C.F. Sixsmith Edward Carpenter Collection

Scope and Content

This collection forms an important resource for studies of Carpenter and his work, and documents one of his lesser-known friendships. It is principally comprised of correspondence, containing letters and postcards written by Carpenter to Charles Sixsmith (and some to his wife, Lucy) over a 33 year period, which cover topics ranging from personal and family matters to socialism and Carpenter's works. Also included are a small number of letters from other correspondents which relate to Carpenter in some way. In addition to the correspondence, the collection includes: a number of draft talks and reminiscences about Carpenter written by Sixsmith; some drafts of Carpenter's own writings; and a series of photographs of Carpenter, Merrill and other friends. Items of note include two copies of a speech written by Carpenter in 1910 which he intended for delivery at his funeral, but which was not discovered until after the funeral had taken place (1171/2/4-5), and an early draft of Carpenter's autobiography, My Days and Dreams: Being Autobiographical Notes (1916), dated 1911.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles F. Sixsmith lived for most of his life at Anderton, near Chorley in Lancashire. He worked at Bentinck Mills, Farnworth, a company engaged in the dyeing and manufacture of woven cotton goods for the West African market; Sixsmith held the post of managing director for 40 years before retiring in 1933. He was also active in local government and involved with the early socialist movement in Britain. He married in 1908, and he and his wife, Lucy, had two sons and a daughter. He died in February 1954 at the age of 83.

Sixsmith had a keen interest in literature, particularly the work of American poet, Walt Whitman. He was introduced to Whitman's poetry by J.W. Wallace, an architect's assistant who moved to Anderton from Bolton in 1890 and soon made the acquaintance of Sixsmith. Wallace was the leader of a small group of friends who held regular meetings to discuss literary works and ideas, with a particular emphasis on Whitman. He and his friend, Dr John Johnston (a Bolton G.P.), corresponded with Whitman, and undertook separate journeys to America to visit the poet - Johnston in 1890 and Wallace in 1891. Initially known as the 'Eagle Street College' (after Wallace's original Bolton home), the group continued its activities in one form or another for many years, even after Wallace's death in 1926; it eventually came to be known as the Bolton Whitman Fellowship. Sixsmith was invited to join the group in the early 1890s, and although he and Wallace grew apart after 1910 he remained involved with the group's annual Whitman birthday celebrations until at least the late 1930s. He continued to promote Whitman's work in the North- West of England for the rest of his life.

Sixsmith's interest in socialism was also shared by Wallace and other members of the Whitman group. Many early socialists in Britain were attracted by Whitman's ideas on love and comradeship, democracy and nature, and Wallace was acquainted with a number of prominent figures in the movement. It was through the Bolton Whitman group that Sixsmith came into contact with poet, writer, and campaigner, Edward Carpenter, who first visited the group in 1891.

Carpenter (1844-1929) came from Brighton and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was ordained in 1869 and became curate to F.D. Maurice. In the ensuing years he experienced an increasing sense of alienation both from his religious duties and from what he saw as the hypocrisy of polite Victorian society. He found solace in reading and writing poetry, and he later claimed that his discovery of Whitman's work precipitated "a profound change" within him (Carpenter, My Days and Dreams (1916), p. 64). In 1874 he took the first step in a lifelong revolt against the conventional society he found so stifling. He relinquished his orders and joined the staff of the University Extension Movement, lecturing principally on astronomy in various northern industrial towns. The movement aimed to take learning to women and working-class men, groups to whom it was traditionally denied, and it was during this period that Carpenter began to take an interest in the socialist movement.

Whilst lecturing he also became attracted to the ideal of living a simple outdoor life on the land, and in 1879 he moved to Bradway, a small village near Sheffield, where he lived on a farm with the family of a local scythe maker, Albert Fearnehough. In 1883 he purchased some land in Millthorpe, near Chesterfield in Derbyshire; here he built the house which would become his home for the next 40 years.

The same year saw the publication of the first volume of Towards Democracy, Carpenter's long free-verse poem which appeared in four parts during the years 1883-1902. The work expresses Carpenter's ideas on cosmic consciousness, spiritual democracy and the importance of free expression of personality. Much influenced by Whitman (whom Carpenter visited in America in 1877 and 1884), the poem also reflects Carpenter's interest in eastern religion and the Bhagavadgita.

Through the 1880s Carpenter became more actively involved in socialism: he had contacts in the Social Democratic Federation and the Fabian movement, he became a member of the Socialist League, and in 1886 he was active in setting up the Society of Sheffield Socialists. He also became a committed advocate of humanitarianism in its broadest sense. In Millthorpe he was able to fulfil his ambition of living a simple life; he kept a market garden and took up sandal-making, and finally felt he had escaped the kind of 'civilization' against which he had rebelled.

By this time he had also come to accept and openly acknowledge his homosexuality. During 1886 he had a brief relationship with George Hukin, who was employed in the Sheffield razor trade; despite Hukin's subsequent marriage, which caused a rift between them, the men ultimately formed a close and lifelong friendship. George Merrill, also from a working-class Sheffield family, first met Carpenter in 1889 or 1890, and moved into his Millthorpe home in 1898; he remained Carpenter's partner for the rest of his life. The men moved to Guildford in Surrey in 1922, where Merrill died in 1928, a year before Carpenter himself. Carpenter did much to raise awareness and promote the acceptance of homosexuality which remained a taboo subject, most notably in his book of essays, The Intermediate Sex (1908) which included the controversial piece, 'Homogenic love, and its place in a free society'.

Carpenter's published work consists of poems, essays, reviews and short stories, reflecting the many concerns and progressive causes which were close to Carpenter's heart. His writings encompass such topics as socialism, the labour movement, anarchism, syndicalism, imperialism, social reform, prison reform, capital punishment, women's suffrage, the Boer and First World Wars, animal rights, pollution and the environment, health and the human body, sexuality, literature, science and religion. He had many well-known friends and acquaintances and Millthorpe became a Mecca for socialists, humanitarians, intellectuals and writers, from Britain and abroad. Carpenter included among his friends such figures as: the scholar, author, naturalist, and founder of the Humanitarian League, Henry S. Salt, and his wife, Catherine (or Kate); the critic, essayist and sexologist, Henry Havelock Ellis, and his wife, Edith; actor and producer Ben Iden Payne; Labour activists, John Bruce and Katharine Glasier; writer and scholar, John Addington Symonds; writer and feminist, Olive Schreiner; and E.M. Forster, whose novel, Maurice, was influenced by Carpenter.

Despite his numerous publications and various lecture tours, Carpenter preferred to live a life of simplicity and retirement at Millthorpe. He never achieved widespread fame himself, although he had a profound personal influence on many people; E.M. Forster commented that he gave to others the valuable gift of "life itself, the transference of vitality, the sense of peacefulness and power" (Edward Carpenter: In Appreciation ed. Gilbert Beith (1931), p. 81).

Carpenter's friendship with Sixsmith began in the early 1890s, on Carpenter's second visit to Bolton, where he gave a talk at the Labour Church. The men were correspondents for over 40 years, and Sixsmith was a regular visitor to Millthorpe; he accompanied Carpenter and Merrill (and sometimes George Hukin) on various holidays in Britain and on the Continent. His long friendship with Carpenter is not well documented in published sources; Carpenter himself commented on the absence of Sixsmith from his autobiography, My Days and Dreams, explaining, "I would have liked to say more about you in the book, but could not get you in somehow except in connexion with the [Bolton] 'College'" (see Eng 1171/1/17).

Sixsmith clearly placed great value on his friendship with Carpenter and admired his work; he gave various talks on Carpenter's life and poetry in his local area. He also organised the congratulatory address presented to Carpenter on his seventieth birthday in 1914, which was signed by various prominent figures from the socialist movement and the arts world, as well as personal friends. After Carpenter's death he contributed a chapter to the commemmorative volume edited by Gilbert Beith, Edward Carpenter: In Appreciation (1930), drafts of which are included here as Eng 1171/3/7 and 1171/4/3.


The collection had in the past been roughly divided according to the physical format of the material: all the correspondence was stored together, as were most of the drafts and notes, with the photographs forming a third distinct grouping. This general arrangement has been retained, although the correspondence has now been ordered chronologically (see 1171/1 for details).

Three items have been added to this collection from Eng MS 1331 (Sixsmith's collection of printed and photographic material) as they were apparently misplaced and are more appropriately housed with Sixsmith's Carpenter material. These are: 1171/1/21/16 (a scrap of paper with a greeting written by Carpenter); 1171/2/3 (telegrams from Edward Inigan informing Sixsmith of Carpenter's last illness and death); and 1171/7/1 (British Museum readers' tickets filled in by Carpenter).

The material is arranged into series as follows: 

  • /1 Letters to the Sixsmiths from Edward Carpenter and George Merrill
  • /2 Letters to C.F. Sixsmith from other correspondents
  • /3 Manuscript drafts
  • /4 Typescript drafts
  • /5 Notes and extracts
  • /6 Photographs
  • /7 Miscellaneous material

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

This finding aid may contain personal or sensitive personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) has the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately, according to the Data Protection Principles.

Individuals have the right to make a request to see data relating to them held by the JRUL which falls under the provisions of the DPA. Access requests must be made formally in accordance with the provisions set out in the DPA and all enquiries should be directed to the University's Data Protection Officer.


Papers from this collection were used as source material for: Sheila Rowbotham and Jeffrey Weeks, Socialism and the New Life: the Personal and Sexual Politics of Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis (London: Pluto Press, 1977); and Chushichi Tsuzuki, Edward Carpenter 1844-1929: Prophet of Human Fellowship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).

Other Finding Aids


Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies 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 University Library, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PP.

Custodial History

The collection was built up by Charles F. Sixsmith and bequeathed to the John Rylands Library in March 1954 along with four other manuscript collections and a collection of printed books largely relating to Carpenter and Whitman.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library holds four other manuscript collections bequeathed by Charles F. Sixsmith, largely relating to his interest in Walt Whitman and his involvement in the Bolton Whitman Fellowship and international Whitman circle. His collection of printed and photographic material (Eng Ms 1331) contains numerous news cuttings, other printed matter and photographs which relate to both Carpenter and Whitman; Eng Ms 1170 includes 2 letters from Carpenter to Whitman, purchased at auction by Sixsmith.

Other relevant collections at the John Rylands Library include: Eng Ms 1186 (papers relating to J.W. Wallace and the Bolton Whitman Fellowship, presented by Minnie Whiteside) which contains a letter, copy letter and a postcard sent to Wallace by Carpenter; and Eng Ms 1040, presented by Richard Hawkin of Darwen, Lancs, which includes correspondence from various figures active in the Labour movement during the period c.1904-1922, including letters from Carpenter.

The most extensive British collection of correspondence, papers and literary manuscripts relating to Edward Carpenter, including his own collection of papers, is held at Sheffield Archives, Sheffield, South Yorkshire.

Other institutions holding correspondence of Carpenter include: Kings College Cambridge Modern Archive Centre; Birmingham University Information Services, Special Collections Department; Worcester College Oxford Library; London University, British Library of Political and Economic Science; Liverpool University Department of Special Collections and Archives; and Nottingham University Manuscripts Department.


Papers from this collection were used as source material for: Sheila Rowbotham and Jeffrey Weeks, Socialism and the New Life: the Personal and Sexual Politics of Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis (London: Pluto Press, 1977); and Chushichi Tsuzuki, Edward Carpenter 1844-1929: Prophet of Human Fellowship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).

A bibliography of Edward Carpenter (Sheffield: Sheffield City Libraries, 1949).

Blodgett, Harold, Walt Whitman in England (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. London: Humphrey Milford, 1934).

Carpenter, Edward, My days and dreams: being autobiographical notes (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1916).

Rowbotham, Sheila and Weeks, Jeffrey, Socialism and the new life: the personal and sexual politics of Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis (London: Pluto Press, 1977).

Salveson, Paul, 'Loving comrades: Lancashire's links to Walt Whitman', Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 14, nos. 2-3 (1997), 57-84.

Sime, A.H. Moncur, Edward Carpenter: his ideas and ideals (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1916).

Tsuzuki, Chushichi, Edward Carpenter 1844-1929: prophet of human fellowship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).