The archive is wide-ranging and reflects the whole scope of Allen Freer's activities, both professional and personal. His work as an English teacher and a school inspector, and his innovative approach to teaching creative writing, are documented in the form of: letters from artists such as Edward Bawden, Terry Frost, William Gear, Walter Hodges, Leonard McComb, Winifred Nicholson, William Scott and Keith Vaughan, relating to work purchased or commissioned by Freer on behalf of the Education Authority in Manchester as teaching resource material; letters from proprietors of private presses like the Trianon Press and Whittington Press, relating to the supply of illustrated books for the same teaching resource; copies of Willmott, the magazine of John Willmott Grammar School, dating from the 1960s and containing creative writing and interviews by pupils with artists; an offprint of Freer's article 'English and the Creative Arts: Creative Writing and the Fertile Image', from English in Education, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Summer 1969), and cuttings on the same subject; copies of poems written by school pupils; letters from other teachers of English and creative writing; and letters from ex-pupils who remained in contact with Freer, such as John Willmin, who became a successful silversmith. There is also a substantial number of in-letters from poets, writers and other figures involved in the Arts, who came to read, lecture or run workshops on courses for pupils and teachers organized by Freer. These include letters from those who participated on more than one occasion (some returning on a regular basis) during the 1970s, such as Ronald Blythe, Alan Brownjohn, David Gascoyne, Phoebe Hesketh, Frances Horovitz, Glyn Hughes, Roland Mathias, Norman Nicholson, Peter Porter, Jon Silkin and Anthony Thwaite. There are also letters from a further body of individuals (principally writers) responding to Freer's invitations to give readings, and making arrangements for one-off visits; figures represented include Dannie Abse, Nina Bawden, Patricia Beer, Melvyn Bragg, Leonard Clark, Charles Causley, Edward Craig, Margaret Drabble, Douglas Dunn, Geoffrey Hill, Jeremy Hooker, James Kirkup, Vernon Scannell, Alan Sillitoe, Jon Stallworthy, Basil Taylor, R.S. Thomas and Charles Tomlinson; there is also a small amount of material relating to workshops by Ted Hughes which includes a letter from his wife, Carol. Some of the correspondence with visiting writers originally formed part of an official filing system: file names are noted at the top of various letters, and some of the letters are addressed to colleagues at the Manchester Education Committee. Arranging visits is not, of course, the only topic discussed in these letters, which will be of interest more generally to anyone interested in the poets represented.
Freer's activities as an enthusiastic collector of art are amply documented; he frequently dealt directly with artists, who sometimes became personal friends. Their letters relate to topics such as: arrangements for Freer to view and purchase artwork; arrangements for him to sell work on the behalf of artists; his organization of exhibitions to promote their work; and discussion of other activities, current projects, and thoughts on art. There are larger accumulations of in-letters (ranging from 8 to 25 items) from artists Edward Bawden, Prunella Clough, Terry Frost, Josef Herman, Ivon Hitchens, John Hitchens, Leonard McComb, John Nash, Mary Newcomb, Winifred Nicholson, Ian Pollock, William Scott and Keith Vaughan; smaller quantities and single letters are included from other artists such as Eileen Agar, Douglas Percy Bliss, John Craxton, William Gear, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Percy Kelly, Alan Lowndes, Gregory Masurovsky, John Piper, Reynolds Stone, Graham Sutherland and Donald Wilkinson. There are also in-letters from potters with whom Freer dealt as a collector, including Michael Cardew, Jim Malone, Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie and Lucie Rie, as well as a number of craftspeople producing handmade furniture, silverwork and other items. Other in-letters also reflect Freer's interest in the visual arts and his activities as a collector, including: correspondence with directors of art galleries relating to loans of work owned by Freer for exhibitions, the purchase of work from Freer's collection by galleries, and gifts of material he made to galleries, as well as discussion of current trends in the art world; letters from art historians and critics, including John Berger, Paul Hills, Hugh Honour, John Rothenstein and Basil Taylor; correspondence with fellow private collectors, notably a large bundle of letters from Rose Knox-Peebles, another passionate collector of twentieth-century British art; and numerous letters from friends and acquaintances expressing their gratitude at being able to view Freer's collection, and offering their thoughts on it - in some cases commenting on how it has made them reconsider their views on particular artists. Freer's interest in fine printing and the relationship between text and image is reflected in letters from proprietors of private presses, relating either to books Freer was planning to purchase, or to publishing projects with which he was actively involved (sometimes there is also publicity material or samples of work from the presses concerned); those represented include Simon Lawrence of the Fleece Press, Douglas Cleverdon of Clover Hill Editions, John Randle of Whittington Press, David Wishart of Hayloft Press, Will Carter of Rampant Lions Press, and Arnold and Julie Fawcus of Trianon Press.
Allen Freer's work as an artist in his own right is also reflected in the archive: there is material (including correspondence, proofs, and publications) relating to his illustrations for Phoebe Hesketh's A ring of leaves and Netting the sun; similar material relating to his illustrations for H.J. Massingham's Fifteen poems; a set of 27 original drawings produced by Freer to illustrate T.R. Henn's Five arches; letters and papers relating to the publication of Jon Silkin's poem Jerusalem, with a lithograph by Freer, in 1977 (including Silkin's holograph manuscript of the poem); letters from Christopher Milne (son of A.A. Milne) relating to the possibility of Freer illustrating his book The windfall, a project which was not ultimately realized; 10 hand-coloured lithographs by Freer; 17 original watercolour drawings by Freer which were sent to Penelope Massingham, usually as cards; in-letters from many correspondents expressing their gratitude for Christmas and other greetings cards containing watercolours by Freer; publicity material relating to exhibitions in which his work was shown, in particular papers relating to his first one-man London exhibition in 1976; and letters containing comments on and responses to his exhibitions from other artists and acquaintances.
The archive includes important material relating to Freer's research projects. His work on the artist Albert Richards is represented in the form of: research material including typed transcripts and photocopies of original letters sent by Richards to the Artists' Advisory Council during the Second World War; correspondence (copies of Freer's outgoing letters as well as incoming letters) with various individuals and organizations relating to his research enquiries (this includes some letters from Hannah Richards, Albert's mother); letters relating to the Rose of death exhibition at the Imperial War Museum; drafts of Freer's long essay on Richards used as the introduction to the Rose of death exhibition catalogue, and a copy of the published catalogue. His Thomas Hennell research is more extensively documented, and relevant material includes: some original documents written by Hennell himself; an original letter to Hennell from John Betjeman; a transcript of Hennell's 'Dream Diary' from the 1930s; a transcript of a radio memorial programme devoted to Hennell by the painter Vincent Lines; photocopy typescript of 'Lady Filmy Fern, or The Voyage of the Window Box', a fantasy by Hennell; copies of Hennell's original letters to the War Artists' Advisory Committee; letters from E. Owen Jennings, Hennell's Artistic Executor, who forwarded correspondence of his own relating to Hennell, dating back to the 1940s (also included in the archive); letters from artists and craftspeople who knew Hennell, and friends of his including Graham Sutherland, Edward Bawden, Delmar Banner, A.S. Hartrick, Sheila Clark (sister of Vincent Lines), and Hennell's sister Betty; and letters from others relating to Freer's Hennell-related enquiries (including a letter from the poet David Wright). Hennell's connection with the writer H.J. Massingham led Freer to contact Massingham's widow, Penelope, and their correspondence is included in the archive; Massingham also provided Freer with a number of letters sent to her husband, which also form part of the archive; these include letters from the artist John Piper, the writer H.E. Bates, and the historian Veronica Wedgwood.
There is also a small amount of material relating to Freer's other projects and publications. The author Ronald Blythe comments in his correspondence on the Cambridge book of English verse (jointly edited by Freer and John Andrew). There are 18 letters from Harold Owen, brother of the poet Wilfred Owen, some of which relate to the biographical sketch of Wilfred Owen written by Freer to precede the selection of Owen's verse in the anthology; these letters also relate to Harold Owens's own editions of work by or about his brother, and reflect Freer's interest in the poetry of war. There is also a copy of Freer's anthology Persons, places and things. His interest in the work of John Nash is reflected in the inclusion of letters from Nash himself, references to Nash and his work made by other correspondents, and a holograph draft of Freer's introduction to the Fleece Press publication Twenty one wood engravings by Nash.
Other material of note in the archive includes: single letters from various well-known individuals not listed above, including the actresses Judi Dench and Anna Massey, the actor Ron Moody, the illustrator and children's writer Quentin Blake, and the Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells; 13 carbon typescript poems by Donald Davie, who was Freer's supervisor at Cambridge for a time; a framed pen and ink drawing, Head of Apollo, by the poet George Barker; a complete set of the journal The Human World (an offspring of Scrutiny) dating from 1970-1974; and the first two copies of the lavish journal Form: A Quarterly of the Arts, edited by the artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare with Francis Marsden, dating from 1916 and 1917.
The archive also includes a small quantity of letters from family and friends which is unconnected with Freer's collecting or professional work; in addition there are some papers relating to his work for the Friends' Ambulance Unit when he registered as a Conscientious Objector during the 1940s, with a small quantity of material relating to his father's work for the same unit during the First World War.
The archive is a rich resource for anyone interested in twentieth-century British poetry and both decorative and fine art, but the following research areas and artistic or literary movements are particularly well-represented: the art and poetry of war; printmaking; watercolour drawing; approaches to topographical and landscape painting in the twentieth century; book illustration and private press publication; artists associated with the Seven and Five Society and the London Group; artists and poets associated with the Surrealist movement; artists associated with Neo-Romanticism (with George Barker representing the parallel New Apocalpyse movement in poetry); poets associated with The Group of the 1950s-60s (with copies of early Donald Davie poems also giving the earlier Movement poets a presence in the archive); rural writing and nature poetry; and twentieth-century pottery. Other topics which run throughout the archive include the relationship between text and image or poetry and painting; pioneering approaches to the teaching of creative writing and English literature; and art collecting.