Harold Heslop Papers

Scope and Content

The collection mainly consists of Heslop's unpublished works. Apart from a typescript of the source of his posthumous Out of the old earth, there are no copies of his published works. How much material was destroyed by the bombing of his house in 1940 is not clear, as some other items in the collection predate this, but the copies ofhis works appear to have been written or at least copied after the Second World War. Some have been submitted to publishers, as can be identified by their card bindings and agency stamps, and these include works on James Mather, and several novelsset in the north-east. There is also a work set in world split between the Second World War and the Monmouth rebellion, perhaps reflecting his move to the south-west, and a play set in biblical times, as well as a study of the British politicalestablishment written with Bob Ellis as a sequel to their study of the Abdication Crisis. This work seems to lead into the book, or books, that occupied much of Heslop's later life, a study of Marx. This exists in several states of varyingcompleteness, to the extent that it becomes difficult to identify if it is one work, and if so, how it changed over the years. One of the latest items in the collection (HES/C378) indicates that nearing the end of his life Heslop tried to put hispapers in order, which may reflect some of the difficulty in understanding the exact structure of this later material.

There is some correspondence from the 1920s, notably from Zinaida Vengerova-Minskaia, who translated Goaf into Russian, and a few letters and press cuttings of reviews about Heslop's novels. The letters frm Bob Ellis form the largest group, and show clearly how the two men collaborated and shared ideas in the 1950s,although there is only one example of Heslop's side of the correspondence. Letters from Victor Collins (later Baron Stonham) reflect another long-standing friendship and a continuing political discussion. A group of printed pamphlets were mainlyproduced in or reporting on Russia, and the photographs all seem to be of Russian origin from the 1930s.

Administrative / Biographical History

Harold Heslop was born 1 October 1898 in New Hunwick, near Bishop Auckland in County Durham into a mining family. Although he started at the Grammar School at Bishop Auckland, his father's relocation to Boulby led to him working in the ironstonemine there at the age of 13. The death of his mother, and his father's subsequent re-marriage led to Heslop moving to South Shields and working at the Harton Colliery. Here he joined the Durham Miners Association and became active in the IndependentLabour Party during the tumultuous years after the First World War. In 1923 he earned a scholarship to study at the Central Labour College in London, the alma mater of many of the leading lights of the next generation in left wing politics. At thistime he also wrote his first published novel: although it did not find a publisher in England until 1934, Goaf was translated into Russian by Zinaida Vengerova-Minskaia as Pod vlastu uglya. This tale of mining in the north-east sold half a million copies in Russia and made Heslop's namethere.

Although he returned to South Shields, with his wife Phyllis, in 1926 and resumed work at Harton and his political activity, the contraction of the coal industry continued and by the end of 1927 Heslop had been put out of work. The Heslops movedto London, staying at first with Phyllis' mother while he took various short-term jobs. His next novel The gate of a strange field was published in 1929, and Journey beyond in 1930. Late in that year he was invited to Russia to a conference in Kharkov, the Second Plenum of theInternational Bureau of Revolutionary Literature. He travelled via Leningrad and Moscow, visiting the vast building sites of the new Soviet Union, and attended a state trial in Moscow (the Industrial Party trial 25 November - 7 December 1930). Backin England he continued writing and his political activity, later finding work organising travel to Russia in the London branch of the Russian trade mission. He published The crime of Peter Ropner andGoaf in 1934 and Last cage down in 1935, and with his friend Bob Ellis, a highly experienced left wing journalist, he produced a commentary on the abdication crisis of 1936 under thejoint pseudonym J. Lincoln White The abdication of Edward VIII: a record with all the published documents.

After the destruction of his house in London in July 1940 he rejoined his family, who had been evacuated to Taunton where he was to stay for the rest of his life. In 1946 The earth beneath was published, and although it was his most successful book it also proved to be the last one to appear before his death. In spite of writing plays, screenplays, novels and political studies, only hisautobiography Out of the old earth would be published, in part and posthumously, in 1994. In addition to his writing, he continued to campaign politically, now on behalf of the Labour Party in the south west ofEngland. Harold Heslop died 10 November 1983.

Andy Croft states in his preface to Out of the old earth, Almost alone, Harry Heslop created the mining-novel in Britain and won respect for it: apart from his crime thriller The crime of PeterRopner his novels were firmly set in the mining community he had grown up in and, with Out of the old earth, provide narratives of that life that cannot be matched elsewhere for sympathy, detail and honesty.His characters are not merely ciphers, and their dilemmas are not simply resolved by the solutions of politicians or unions. Life in the Durham coalfield during this period, which saw both its greatest productivity and the greatest sufferings of itsworkforce, is recorded and reflected upon by a man who lived through the struggle and found the words to commemorate it.


The material has been placed in the following categories: 

  • Completed works submitted to publishers
  • Incomplete works
  • Correspondence and documents
  • Printed material
  • Cuttings
  • Photographs

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Presented by his daughter Maril Wrigg, March 2003 (Misc.Acc. 2002/3:30).

Other Finding Aids

Separated Material

Durham City Library: copy of the typescript from which Out of the old earth was abridged.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail PG.Library@durham.ac.uk) and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assistwhere possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.


Harold Heslop, Out of the old earth, ed. Andy Croft and Graeme Rigby (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1994).