Literary papers and correspondence of Francis Leslie Watson, with substantial Watson family personalia

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 206 Brotherton Collection MS 20c Watson (1)
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English French German
  • Physical Description
      4 boxes; manuscript, typescript, photographs, postcards, press cuttings, and printed material.  Includes a metal cigarette case and a lady's wooden workbox covered in silk cloth with a floral design.

Scope and Content

Comprises: Box 1, Personalia relating to Major Frank Watson and Mrs Charlotte Watson, including their birth, marriage, and death certificates, Major Watson's army documents, several of his later diaries, and correspondence concerning his senior engineering post in Leeds, and Mrs Watson's workbox containing a family diary, an embroidered holiday diary, and embroidery tools and exercises; Box 2, (a) Watson and Barber genealogical material, including a printed volume of genealogical charts compiled by Margaret Barber holding some related correspondence, and several large printed charts of the same character sent to Mr and Mrs F.L. Watson in London on 25 May 1964, (b) a metal cigarette case containing several letters addressed to Francis Watson in Leeds and London prior to his time in India, and (c) mainly medical papers and correspondence concerning his own and his wife Claire's health and treatment, including prescriptions and various addresses; Box 3, mainly correspondence of Francis Watson, (a) to his mother from Watlington, Oxfordshire, and Giggleswick School, Yorkshire, ca. 1920-1926, (b) to his mother from Downing College, Cambridge, Heidelberg, Germany, and Prague, Czechoslovakia, ca. 1926-1929, with some Cambridge Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos examination papers, (c) to his mother from various places, ca.1925-1929, including some postcards, (d) to and from his father from various localities both before and after he had been to India, ca. 1932-1947, and (e) to and from various friends, ca. 1930-1982, together with a manuscript notebook containing his school notes on various subjects dated 23 December 1924, a folder of notes on French from his Giggleswick School days (1924-1926), and a similar folder of notes on German from his Cambridge days (1926-1929); and Box 4, mainly papers relating to his BBC broadcasts, including (a) 'A Prospect of Whitby' (1964), (b) 'The Craven Fells' (ca. 1967), with a landscape black and white photograph of Giggleswick Scar, (c) 'A Country called Holderness' (1965), and 'Freedom of Beverley' and 'Beverley Feature' (ca. 1965-1966), all including some correspondence with the BBC, press cuttings, and some printed material.

Administrative / Biographical History

Francis Leslie Watson, OBE, the biographer, critic, and radio feature writer, was born on 7 August 1907 to Major Frank Leslie Watson and his wife Charlotte Ethel (ne Barber), a Yorkshire-based family, and educated at Giggleswick School and Downing College, Cambridge, where he read Modern Languages, mainly French and German. After work on the Yorkshire Post, he found his bent as an independent writer, mainly of biography. Lord Dawson of Penn (1936) was followed by Wallenstein (1938), before he went to India in 1938 and for the duration of the Second World War was assigned to intelligence with the General Staff at Delhi. He subsequently worked as Director of Counter-Propaganda to the Government of India, for which he was awarded his OBE, and it was in India that he met his wife, Claire, by whom he had a son, Giles Hugh Shirburn, in 1950. His time in India influenced much of his later career, publications, and broadcasting. In 1957 he was awarded the Italia Prize for a programme on Mahatma Gandhi, and he wrote a history of India and other related works, such as, Gandhi, The Trial of Mr Gandhi, and The Frontiers of China. Whilst living back in London, he scripted for broadcasting many programmes with literary and historical themes, including some on his native county of Yorkshire. In 1974 he published his book The Year of the Wombat, which portrayed Victorian life in the England of 1857. He died in the autumn of 1988.

Conditions Governing Access

Access is unrestricted.

Acquisition Information

Purchased from Bloomsbury Book Auctions, 1997.


In English, but with some French and German.