Papers of Winifred Dawson (nee Arnott and previously Bradshaw)

Scope and Content

This small collection includes a photograph album (1945-1951) compiled by Winifred Arnott; letters from Winifred Arnott/Bradshaw/Dawson to Philip Larkin (1951-1985), and a letter from Gosschalks Solicitors (1991) relating to the return of the letters to Winifred Dawson following Larkin's death in 1985. The photograph album inspired the poem 'Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album' by Philip Larkin.

Administrative / Biographical History

Winifred Dawson (nee Arnott) was born on 5 February 1929 in Stourbridge, Worcestershire to Samuel Clauson Arnott, an electrical engineer, and his wife Bertha (nee Minett). She spent the early part of her life in North East England but was evacuated at the start of the Second World War to Northern Ireland. She lived there with her father's relations before German bombing of Belfast caused her to be evacuated again, this time with fifty other girls to an old Huguenot castle on the Irish Sea coast.

After developing a great love of English poetry and literature at school, Winifred Arnott studied English at Queen's University Belfast, graduating in 1949, and was working in Queen's Great Library as a cataloguer when Philip Larkin arrived in 1950 to take up one of the four sub-librarian posts. Winifred and Larkin became close friends and they continued to exchange correspondence whilst she was studying in London on an archivists' course at Birkbeck College. She returned to Belfast but left shortly after to marry Geoffrey Bradshaw in 1954. The couple moved to London, and later to Christchurch in Dorset, and had three children. The Bradhsaw's marriage ended in divorce in 1976, with Winifred remarrying to Grant Dawson on 16 April 1981. She loved to travel, enjoyed hill walking, meeting her many friends and singing in choirs. In her last decade she learnt that she had a blood cancer, which would soon become virulent, but kept this knowledge secret, being determined to spend much of the time she had left researching and then self-publishing the first biography of the pioneering historian Amy Audrey Locke. Winifred succeeded in publishing the biography, The Porter's Daughter, just before her death on 22 August 2014, aged 85.

Winifred Arnott inspired five of Philip Larkin's poems, more than any other woman in his life, including 'Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album', 'Latest Face' and 'He Hears That His Beloved Has Become Engaged'. Their relationship has been described as a 'romantic friendship' by Larkin's biographer, James Booth, with Larkin perhaps desiring more from the relationship than Winifred. Proud of her association with Larkin, Winifred Dawson established friendships with other women connected to Larkin, including Maeve Brennan and Jean Hartley, and was a committed member of the Larkin Society.

Access Information

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Custodial History

Donated by Grant Dawson, widower of Winifred Dawson, Jan 2015.

Related Material

Papers of Philip Larkin [U DPL]

Philip Larkin's letters to Winifred Dawson are held at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.