Correspondence of Mary Howitt (1799-1888), ne Botham, writer, 1822-1888

Scope and Content

The collection is a rich resource for evidence not only on the life of Mary Howitt and herimmediate family but on a wide range of social, political, and literary subjects from themid-nineteenth century. The writers are observant, articulate and frank. The bulk of thecorrespondence was between women, and inevitably touches closely on domestic issues, including theraising of children, as well as on the role of women themselves. Geographical location is sometimesparticularly important, as in the series of letters from Mary's sister Emma Alderson, in Cincinnati,Ohio before the American civil war. The following series comprise the main elements in thecollection:

  • Correspondence from Mary Howitt to her sister Anna Harrison, 373 Letters, 1822-1882; her nieceMary Harrison, 13 letters, 1847-1883; and unidentified and other correspondents (Ht 1);
  • Correspondence from Anna Harrison to her daughters Mary Harrison, 13 letters, 1853-1873, MargaretYarnell, 7 letters, 1861, and Agnes MacDonnell, 6 letters, 1861; her sister Mary Howitt, 78 letters,1825-1867; and other correspondents (Ht 4);
  • Correspondence from Emma Alderson to her sisters Mary Howitt, 76 letters, 1823-1847, and AnnaHarrison, 8 letters, 1824-1847; her mother Ann Botham, 40 letters, 1834-1847; and othercorrespondents. There are also parts of her American journal (Ht 7);
  • Smaller series include correspondence from: William Howitt (Ht 2), Richard Howitt (Ht 3), DanielHarrison (Ht 5), Hannah Harrison (Ht 6), Harrison Alderson (Ht 8), Charles Botham (Ht 9), Anna MaryWatts (Ht 10), Alfred Howitt (Ht 11), Anna Mary Harrison (Ht 12), Margaret Ann Yarnell (Ht 13),Ellis Yarnell (Ht 14), Agnes MacDonnell (Ht 15), Emily Harrison (Ht 16), Joe (Ht 17), WilliamAlderson (Ht 18), Mildred Yarnell (Ht 19), Agnes Yarnell (Ht 20), miscellaneous items (Ht 21-27),and notes by biographer Amice Lee.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary Howitt was born in Coleford, Gloucestershire in 1799 to Samuel Botham, a land surveyor, andAnn (ne Woods) who were both Quakers. Soon after Mary's birth, the family moved to Uttoxeter,Staffordshire. She was educated at schools in Croydon and Sheffield. In 1821, she married WilliamHowitt (1792-1879), a writer from Heanor, Derbyshire, who was earning at the time earning his livingas a dispensing chemist. The following year, they moved to Nottingham. Their surviving childrenwere: Anna Mary (known as 'Annie', 1824-1881), Charles Botham (1826-1828), Alfred William(1830-1908), Claude Middleton (1833-1844), Herbert Charlton (known as 'Charlton', 1838-1863), andMargaret Anastasia (known as 'Meggie', 1839-1930).

In the 1830s, William and Mary moved to Esher, Surrey to be closer to London's literary circleand publishers. In 1840, they moved to Heidelberg in Germany and complemented earnings from theircreative writing with those from translation. Mary learnt Swedish and Danish and translated someIcelandic sagas. In 1843, they returned to England and took up residence in London: first inClapton, then in St. John's Wood, and finally in Highgate. Mary continued her translations and wascommissioned by Hans Christian Anderson to translate some of his works for children. Throughout herlife, Mary was a devout Quaker, with strong beliefs and commitments. After a brief spell inClaremont, Surrey (1866-1869) the Howitts moved to Rome where Mary died in 1888.

Mary and William Howitt wrote both separately and in partnership. They contributed prose, talesand verse for journals such as the Edinburgh Journal and published topographical works aboutthe places that they visited. In 1848 and 1849 Mary contributed to William's Howitt Journalas well as being the paper's joint editor.

Antedivian Sketches (1830) was Mary's first poetry collection, followed in 1836 byChronicle of Wood Leighton, a prose work for adults set in Uttoxeter. She also wrote fiction,and her books for children, such as Illustrated Library for the Young, were very popular. Inall, about seventy-four books were written wholly or predominantly by Mary.


The collection has been divided by document type into series by correspondent. Within theseseries, items have been arranged chronologically.

Access Information

ACCESS: Pending full cataloguing, access is limited andis possible for particular series only to registered readers by advance notice and with assistanceof the archivist.

Other Finding Aids

This description is at present the only publicly available finding aid for the collection. Adatabase file provides brief entries, giving or estimating dates, places of writing, and names ofcorrespondents. This can be consulted with the assistance of the archivists. Copyright in thedescription belongs to The University of Nottingham.

Conditions Governing Use

REPROGRAPHIC: Reprographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposesonly, depending on access status and the condition of the documents.

COPYRIGHT: Permission to make published use of any material from this collection must be soughtin advance in writing from the Keeper of the Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections(email The Department will try to assist in identifying copyright owners but the responsibility for copyright clearance before publication ultimately rests with the reader.

Custodial History

Members of the Botham and Howitt families maintained close contact with each other throughcorrespondence. Much of this was preserved and was available to Mary Howitt's grand niece Amice Lee,who used the letters in her biographical work Laurels and Rosemary, The Life of William and MaryHowitt (Oxford University Press, 1955). Letters in the present collection bear notationsindicating their original place in the archive used by Amice Lee.

The collection was purchased in two parts in December 1990 and August 1995 by The University ofNottingham's Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections. The first part was bought with theassistance of a grant from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Related Material

  • The University of Nottingham; Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections: Letters fromWilliam and Mary Howitt and their daughter, Margaret, to William and Eliza Oldham, 1869-1889.Reference: Bg 1-24
  • A substantial collection of published works by William and Mary Howitt forms part of thereserved stock in the Department's East Midlands Collection. Individual titles can be identifiedthrough the University's library online catalogue, UNLOC.
  • A number of other archive collections held elsewhere in the UK containing manuscripts relatingto Mary Howitt are recorded on the National Registerof Archives.


Amice Lee, Laurels and rosemary: the life of William and Mary Howitt (OxfordUniversity Press, London, 1955)