Personal Papers of Bessie Rayner Parkes

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers at Girton College were arranged and listed in 1985 and consist of personal writings, diary fragments, correspondence, newspaper cuttings and miscellanea. They fill 18 archive boxes, two of which contain unpublished material for a biography of BRP's early life. The correspondence forms a very large percentage of the archive (perhaps about 70% - there are approximately 950 letters, of which about a fifth are letters from BRP to Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon). Many letters are annotated - in various hands - together with envelopes with notes as to content, dates, explanations of persons mentioned etc. In a number of cases parts of letters are missing. Some have been transcribed and the typed transcripts annotated. In some cases, only the transcripts survive. A large number of BRP's in-letters are thought to have been destroyed in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.[The various spellings of 'Savile Row' in the Parkes letters are as found.]

Administrative / Biographical History

Bessie Rayner Parkes (later Belloc), 1829-1925, was the only daughter of Joseph Parkes, a Birmingham Unitarian, and Elizabeth Parkes, granddaughter of Joseph Priestley. She was a lifelong friend of Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon and with her was an active supporter of the campaigns for women's work, suffrage, legal rights and education. Bessie Parkes was born in Birmingham on 16 June 1829. Both her father and mother were from long-established Unitarian families. However, despite their radical liberal politics both Joseph and Elizabeth believed in an orthodox and conventional upbringing for their daughter. This sometimes gave rise to friction, particularly with her father. The family moved to London in 1832, to a house in Great George Street, Westminster. At the age of 11, Bessie boarded for a time at a Unitarian school for girls run by William Field at Leam, in Warwickshire. Neither Bessie nor her brother were robust and the family spent time at Hastings for the curative sea air. It was here that she first met Barbara Leigh Smith, probably in 1846. In 1850 her brother Priestley died, and Bessie, who lived at home until her marriage at the age of 38, became her parents' only surviving child. In her early twenties, she began a career in journalism, writing for local newspapers and radical journals. She went on to publish volumes of poetry, essays and memoirs. In the 1850s she contributed both as a conference speaker and writer to the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science and in 1854 published 'Remarks on the Education of Girls'. In 1857, with financial backing from Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, the two women established a journal for 'working women' which Bessie Parkes edited from 1858 until 1862 as the English Woman's Journal. Key issues in the Journal were employment, the need for education and training and women's philanthropic responsibilities. The Journal offices were the headquarters of the Langham Place Group and a focus for employment and emigration issues. Among her friends at this time were George Eliot, Adelaide Procter, Anna Jameson, Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti and the Howitt family. In 1862, Bessie Parkes began to retreat from her work for the Journal. Her health was suffering and she found the frictions within the office stressful. She was also becoming increasingly attracted to the intellectual appeal of Catholicism and in 1864 she was formally converted to the Roman Catholic faith. Three years later, on a protracted visit to France, she met Louis Belloc whom she married the same year. In the following five years she lived almost entirely in France at La Celle St Cloud near Paris. In her husband's family, she found a sympathetic literary and religious circle with whom she kept in close touch, even after she was widowed in 1872. Her mother-in-law, Louise Swanton Belloc was a particular friend and mentor. BRP had a daughter, Marie, in 1868 (later Mrs Belloc Lowndes), and a son, Hilaire (the poet), in 1870. She continued to write, publishing articles and volumes of essays well into her seventies. She died at Slindon in Sussex on 23 March 1925.

Arrangement

The papers at Girton College were arranged and listed in 1985 and consist of personal writings, diary fragments, correspondence, newspaper cuttings and miscellanea. They fill 18 archive boxes, two of which contain unpublished material for a biography of BRP's early life. The correspondence forms a very large percentage of the archive (perhaps about 70% - there are approximately 950 letters, of which about a fifth are letters from BRP to Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon). Many letters are annotated - in various hands - together with envelopes with notes as to content, dates, explanations of persons mentioned etc. In a number of cases parts of letters are missing. Some have been transcribed and the typed transcripts annotated. In some cases, only the transcripts survive. A large number of BRP's in-letters are thought to have been destroyed in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to bona fide scholars and by appointment only. Please cite as Girton College Archive, Cambridge, Personal Papers of Bessie Rayner Parkes, GCPP Parkes

Acquisition Information

The papers of Bessie Rayner Parkes were purchased by Girton College from Elizabeth Iddesleigh, Dowager Countess of Iddesleigh, and Mrs Susan Lowndes Marques, granddaughters of BRP, in 1982. Two further additions of papers found by Lady Iddesleigh were made in 1984 and 1985. Any item in the catalogue whose reference code is suffixed with the letter a is part of the later deposits.

Other Finding Aids

As at Sep 2008 an online catalogue was available at http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/ [The typed lists and card indexes compiled from 1985 onwards were converted into a database in Microsoft Access in 2001.]

Alternative Form Available

The Parkes Papers were scheduled to be microfilmed by Harvester Microform Research Publications Company in 1989 but the work was never carried out.

Archivist's Note

Collection Description taken from JANUS in Sep 2008 as part of Genesis 2008 Project

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright lies with the descendants of Elizabeth Iddesleigh and Susan Lowndes Marques. Contact the Archivist in the first instance.

Custodial History

Bibliography

BRP's daughter Marie Belloc Lowndes wrote a biography entitled 'I too have lived in Arcadia: a record of love and of childhood', London: Macmillan 1941, which is an account of BRP's life from 1867 (ie marriage etc). Her intention was to write a companion volume 'Before she found Arcadia' or 'My Mother's Life' but she died (1947) before it was finished (material in GCPP Parkes 16, formerly BRP Appendix B). The task was then taken on by MBL's daughters Elizabeth Iddesleigh and Susan Lowndes Marques but they did not complete it either. They handed the project over to a professional biographer, Margaret Crompton, who completed a typescript, 'Prelude to Arcadia', but the family were not satisfied that it was of a standard suitable for publication (material included in GCPP Parkes 15, formerly BRP Appendix A). See also Fred Hunter, 'Notes on Manuscripts: The Bessie Rayner Parkes Collection at Girton College, Cambridge', in Victorian Periodicals Review, Volume XVI No. 1 Spring 1983 pp 32-33.