The Edward Heron-Allen Collection

Scope and Content

Journals, publications, papers and other documents by Edward Heron-Allen, with secondary material relating to Heron-Allen and his work and interests, and records relating to the Edward Heron-Allen Society.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Heron-Allen (1861–1943), lawyer, writer, scientist and musicologist, known as a polymath, was born in London on 17 December 1861, the fourth child of George Allen (1823–1911), head of the firm of Allen & Son, Solicitors, Soho, London, and his wife, Catherine Herring or Heron (b. 1830). His father's firm, of which Heron-Allen became the senior partner in 1889, had been founded by his grandfather Emmanuel Allen in 1788, and acquired many county and parochial appointments, which were held in succession by his descendants down to Heron-Allen himself.

Educated at Harrow School from 1876, where he developed an interest in classics, music (particularly violin playing), and science, Heron-Allen entered articles at his father's firm in 1879. The office being temptingly placed in the violin-making district of Soho, Heron-Allen attached himself at the same time to the distinguished French émigré maker nearby, Georges Chanot, and made there two accomplished violins, which are still in existence. Keeping careful notes he then produced in 1884, the year of his admission as a solicitor, Violin-Making As It Was And Is, a comprehensive and pioneering treatise still in print a century later. At the same time he developed an interest in reading personality through a study of hand and finger formation (as well as palmistry), and his Manual of Cheirosophy (1885) and The Science of the Hand (1886) also went through many subsequent editions. Becoming well known at a young age in these two disparate fields, he contributed violin-related articles for the second edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and for the Dictionary of National Biography on British violin-makers and astrologers. In 1886 he was invited to the United States on an extended lecture tour, the subject being cheirosophy. This was, at first, hugely successful and remunerative. He spoke and demonstrated in New York, Boston, Chicago, and other American cities. While there he published under various pen-names the first three of a number of short novels or stories of an early science fiction type which have become collector's pieces. They also reflect his fascination with the borderline between science and the occult.

Returning to the more mundane world of legal practice in London after three years of living a literary and bohemian existence, Heron-Allen nevertheless found time to develop other interests. Notably, following on from his study of Persian, he published in 1898 a literal translation of the 'Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam' from the then earliest manuscript in the Bodleian Library, followed by other studies of various versions up to 1908. Fascinated by whether Khayyam was a mere voluptuary or a sublime philosopher, he lectured widely on the place of the rubai in Persian poetry. He also published a translation entitled The Lament of Baba Tahir (1901) from a little-known Persian dialect, Luri.

The death of his father in 1911 enabled Heron-Allen to retire from practice at the age of fifty to Large Acres, the house he had built at Selsey Bill, West Sussex in 1904. There he produced a large quarto volume on the history of Selsey Bill (1911), together with a number of booklets on the history of the parish and a number of articles on aspects of local history notably in Sussex Archaeological Collections, built a library for his connoisseur's collection of 12,000 books (the rare violin book content of which was bequeathed to the Royal College of Music), and devoted himself in the main to an intensive study of the foraminifera of the local coast. He published, often with Arthur Earland, more than seventy studies of a proto-zoological nature, and put together over the rest of his life what the British Museum, to which the collection was donated, describes as one of the two most important type slide collections of recent foraminifera extant in England. It was largely in recognition of his work in this field that he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1919. He was a member of a number of scientific societies and was President of the Royal Microscopical Society. He had served during the First World War in intelligence, playing a significant part in the production of propaganda, facilitated by his linguistic abilities, and edited Le Courier de l'Air. Edward Heron-Allen's Journal of the Great War was published in 2002, with a biographical introduction by the editors, Brian W. Harvey and Carol Fitzgerald.

Heron-Allen was twice married, first on 1 July 1891 to Marianna, daughter of the artist Rudolf Lehmann. She died in 1902. In November 1903 he married Edith Emily (1872–1943), daughter of William Brown Pepler MD, with whom he had two daughters – Itha and Armorel. The younger daughter, Armorel, a fortnight after graduating with a first in zoology at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, in 1930, died tragically in a car crash, a catastrophe which he had forecast and secretly recorded in writing many years previously after unwittingly observing her hands. Much affected, he nevertheless completed some of his scientific work, presenting various collections and items to appropriate museums – notably the Royal College of Music and the London Library - before his death on 28 March 1943 at Large Acres, survived by his elder daughter and, for some two months only, his widow. His ashes were interred at Church Norton, in Selsey.

The Heron-Allen Society was founded in Chichester in 2000 to study the life and work of Edward Heron-Allen. The Society holds an annual symposium at which papers are delivered on aspects of his life and interests. The Society publishes an annual volume of essays, usually containing published versions of the talks delivered at the annual symposium, and a newsletter twice a year. In recent years the Society has organised an annual summer visit to places associated with Heron-Allen and described in his holiday journals.


Arranged as follows:

EHA/1 Edward Heron-Allen
(Correspondence; Diaries; Visitors' books; Writings by EHA; Scrap books; Photographs; Estate; Miscellaneous; Copies of EHA's writings and other records; Copies of writings re EHA; Books from EHA's library)

EHA/2 Edward Heron-Allen's family
(Edith Heron-Allen; Ianthe Theodora Heron-Allen (Itha); Armorel Heron-Allen; Other members of the Heron-Allen family; Ivor Jones)

EHA/3 The Heron-Allen Society
(Minutes of meetings; Photographs; Press cuttings; Publications)

Access Information

Open for consultation. Permission to copy some items may be required from the depositor.


Note that some items have been withdrawn by the depositor. Series headings and catalogue entries may have been generated for material that is known to exist but has not yet been deposited, or was previously deposited and withdrawn before the Heron-Allen Collection was created.

Archivist's Note

Edward Heron-Allen deposited his scientific papers at the Natural History Museum in London; his musical papers at the Royal College of Music, and his papers regarding the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in the London Library. The collection at Chichester was formed by his grandson – Ivor Jones – and largely consists of the volumes of his Holiday Journals, and volumes of bound letters, together with photographs and copies of his writings. The collection has been supplemented with other material and copies of Heron-Allen material in other collections presented by members of the Heron-Allen Society.

The collection was catalogued in 2015 by Timothy J McCann, former Assistant County Archivist at West Sussex Record Office and Chairman / Archivist of the Edward Heron-Allen Society. Mr McCann also wrote the biographical notes about Heron-Allen and the Society (August 2016). Additional items deposited at or presented to West Sussex Record Office since 2015 have been catalogued predominantly by Timothy J McCann or by Nichola Court (Archivist, West Sussex Record Office).

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to access and reproduce some items may be required from the depositor. Please contact West Sussex Record Office for assistance.

Appraisal Information

No formal appraisal of the collection has been undertaken.


New accessions are received on occasion, usually deposited or presented by members of the Heron-Allen Society.

Related Material

A large amount of material by or relating to Heron-Allen was deposited at or presented to West Sussex Record Office before this catalogue was compiled in 2015, and therefore does not form part of the Edward Heron-Allen Collection (EHA). This material may be identified by using the Record Office's Search Online facility, and a hard copy list (including an index of correspondents) is available in the searchroom. (Note that some of this material is uncatalogued and cannot be identified using Search Online.)

Geographical Names