Bill Griffiths Collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection consists of material relating to the poet and academic Bill Griffiths (1948-2007) during the period 1972-2004. Part One of the archive deals principally with Bill Griffiths’s work in publishing and poetry, with a large collection of examples of his books, verse, artwork and pamphlets (published and unpublished), and is supplemented by correspondence. Part Two contains the result of his researches into various areas, with copies of primary sources material for his work and studies. Included in both sections are items by other artists and writers, both publications and correspondence collected through Griffiths work as publisher of Pirate Press and Amra Imprint. Biographical material includes personal correspondence particularly a long series of letters between Griffiths and the prisoner Ray Gilbert.

Administrative / Biographical History

Bill Griffiths was a poet, small press publisher, local historian, academic, archivist and scholar of English dialect. Born in Kingsbury, Middlesex in 1948, where he grew up and went to the local grammar school, he later graduated from University College London in 1969 with a degree in Medieval and Modern History. Drawn to the world of poetry he began performing during the 1970s with the sound poets Bob Cobbing and Paula Claire as part of the group Konkrete Canticle. His day job, at the print shop in the Poetry Society in London, also introduced him to the production of poetry pamphlets and Griffiths set up his own small press, The Pirate Press. This allowed him to write and produce handmade mimeographed poetry booklets that he distributed through subscription and stalls.

He was also attracted to the life of bikers, particularly Hells Angels, at this time and was a sometime member of the Harrow chapter. However, after being remanded at Brixton Prison for carrying a pocket knife he changed focus and proceeded to complete a Masters and PhD in Old English at Kings College London in 1987. Anglo-Saxon and Old English language, literature and legends continued to be an inspiration and passion throughout his career and many of his publications, particularly in the 90s, were modern illustrated translations of old texts.

Griffith’s original press, The Pirate Press, was superseded by Amra Imprint in the 80s. Between both initiatives he wrote and published hundreds of small pamphlets, booklets and small press editions of poetry, often hand produced, designed and coloured. In addition, Griffiths was also anthologised and published by Etruscan Press, Tern Press, Woodcraft Press and Paladin, amongst others. He is the author of Split Cities with Bob Cobbing, as well as Durham & Other Sequences, Future Exiles, Nomad Sense and The Mud Fort, amid many other essays, poems and stories.

Due to a houseboat fire in the late 80s Griffiths relocated to Seaham, County Durham. He became part of the Northern poetry scene and picked up work at the Centre for Northern Studies at Northumbria University. He became increasingly interested in local history and dialect, writing and publishing guides to the area and dictionaries of slang and dialect, such as A Dictionary of North East Dialect, a subject which interested him until his death.

In 1997 Griffith became an archivist at Kings College London, where he catalogued the collection of his mentor, the poet and scholar, Eric Mottram.

He was a prolific letter writer and active friend. A number of the letters in the collection concern his publications and research, and show a questing mind always hungry for new information. Due to an early encounter with the prison system, he became involved in campaigning for better conditions in prisons, as well as being in written touch with some prisoners, the most notable being a correspondence over a few decades between Bill Griffiths and Ray Gilbert, who was serving time in a series of English prisons. He was also an energetic member of his local community and participated in neighbourhood activism to improve Seaham’s coastline and harbour.

Bill Griffiths died in 2007, just before the publication of The Salt Companion to Bill Griffiths.

Arrangement

The archive is in two parts to reflect the acquisition of the material. Part 1 contains the original archive and Part 2 the items acquired after 2011. The arrangement of the folders follows as much as possible the original sources, in Part 1 a mostly chronological order and Part 2 is arranged by subject. The folder headings in Part 2 follow the original headings of the archive with sometimes a little enlargement for clarity, for example Old English for OE.

Conditions Governing Access

Available to researchers, by appointment. Please email: special.collections@brunel.ac.uk, giving at least two working days notice.

Further details about access to our collections are available on our website.

Access to archive material is subject to preservation requirements and must also conform to the restrictions of the Data Protection Act and any other appropriate legislation.

Acquisition Information

The collection was initially created by William Watkin, Professor of Contemporary Literature and Philosophy, Brunel University, and Andrea Brady, at that time a lecturer in the Department of English at Brunel University. Watkins and Brady acquired many of the pamphlets and books in the archive as part a larger special collection Poetry of the Now, their research and teaching interest. In 2011 a second part to the collection was acquired, donated by Joanne Harman, who as executor of Bill Griffiths’ estate, held many of his personal papers and materials.

Other Finding Aids

A finding aid is available for the manuscript material. Published works can be found on the Brunel University Library catalogue.

Alternative Form Available

Some copies of this material are available from The British Library, UCL Library and Cambridge University Library.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

The material of the collection is predominantly paper, mostly published pamphlets, booklets and books or unpublished manuscripts, research notes and copies of other works and is in good condition. There are some original artworks, watercolours and sketches. A number of the individual publications are fragile, due to unsophisticated initial construction and handmade nature. Some of the unpublished material is fire damaged and extremely brittle. Several of the letters are not original, but print outs of computer typed originals by Bill Griffiths. There are also small quantities of microfiche in the collection, which will require suitable equipment to view it.

Archivist's Note

Described by Joanne McPhie with amendments by Katie Flanagan

Conditions Governing Use

The material, unless otherwise indicated, is protected by copyright. You are unable to publish, in full or in part, without the permission of the copyright holder. However, you may use the material as permitted under statutory exceptions in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, e.g. quote for purposes of scholarship within the limits of fair dealing.

Accruals

Collection is complete.

Corporate Names