Mervyn Peake Archive

Scope and Content

The archive contains original literary and artistic works, correspondence, published items and other working papers created by or belonging to Mervyn Peake, including juvenilia and late works. The archive covers the majority of Peake’s literary output, including all extant manuscripts for his Titus (or Gormenghast) books – the first notebook containing the opening of Titus Groan being lost. There is a partial draft of his novel Mr Pye, along with manuscripts and typescripts for a variety of other prose works. Peake’s ‘serious’ poetry and his nonsense verse are represented in the archive, as are all his complete and unfinished plays, with the exceptions of ‘Those Wicked Doctors’ and ‘The Connoisseurs’.

There is much of Peake's artwork throughout the archive: drawings of fictional characters and scenes; doodles of anthropomorphic creatures; drawings from life of family members, life models and passers-by spotted on Peake's 'head-hunting' missions; as well as rough sketches for paintings and dust-jackets. The Titus manuscripts contain a great number of working drawings of characters, interspersed throughout the text. The archive contains sixty five of Peake’s finished drawings for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (and nine rough sketches) but his other illustrative works were not in the scope of this acquisition.

The papers of Peake's wife, Maeve Gilmore, constitute the largest section of the archive, reflecting the increasing responsibility she bore for managing her husband's career and correspondence from the onset of his illness in the late 1950s through to his death in 1968 (and subsequently the administration of his Estate). There are some family papers relating to Mervyn’s father’s career as a missionary doctor in China and Hong Kong, used by Mervyn for research purposes when compiling autobiographical notes on his childhood. There are also a small number of papers added by Sebastian Peake, Fabian Peake and John Watney, mostly subsequent to the death of Maeve Gilmore in 1983.

As well as offering direct evidence of Peake’s creative process and his intermediality as artist and writer, the archive is a resource for the publishing history of Peake’s work (containing not only correspondence with publishers but also proofs and printing plates of his illustrations), its critical and popular reception and the custodial and curatorial history of his manuscripts, drawings and paintings. The archive also holds letters from a number of notable writers, artists and theatrical figures of the 20th century including Graham Greene, Laurence Olivier, Walter de la Mare, C S Lewis, Stephen Spender, Dylan Thomas, Peter Hall, John Clements, Esmond Knight, Maurice Collis, Augustus John, Matthew Smith, James Stephens, Laurie Lee, John Berger and Michael Moorcock. Dorothy Webster Gordon ('Mrs X' in Dirk Bogarde's volume of letters A Particular Friendship) and Hazel Guggenheim McKinley (sister of Peggy Guggenheim) were also friends and correspondents of both Mervyn Peake and Maeve Gilmore.

Contents as follows:

  • Add MS 88931/1 Prose
  • Add MS 88931/2 Poetry
  • Add MS 88931/3 Plays
  • Add MS 88931/4 Dramatisations
  • Add MS 88931/5 Ideas For Television
  • Add MS 88931/6 Notes and Research Material for Autobiography
  • Add MS 88931/7 Alice Illustrations
  • Add MS 88931/8 Sketchbook: ‘Roehampton 1965’
  • Add MS 88931/9 Waddington Gallery Exhibitions
  • Add MS 88931/10 Texts For Illustration by Mervyn Peake
  • Add MS 88931/11 Letters to Mervyn Peake
  • Add MS 88931/12 Published Items

Add MS 88931/13 Papers of Maeve Gilmore and the Mervyn Peake Estate:

  • Add MS 88931/13/1 A World Away
  • Add MS 88931/13/2 Titus Awakes
  • Add MS 88931/13/3 Letters to Maeve Gilmore
  • Add MS 88931/13/4 Curatorial and Editorial Notes by Maeve Gilmore
  • Add MS 88931/13/5 Proofs
  • Add MS 88931/13/6 Printing Plates
  • Add MS 88931/13/7 Reproductions of Drawings and Paintings
  • Add MS 88931/13/8 Copies of Articles and Talks by Mervyn Peake
  • Add MS 88931/13/9 Cuttings From Newspapers and Journals
  • Add MS 88931/13/10 Publications
  • Add MS 88931/13/11 Sale Catalogues
  • Add MS 88931/13/12 Peake Family Greetings Cards
  • Add MS 88931/13/13 Maeve Gilmore's Sketchbooks
  • Add MS 88931/13/14 Passports and Identity Cards
  • Add MS 88931/13/15 Adaptations and Dramatisations by Others
  • Add MS 88931/13/16 Scores to Accompany Peake's Poems
  • Add MS 88931/13/17 Abridgements
  • Add MS 88931/13/18 Recollections of Mervyn Peake by Others
  • Add MS 88931/13/19 Letters to Sebastian Peake


The British Library cataloguing archivist has arranged the archive into two main groupings: papers created, collected and used by Mervyn Peake; as distinct from those created, collected and used by Peake’s wife Maeve Gilmore and their children. This distinction has been made based on the content, context and dates of the material. There are a few items in Mervyn Peake's hand which have been retained in Maeve’s Gilmore’s papers as they appear to have been used by her for reference purposes.

Peake’s papers have been ordered so that literary works are followed by artistic works (with associated working papers and ephemera), correspondence and published items.

Access Information

Available for research unless otherwise stated

Not Public Record(s)

Acquisition Information

Purchased from the Estate of Mervyn Peake, through Sotheby's, 22 March 2010

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Items from the archive have been conserved by UCL Special Collections, the Bodleian Library and the British Library

Conditions Governing Use

Items created by the Peake family are the copyright of the Mervyn Peake Estate. Permission to publish, quote or reproduce must be obtained from the rights holder; please consult British Library staff.

Appraisal Information

Items removed from the archive include duplicate records (including duplicates of publications held in British Library collections), utility bills, cheque books, bank statements, medical records [of Maeve Gilmore and Clare Peake], circulars and correspondence regarding household maintenance.

Custodial History

Two separate sections of the archive were on loan to UCL Special Collections and the Bodleian Library prior to acquisition by the British Library. Former UCL and Bodleian reference numbers have been recorded in the catalogue entries where applicable.

UCL held manuscripts (and typescripts) for the Titus books, Mr Pye, Peake’s opera of Gormenghast, and a selection of letters to Peake from famous people. The manuscripts were deposited with UCL in March 1973 - see Add MS 88931/13/3/9 for correspondence.

The Bodleian Library held manuscripts for ‘The White Chief of the Umzimbooboo Kaffirs’, ‘Mr Slaughterboard’ and ‘Footfruit’; typescripts for Letters From a Lost Uncle and Boy in Darkness; manuscript and typescript drafts of poems, including nonsense verse and a draft of 'A Reverie of Bone'; the storyboard for ‘Just a Line’ and other ideas for television; a fragment of an autograph draft for Titus Groan re Swelter; copies of the Brewers’ Society drawings; a copy of News From Afar which includes Mervyn Peake's article ‘Ways of Travelling’; and manuscripts and typescripts for Maeve Gilmore’s memoir A World Away. The manuscripts were deposited with the Bodleian for their Mervyn Peake exhibition of 1978-1979 - see Add MS 88931/13/3/19/2 for correspondence.

The remaining papers were held by Mervyn Peake and Maeve Gilmore’s children until they were transferred to Sotheby’s prior to their sale to the British Library. Most of the papers were in the possession of Sebastian Peake’s family (including the manuscript of Titus Awakes, which was rediscovered by Sebastian’s daughter Christian in 2010). Maeve Gilmore’s letters from Mervyn Peake were bequeathed to her daughter Clare Penate [née Peake]. Original proofs of the illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were in the custody of Fabian Peake, along with associated correspondence about a prospective edition by Libanus Press.


No further accruals are expected

Related Material

Material by Peake in other archives and museums includes:

  • 'The Works of Adolf Hitler' for the Ministry of Information's ‘Horrors of War’ series, The National Archives INF 3 645-660;
  • Ancient Mariner drawings, The Wordsworth Trust, 2007.41.1-7;
  • correspondence with Kenneth Clark, Tate Gallery TGA 8812;
  • correspondence with Graham Greene, London University: UCL Special Collections MS ADD 248.


The primary reference works consulted in the cataloguing of this archive are:

  • Gilmore, Maeve, ‘A World Away’ in Mervyn Peake: Two Lives (London: Vintage, 1999);
  • Peake, Mervyn, Collected Poems, ed by R W Maslen (Manchester: Carcanet: 2008);
  • -, Complete Nonsense, ed by R W Maslen and G Peter Winnington (Manchester: Carcanet, 2011);
  • -, Peake’s Progress, ed by Maeve Gilmore (London: British Library, 2011);
  • Winnington, G Peter, ed, Mervyn Peake: The Man and His Art (London: Peter Owen, 2006);
  • -, Mervyn Peake's Vast Alchemies (London: Peter Owen, 2009);
  • -, Peake in Print, [accessed 5 September 2011].