The papers of Professors Geoffrey and Kathleen Tillotson

Scope and Content

Records of Kathleen Tillotson (KT)'s teaching and administration in the English Department at Bedford College 1929-1971, with correspondence with members of staff and former students 1935-1994; records of her research and writing, including relations with publishing houses, 1932-1995; records of her work as specialist adviser to Government, the British Academy, the British Federation of University Women and others on honours and awards, to universities on appointments and promotions, to publishers on proposed works, etc, 1955-1995; correspondence with and references for fellow scholars, 1929-2001; records of her work with literary societies including the Wordsworth Trust and the Tennyson Society, 1961-2000; personal records including diaries, 1920, 1930s, 1961-2001, correspondence with friends and family, [c.1916]-2001; records, memorabilia and reminiscences of her upbringing and education, in Berwick-upon-Tweed and at Quaker Schools in Yorkshire.

Records of Geoffrey Tillotson (GT)'s teaching at University College, London, 1931-1941, and Birkbeck College, London, 1940s-1960s; records of his academic research and writing, 1932-1969, including notes and drafts for his Victorian volume of the 'Oxford History of English Literature'; poems and short stories; personal records including diaries, 1916-1969, correspondence with friends and family, 1930s-1960s; reminiscences and correspondence from the writing of the British Academy memoir of him by Mary Lascelles.

Kathleen Tillotson's 'old family papers', letters, journals and photographs, 1776-1916, inherited from her father's family, the Lambs of Belfast, and her mother's family, the Davidsons of Fritchley, Derbyshire, including copies of documents relating to history of the Society of Friends, such as Joseph Haughton's account of the 'preservation' of Quakers during the 1798 uprising in Ireland.

Administrative / Biographical History

Kathleen Mary Tillotson (KT), b. 3 April 1906, d. 3 June 2001, the daughter of journalists Eric and Catherine Constable, was brought up in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Her parents were both members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and she attended Ackworth School, Pontefract, and The Mount, York. She herself officially dissociated from the Society of Friends in 1949.

She graduated in English from Somerville College, Oxford, in 1927, and then studied for the B.Litt under David Nichol Smith and George Gordon, her fellow students including Geoffrey Tillotson and John Butt. She started work as part-time Assistant in the English Department at Bedford College in 1929, supplementing her income with further part-time work at Somerville and St Hilda's Colleges, Oxford. She gained promotion in 1933 to junior lecturer and in 1937 to lecturer (still part time), and became a full-time lecturer in 1939. She was promoted to Senior Lecturer in January 1947, in October of that year became a University Reader, and was appointed Hildred Carlile Professor of English Literature in 1958, from which post she retired in 1971.

She married Geoffrey Tillotson (GT) in 1933. Born on 30 June 1905, he was from a Yorkshire family, his parents poor mill-workers. His father, John Henry Tillotson, left the mills in 1909 to become agent for the Refuge Assurance Company of Skipton. GT attended the Glusburn Elementary School from 1910 to 1918. His parents could not afford to send him to Grammar School, but the Elementary School headmaster secured for him the patronage of Sir John Horsfall, mill-owner and philanthropist, and he attended the Keighley Trade and Grammar School and in 1923 gained a place at Balliol College, Oxford. He was enabled to attend university by the grant of a Major County Scholarship, and gained his BA degree in English Language and Literature 1927. He then studied for the B.Litt., writing a thesis on William Browne's 'Britannia's Pastorals', supervised by Percy Simpson. He lectured in English at the College of Technology, Leicester, 1928-1929, but was unhappy there. He was writing poetry and short stories, and had had verse published in 'Oxford Poetry', so his father allowed him six months at the family home to finish his thesis and try to establish himself as a journalist. He was awarded his B.Litt. on completion of thesis 1930, a temporary post as English Master at Castleford Grammar School dispelled the fear that he could not teach, and he had some pieces accepted by the 'Times Literary Supplement'. In 1930 he succeeded John Butt in the post of Sub-Librarian of the English Schools Library in Oxford, his income supplemented by a War Memorial Studentship from Balliol College and a little teaching. In 1931 he gained a post as Assistant Lecturer at University College, London, under C.J. Sissons and R.W. Chambers, and was promoted to Lecturer in 1934. In 1939, as the Second World War threatened London, UCL was evacuated to Aberystwyth, but GT looked for war work and in the spring of 1940 was appointed Assistant Principal in the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The University of London acknowledged the distinction of his continuing academic work by conferring upon him in 1942 a Readership in absentia. In 1944 he was appointed Professor of English Language and Literature at Birkbeck College, where he could teach (since teaching was confined to weekends) with his Ministry work until he was released from war work early in 1945. Apart from a year as Visiting Professor at Harvard, USA (1948), he remained in the Chair at Birkbeck until his death in 1969.

GT worked with John Butt on the re-establishment of Alexander Pope's reputation. His volume of the Twickenham edition of Pope's works, under Butt's general editorship, was published in 1940. The Tillotsons were jointly commissioned to write the volume on Victorian literature for 'The Oxford History of English Literature', but Kathleen Tillotson's involvement with the Clarendon Dickens and the Pilgrim edition of Dicken's letters left her no time to work on the project, and she had to leave it to GT. His work was never finished, and KT edited his drafts to publish as 'A View of Victorian Literature' (published 1978).

His major publications were 'On the poetry of Pope' (1938), the Twickenham edition of Alexander Pope's 'The Rape of the Lock' (1940), 'Thackeray the novelist' (1954), 'Pope and human nature' (1958), 'Augustan Poetic Diction' (1964), 'Thackeray: the critical heritage' (ed., with Donald Hawes, 1968), and the Riverside edition of Charlotte Bronte's 'Villette' (1970), and he published collected essays and lectures in the volumes 'Essays in criticism and research' (1942), 'Criticism and the nineteenth century' (1951) and 'Augustan studies' (1961).

Kathleen Tillotson collaborated with J.W. Hebel and Bernard Newdigate on the Shakespeare Head Press edition of the works of Michael Drayton, and was appointed editor on Hebel's death in 1934. Volume V, containing her introductions and notes to the variant readings, won the British Academy's Rose Mary Crawshay Prize in 1943.

She worked with John Butt on Dickens's novel plans, publishing 'Dickens at work' in 1957, which led to the launching of the Clarendon Dickens - the first edition to establish critical texts of the novels. She and Butt were General Editors, and she edited 'Oliver Twist' (published 1966). After Butt's death, she continued as solo General Editor until joined by Professor James Kinsley in 1976, then was solo again after his death in 1984. Eight of the novels whose editions she was supervising had been published by the time of her death.

She was also a member of the editorial team working on the letters of Charles Dickens for the Pilgrim edition, having joined the Advisory Board in 1963,and was sole editor of Volume 4, published in 1977. She continued as General Editor, with Graham Storey, until a depressive illness in 1995 curtailed her work, but she is acknowledged as 'Advisor' to the last four volumes, and was still in touch with her network of correspondents up to her death.

Apart for the works of Drayton and the Clarendon and Pilgrim Dickens, her major publications were 'Novels of the Eighteen-Forties' (1954), 'Dickens at work' (with John Butt, 1957) and the Riverside edition of Wilkie Collins's 'The Woman in White' (with Anthea Trodd, 1969), and she wrote introductions for Dent's editions of Trollope's Barsetshire novels.

The Tillotsons published jointly collected essays, 'Mid-Victorian Studies' (1965), and the Riverside edition of Thackeray's 'Vanity Fair' (1963).

The Tillotsons undertook advisory work for publishers, for government departments and for academic institutions, and were members of numerous literary societies. A great deal of correspondence has survived from these activities and with friends they made throughout their lives.

Kathleen Tillotson's father Eric Constable was descended from Quaker families in Ireland and her mother Catherine was the daughter of Thomas Davidson, Quaker minister based in Fritchley, Derbyshire; Professor Tillotson inherited the 'old family papers' including letters, 1754-1927, journals, 1830s-1870s, photographs, and the journalism of John Lamb of Belfast, 1849-1856.


A box list of the original deposit was compiled in 2000 by Rebecca Wire, a graduate of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. Labels on some of the bundles may have indicated the location of items in the flat when packed up for transfer, but some material, especially correspondence, was found in disorder, some filed by subject, some packaged up by date, some by author, and some simply stray among other papers. A logical arrangement has been attempted, and much ephemeral material kept as illuminating to the periods or protagonists, but items whose author or subject could not be identified were disposed of, as were letters from former neighbours.

Access Information

All records are open subject to the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. All records containing personal information about individuals are subject to the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998.

The archives service is open Wednesday to Friday with seasonal closures. Visits to view records are by prior appointment only. More information can be found on our website

Other Finding Aids

A full catalogue of the collection is available through our website:

Conditions Governing Use

Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the College Archivist.

Custodial History

Notes found on and with the files indicate that the papers were sorted and weeded from time to time, principally on Geoffrey Tillotson's death and on Kathleen Tillotson's retirement.

The great majority of the papers which remained at her death were transferred directly from Professor Tillotson's home in Hampstead to the custody of Royal Holloway Archives in 1997. Six further boxes of material, cleared by the family from her room in Guiness Court Residential Care Home, were delivered to the Archives in 2004. The family retained GT's letters from eminent poets and writers, which are to be given to the College after the death of Edmund Tillotson; and letters to KT from Professor Margaret Blom of the University of British Columbia in Canada, which they wished to destroy.


None expected.