Henry Williamson: correspondence with Brocard Sewell

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 29 EUL MS 91
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      210 items in four files, plus transcripts and index.

Scope and Content

The letters are a full and frank correspondence on personal and literary matters between Williamson and Sewell. Only the letters from Henry Williamson are present, but there are annotations and explanations by Father Brocard.

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 16 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 12 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.


The letters are in date order, and were sorted by the archivist of the Williamson Society.

Conditions Governing Access

Permission is required from the Henry Williamson Society for the period of thirty years from the date of deposit, i.e. until 2019.


Catalogued by Ian Mortimer, Archivist. Edited by Charlotte Berry, Archivist, 2 Sep 2003, and encoded into EAD 25 May 2004.

Other Finding Aids

The collection is listed and transcribed. Access to the list and the transcription is also restricted as above.

Conditions Governing Use

No reproduction is allowed.

Custodial History

The papers were bequeathed to the Henry Williamson Society and were deposited at the Library in 1989.

Related Material

See also EUL MS 43, 71, 74, 78, 106, 111 and 239 for other collections relating to Henry Williamson, held at the University of Exeter. Papers relating to Henry Williamson are also held at the following repositories: Dartmouth College, Library, Reading University Library, King's College London, Royal Society of Literature and Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies.


Not known.