Letter from John Betjeman to Professor Chris Brooks

Scope and Content

This collection consists of one letter from Betjeman to Brooks relating to research in Devon church architecture, 17 Feb 1978.

Administrative / Biographical History

Professor Chris Brooks (1949-2002), was one of Britain's leading cultural historians of the Victorian period, and was a former Chair of the prestigious Victorian Society. His library of primary and secondary source Victorian material was donated to the University Library in 2002. The strengths of this book collection reflect Brooks's research and teaching interests in art and architecture, literature, topography, and history.

Born in London in 1949, his family moved to Devon when he was young and, after graduating from Manchester University in 1971, Brooks joined the School of English at Exeter as a tutor in 1974. He became a lecturer in 1976, took his doctorate from Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1979, and later became a professor in Victorian studies at Exeter, where he helped lead the establishment of the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture, a museum and resource centre now administered through the University Library's Special Collections. As Chair of the Victorian Society in 1993, he was instrumental in securing the restoration of the Royal Albert Memorial, London, for he took an active role in historic building conservation issues on a local and national level. Chris Brooks died in 2002.

His publications include The Great East Window of Exeter Cathedral (1988), Mortal Remains (1988), and The Albert Memorial (1995), but his 'masterpiece', according to Geoff Branwood, Chair of the Victorian Society, was The Gothic Revival (1999), which 'broke new ground in examining what the concept of the gothic meant at different times and places'.

Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984), poet, broadcaster and architectural historian, was the son of E. E. Betjeman and was educated at Marlborough College before going up to Magdalen College, Oxford in 1925. He married Penelope Valentine Hester (nee Chetwode) in 1933, and the couple had one son and a daughter. He began publishing poetry and pieces on topography and architecture, subjects which continued to occupy him throughout his life, in the Twenties and obtained a job at The Architectural Review in 1930. Betjeman succeeded Cecil Day Lewis as Poet Laureate in 1972, and he was to hold the position until his death. He has been described as a 'national monument', the most popular poet Laureate of the twentieth-century. Certainly his poetry, including a verse autobiography Summoned by Bells (1960), reached a wide audience, and he raised the public profile of architectural history, particularly that of English Parish Churches, through his published writings and his popular television broadcasts on this topic.

Betjeman accompanied his family on holidays in Trebetherick, North Cornwall, as a boy and he retained a life-long affection for and association with the region which is reflected in his publications, including Victorian and Edwardian Cornwall from Old Photographs, compiled by John Betjeman and A.L. Rowse (1976) and Betjeman's Cornwall (1984).

An immensely well-known and well-loved public figure, Betjeman was friends with a great many poets and writers of his day, including the novelist Kingsley Amis, the writer and critic Cyril Connolly, the cricket commentator John Arlott, and the Sitwell family, as well as many younger writers, including the man who was to succeed him as Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes. Betjeman's working library includes many books gifted and inscribed to Betjeman by these, and other prominent literary and public figures of the twentieth-century. He was knighted in 1969, awarded a CBE in 1960, and a CLitt in 1968.

Conditions Governing Access

Usual EUL arrangements apply.

Other Finding Aids

Single item.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Charlotte Berry, Archivist, 21 April 2005, and encoded into EAD 3 June 2005.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Custodial History

Donated to the University Library by the literary executor of Chris Brooks in 2002.

Related Material

The working libraries of Chris Brooks and John Betjeman are both held at Exeter University Library (Special Collections). Special Collections also holds two manuscript collections relating to Betjeman (EUL MS 117 and EUL MS 240).


It is not known whether this item has formed the basis for publication.

Geographical Names