dom sylvester houédard Archive

  • Reference
      GB 133 DSH
  • Dates of Creation
      c. 1920s-1992
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      55.5 linear metres
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The collection includes a vast series of in-letters, and three address books which confirm his legendary status as a letter-writer. There is also a large collection of artworks, including three-dimensional poems, poster poems, artists’ books and magazines by dsh and John Furnival of the Openings Press, as well as material by other artists in the forefront of the Concrete Poetry Movement, such as Mary Ellen Solt, Augusto de Campos, Eugen Gomringer and Ian Hamilton Finlay. There are manuscripts, typescripts and notes relating to dsh’s literary and theological work.

Administrative / Biographical History

dom sylvester houédard (1924–92) was a Benedictine monk of Prinknash Abbey, Gloucestershire. Known as dsh, he was an expert on Christian-Buddhist relations, and his contribution to theology was outstanding, particularly in the ecumenical movement and Biblical editing (he played a leading role in the Jerusalem Bible translation of 1961).

Ordained in 1959, dsh began to write poetry in the 1960s at Prinknash which would blur the line between the literary and the visual. He became a pivotal figure in the British counter-culture and a prime exponent of visual and concrete poetry, his most celebrated poem being ‘Frog-pond-plop’. He was cofounder of concrete poetry collective Gloup and Woup, collaborator with David Medalla’s experimental performance group, the Exploding Galaxy, and inventor of his own art form, the “typestract”: a form of abstract work on paper, created through unusual manipulation of the letter and symbol keys on a portable typewriter.

dsh corresponded widely with leading poets, artists, theologians and philosophers: his address book was said to have contained 3,000 names.

In the 1970s, dsh chose to focus upon his theological research into the common ground between religions. He died in 1992, aged 67.


The collection is uncatalogued. Please contact the curator for further information.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader unless otherwise stated.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 2018. Under the Act 2018 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for archiving and research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The collection was amassed by dsh over the course of his life and work. It was was acquired on permanent loan from Prinknash Abbey in 1993. A second accession of material was deposited by the Abbey in 1995.


No accruals to this collection are expected.

Related Material

Additional material relating to dsh is held at Prinknash Abbey.

Additional small uncatalogued collections relating to dsh are held at the John Rylands Library, including: 

  • Christopher Hobbs/dsh collection which consists of a signed book of poems entitled A Finger in the Fishes Mouth by Derek Jarman; Bob Rose file, c.1971, and file of letters and concrete poems from dom sylvester houédard, 1971-1981.
  • Sandra Raphael/dsh collection, comprised of a folder of letters from dsh to Sandra Raphael and 3 framed, concrete poems (including the original version of "Italic Code, 1970-1983.
  • Marina Warner/dsh collection, consisting of a file of papers including correspodnence and notes relating to Marina Warner and dom sylvester houdard. 1970s - 1980s.
  • The dsh printed collection, which includes: theological and liturgical works, works on philosophy and culture, examples of concrete poetry and small press publications, texts on literature, art and design, and a collection of rare ‘fanzine’ poetry magazines. A list of the fanzines is available from the curator.


Laura Gascoigne, 'Benedictine Beatnik: dom sylvester houédard was both a monk and a leading avant-garde poet and artist', The Tablet, (2017).

Stella K. Halkyard and C.B. McCully, 'Thoughts of Inventive Brains and the Rich Effusions of Deep Hearts': Some of the Twentieth-Century Literary Archives of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 77, no. 2 (1995), pp. 105-21.

Stella Halkyard, ‘Archive Corner 10: An Astronaut of Inner Space’, PN Review, vol. 34 no. 6 (Jul/Aug 2008), pp. 11-14, 79.