he continued to write, publish, and appear on television. One of the last poetry compilations that he published in his lifetime includes Uncollected Poems (1982), which brings together a collection of poems omitted from earlier publications. In addition to his regular programs on radio and television, Betjeman also created a number of television documentaries in the mid- to late-seventies: Metro-Land (1973), A Passion for Churches (1974), Vicar of This Parish (1976), and Betjeman’s Dublin (1979).
After a series of strokes and further deterioration due to Parkinson’s, Betjeman died on May 19, 1984.
Penelope Chetwode published Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalusia (1963) and Kulu: The End of the Habitable World (1972), as well as a series of articles. She was born in 1910 to Field Marshal Sir Philip Walhouse Chetwode (first Baron Chetwode) and Lady Alice Hester Camilla Chetwode (née Cotton). Having lived in India while her father served there as Commander-in-Chief, she maintained a lifelong interest in Indian culture and architecture. In fact, Chetwode initially met Betjeman when she submitted an article on the archaeological site Ellora (Maharashtra, India) to Architectural Review at the recommendation of Robert Byron. Throughout her life, Chetwode researched and wrote about Indian architecture and traveled there frequently (often leading tours). She died in the Himalayas in 1986.
- Andrews, Duncan, 1935-2011
- Architecture -- England
- Audiovisual materials
- Authors, British -- 20th Century -- Archives
- Bentley, Nicolas, 1907-1978
- Betjeman, John, 1906-1984
- British literature -- 20th Century
- Buckle, Richard, 1916-2001
- Chetwode, Penelope
- De Maré, Eric Samuel, 1910-2002
- Drawings (visual works)
- Driberg, Tom, 1905-1976
- Duschnes, Philip C.
- England -- Description and travel
- Gawsworth, John, 1912-1970
- Handley-Taylor, Geoffrey
- Hayward, John, 1905-1965
- John Murray (Firm)
- Kolkhorst, George Alfred
- Lancaster, Osbert, 1908-1986
- Lewis, C. S. (Clive Staples), 1898-1963
- Lycett Green, Candida, 1942-2014
- Murray, John, 1909-1993
- Nichols, Beverley, 1898-1983
- Photographic prints
- Poets -- 20th Century -- Archives
- Poets laureate
- Radio broadcasters -- Great Britain
- Radio programs -- Great Britain
- Raymond, Ernest, 1888-1974
- Ross, Alan, 1922-2001
- Sassoon, Siegfried, 1886-1967
- Secker, Martin, 1882-1978
- Senhouse, Roger, 1899-1970
- Sergeant, Howard, 1914-1987
- Spender, Stephen, 1909-1995
- Television personalities -- Great Britain
- Television programs -- Great Britain
- Guide to the John Betjeman Collection
- Under Revision
- by H. Dean
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
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