The literary archive of Harry Chambers and Peterloo Poets

Scope and Content

This large collection predominantly contains copies of poetry books published by Peterloo Poets and folders each relating to a specific poet and/or one of their works. Published matter in the collection also includes items from the Phoenix Pamphlet Poets Press, copies of the Phoenix Quarterly Series and Poetry Matters, the Peterloo Poets magazine. Poets represented in the published works of Peterloo Poets include U.A. Fanthorpe, who was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003, William Scammell, Elizabeth Bartlett, Ann Drysdale, Dana Gioia and many others.

There is also a large amount of correspondence with various poets within the collection as well as an extensive amount of reviews, articles and press cuttings relating to Peterloo Poets and poets connected with Peterloo Poets. Further items of interest, include minutes of Peterloo Poets AGMs, examples of artwork for books being published, original photographs of various poets and plans of the Old Chapel at Calstock, from which Peterloo Poets operated. There is also an incomplete holograph copy of Philip Larkin's Workbook No.1, Larkin research material compiled by Harry Chambers, papers relating to funding cuts for Peterloo Poets from organisations such as the Arts Council and personal correspondence.

Administrative / Biographical History

Harry Chambers was born on 15 July 1937. He spent the first half of his childhood years in Eastwood in Nottinghamshire, D.H. Lawrence country, moving with his family to South Yorkshire on VE day. After undertaking National Service, he graduated from Liverpool University with a degree in English Language and Literature. Whilst at university Chambers founded the journal Phoenix (1959), initially as a broader literary magazine and later specialising in poetry.

Harry embarked on a career teaching English Literature at his old school near Doncaster where he helped produce plays and edit school magazines. After only two years he moved to a lectureship at Stranmillis College in Belfast at a time of a great upsurge, a renaissance, of Irish poetry. The friendships he forged there with rising young poets had a huge influence on him.

He moved away from the civil strife of Belfast to a Lectureship at Didsbury College of Education in Manchester. His main teaching interests were poetry, drama, children's literature and detective fiction. It was here that an offshoot of Phoenix emerged in 1969 with Phoenix Pamphlet Poets a successful new format which gave more space to individual poets including issues featuring the Irish poets Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon and Jimmy Simmons. The last of the old Phoenix was published from Manchester in 1975. It was in Manchester too that he found the name and the concept of his new press Peterloo Poets.

When Didsbury College merged with the local Polytechnic, Harry Chambers saw the redundancies on offer as a chance to focus full time on his new Peterloo imprint. In 1976 he took the huge step of leaving a salaried job and moving with his family to Cornwall where he ran the press initially from their home in Treovis near Liskeard with funding provided by the Arts Council and support from his wife Lynn. Harry continued to work as an examiner at all levels in English Literature as well as teaching drama and poetry modules for the Open University, but his main work was developing the press. In 1980 Lynn became a full-time administrator for Peterloo Poets until her death in 2000.

Harry Chambers was a very active publishing director and was involved in all aspects and stages of the publishing process, including typography and design. Manuscripts were commissioned and solicited by Peterloo Poets but over 1000 unsolicited manuscripts were also received each year and Chambers had exclusive control over selecting volumes for publication. He also edited and contributed features to the annual Peterloo house journal, Poetry Matters (1983-92) and produced special editions celebrating the works of Charles Causley and Philip Larkin.

During its 37 years, Peterloo Poets published the work of 131 different poets and 240 different volumes of poetry. Peterloo Poets also organised an Annual International Poetry Competition, annual Poetry for Schools events and workshops and an International Poetry Festival. For the last 12 years, the organisation operated from the refurbished Old Chapel in Calstock.

He retired as Publishing Director of Peterloo in 2009, but continued to take an active interest in the world of poetry, while health allowed, when he moved to York. His achievements were recognised in 2010 with an MBE for Services to Poetry. Harry Chambers was also an honorary Chairperson of the Charles Causley Poetry Society. Harry Chambers died in York on 14 September 2012.

More information about the press can be found in the 2009 monograph by John Lucas 'Harry Chambers and Peterloo Poets: 37 years of Poetry Publishing'.

For more information relating to Phoenix Poets, please see U DP162.


U DPP/1 Peterloo Poets

U DPP/1/1 Administration Files

U DPP/1/2 Poetry Files

U DPP/1/3 Publications

U DPP/1/4 Reviews and articles

U DPP/2 Phoenix Poets

U DPP/2/1 Phoenix Quarterly Series

U DPP/2/2 Phoenix Pamphlet Poets

U DPP/3 Harry Chambers Research and Personal Papers

U DPP/3/1 Philip Larkin Research Papers

U DPP/3/2 Personal Papers

Access Information

U DPP includes items containing personal sensitive information which are not available for public inspection for 75 years. This is in accordance with Section 1 (Principles 1, 2 and 7) of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Access to other items will be granted to all accredited readers.

Custodial History

Donated in 2013 by Hannah Elliott and Ann Drysdale, literary executors of Harry Chambers

Related Material

Archives of the poetry magazine Phoenix and the Peterloo Poets series [U DP162]

Joan Barton [U DX340]

Papers of Philip Arthur Larkin [U DPL]

Papers of Gavin Ewart [U DP163]

Letters from Harry Chambers to Ted Tarling [U DP177/2]

Correspondence between Philip Larkin and Anthony Thwaite [U DP181]

File. Papers assembled by Anthony Thwaite as editor of Larkin at Sixty [U DP188/1]

Papers of Brenda Little relating to Philip Larkin [U DX353]