Personal letters from Henry Williamson and Brocard Sewell to Kerstin Hegarty

Scope and Content

Collection consisting mainly of letters to Kerstin Hegarty by writer Henry Williamson and by Father Brocard Sewell. Including also literary papers concerning the series 'Return to Hell' [annotated drafts and published articles] and the series 'Indian Summer Notebook' [published articles] which were kept with the letters in a leather satchel; Kerstin Hegarty's papers relating to Henry Williamson.

Kerstin Hegarty worked for Henry Williamson in Ilfracombe as a secretary, cook and housekeeper in 1960s. The 164 letters by HW, 1963-1975, give an insight in Henry Williamson's work, including 'Tarka the Otter' and 'A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight', and personal life, including references to people he knew well like Ronald Duncan and his family and other people like T E Lawrence and Ted Hughes. Some of the letters contain newspaper cuttings, a photograph of young HW as a soldier during war time and one of him in his studio at Ox's Cross, in North Devon, a poem 'Feb 1915'. His journey to France in 1964 is also covered, when he went with Kerstin and a photographer to re-visit the 1914-1918 battle fields after being commissioned to write a series of articles for the 50th anniversary of the First World War, 'Return to Hell'.

The letters by Father Brocard Sewell to Kerstin Hegarty date 1977-1999, after Henry Williamson's death.

Kerstin Hegarty's papers about HW include an essay on HW, which she wrote in 1969, obituaries, hymns and a memorial for Henry Williamson's funeral, a copy of Henry Williamson's portrait by Rose Marie Duncan.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Williamson (1895-1977), writer, was born in south London and educated at Colfe's Grammar School, Lewisham. He fought in the army in the First World War and gained a deep sense of the futility of conflict as a result. He worked as a journalist for a short while before writing his first novel, 'The Beautiful Years', in 1921. This became volume one of a quartet, named 'The Flax of Dreams'. At the same time he moved to North Devon and, in 1927, wrote there 'Tarka the Otter', the book on which his fame most heavily rests, and 'A Patriot's Progress' (1930), based on his trench experiences. After 'Salar the Salmon' (1935) he became an outspoken supporter of German reform and British fascism, which led to his being briefly interned at the start of the war. His postwar work, which is arguably his most important, is a cycle of fifteen novels entitled, 'A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight', which was completed in 1960.

Brocard Sewell (1912-2000) was born Michael Sewell on 30th July 1912 in Bangkok, where his father, Cecil Sewell, held a teaching post. His mother Ethel died shortly after his birth and he was sent to Cornwall to be raised by his maternal grandparents, Charles and Ethel Grylls. He left school when he was sixteen and, three years later, became a Catholic. His first foray into the mendicant life was with the Dominicans, which was a temporary arrangement, interrupted not least by the War. He saw service with the Air Force, as a map specialist. He spent a year in occupied Germany after the War and forged lifelong friendships there. On re-entering civilian life he again tried his vocation and was attracted to the Canons Regular of the Lateran. He had known the Order both in Cornwall and London and it was at their Church of St Peter-in-Chains, Stroud Green that he had become a Catholic in 1931. In 1952 he realised his long-term hope of becoming a Carmelite friar. He had previously tried to join the Order in 1937 but had met with a seeming rebuff. Aylesford Priory in Kent was to be his home for a number of years and here he set about establishing a fine Community Library. He also established the St. Albert's Press where he continued the tradition of fine hand-printed works. For some twelve years he edited the 'Aylesford Review' which became a significant literary magazine. Contributors included Thomas Merton, Muriel Spark and Henry Williamson. In the last twenty years of his life Brocard lived variously in Carmelite communities at Cheltenham, Faversham and latterly in North London. He was once described, paraphrasing Muriel Spark's phrase, as being 'an Edinburgh Festival all on his own'.

In January 1958, Brocard Sewell brought out a special edition of the 'Aylesford Review' devoted to Henry Williamson, whom he felt deserved wider recognition. The edition gave rise to a close friendship between the two men, which continued until Henry Williamson's death in 1977.

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL conditions apply.

Acquisition Information

Donation to the University in 2012.

Other Finding Aids


Archivist's Note

Description compiled by A Mandrioli, 2014, edited by Christine Faunch, Head of Heritage Collection 9 Jul 2014.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Related Material

The Henry Williamson Society Book Collection consisting of all published works of Williamson is also available for reference at Special Collections and is listed in full on the Library's online OPAC.

The following Williamson archive collections are held at Special Collections: EUL MS 43, 71, 74, 78, 91, 106, 111, 126, 239, 282, 356, 374 and 402.

Papers relating to Henry Williamson are also held at the following repositories: Dartmouth College Library, USA; Savage Club, London; Reading University Library; King's College London; Royal Society of Literature; and Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies.

Papers relating to Brocard Sewell are held at the University of Victoria Libraries (Special Collections), Canada (ref. no. SC112)