Thomas Sharp papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers held at Newcastle are a substantial repository of the personal papers and plans of Sharp. The major part of the collection consists of papers collected from Sharp's Oxford house on his death by the now-retired Professor Brenikov of this University. The papers were subsequently put into storage. Their significance realised they were deposited with the University Library Special Collections. The principal elements of the collection are as follows:

  • Files of information and correspondence relating to individual texts, including unpublished works
  • Files of information and correspondence relating to individual plans. This includes, for example, work on historic cities, new villages, new towns and overseas commissions and competition entries
  • Original plans for many commissions
  • Extensive documentation on key planning cases where Sharp appeared as a witness at public inquiry e.g. Oxford Roads, Kepier Power Station Durham, Clarendon Hotel Oxford
  • Extensive books of press-cuttings on all of the above
  • Typescript of an unpublished autobiography and manuscript autobiographical notes
  • Typescripts of government information films, radio talks, lectures
  • Documentation on unsuccessful commissions
  • Correspondence regarding the formation of the Civic Trust
  • Lecture slides
  • Miscellaneous personal correspondence
  • Creative writing i.e. poetry, novels, radio plays etc., largely unpublished

Collectively these resources:

  • Demonstrate the evolution of Sharp's thinking both in terms of individual commissions and over the course of his career
  • Illustrate important issues about the process of undertaking planning commissions in the period e.g. fees charged, numbers of staff employed, briefs set etc.
  • Provide a rich source of information on how commissions were received both by clients and professional and local audiences
  • Provide a rich source of material on how competing arguments and ideologies of urban evolution were advanced.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Sharp was a key figure in town planning in the mid-twentieth century. The concepts he developed in his writings and plans have been of enduring significance and influence on thinking about planning and design for both practitioners and academics in the UK and beyond. He was a major influence on the development of ideas of townscape and the significance of his thinking on historic cities stands comparison with, for example, Camillo Sitte.

The mid-twentieth century was a period when public and professional interest in planning was at an all-time high. Sharp was a key figure in defining thinking about the forms that town and countryside should take; in reconciling existing and valued character with modernity, and; in making these arguments accessible. His book Town Planning (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1940) is the most widely-read ever on the subject and followed earlier influential polemical works. The plans he produced in the 1940s, primarily for historic cities such as Oxford, Exeter and Durham, were also hugely influential and are significant aesthetic artefacts in the history of plan-making, all the more remarkable for being produced in a period of austerity.

Interest in Sharp and his ideas has grown markedly in recent years with, for example, the rise of 'New Urbanism' in the USA and of the significance of design issues in UK planning. Furthermore, there is a new-wave of scholarly interest in the post-war reconstruction planning and architecture of the mid-twentieth century as a distinctive period in planning and design, particularly focused around reconstruction plans and their partial implementation.

Conditions Governing Access

Further information lib-speceng@ncl.ac.uk

Other Finding Aids

Handlist deposited in Robinson Library

Archivist's Note

Laura Fernandez, Project Archivist, Robinson Library

Appraisal Information

Permanent

Custodial History

Rachel Sharp's sister gave the collection to the University and it was subsequently deposited in Robinson Library by John Pendlebury, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Recently acquire for the collection are copies of documents and original items from Patrick Horsbrugh.