Papers of Denton Welch, 20th century

Scope and Content

Several of the manuscripts and photographs listed here appear as items 1-8 of the 20 Denton Welch items which formed no. 642 in GF Sims (rare books) Catalogue 56 in the late 1960s or pre-decimal 1970s. The published items were collected by Smolden separately. The manuscript items are as follows:

  • School exercise book, dated 1936 and titled 'Latin', in manuscript, which begins with a translation of combat with a Gaul, but most of the book is taken up with a pencilled memoir.
  • Hardback notebook of (mainly untitled) manuscript poems, at one point dated 25 Dec 1938, with many drawings and doodles.
  • Similar school notebook, with a few history notes, but predominantly manuscript creative writing (poetry), drawings and prose, when Welch was aged 24.
  • Exercise book containing manuscript drafts of chapters 4-7 of Maiden Voyage.
  • 'Lambeth' exercise book containing manuscript drafts of chapters 26-28 of Maiden Voyage.
  • Photograph album, including 6 photographs of house in Shanghai, and eight further photographs, including the photograph of the family on the veranda of the house used in James Methuen-Campbell's biography (opposite p44).
  • Photograph album, with a few notes of places visited by DW as a child or youth, namely Stratford, Winchester, Oxford, Salisbury, Horsham, Chichester, Teignmouth and the Brooklands racing circuit.
  • Four further photographs of Denton Welch, plus two photographs of his paintings.
  • Bound manuscript of 'Narcissus Bay'
  • Bound manuscript of 'Sickert at St Peters'

Administrative / Biographical History

Denton Welch (1915-1948), novelist and artist, was born in Shanghai, China, on 29 March 1915, the youngest of the three sons of Arthur Welch (d1942), a partner in the trading firm of Wattie & Co, and his American wife, Rosalind Bassett (d1926). The family was well-off, and travelled widely, and Welch had visited Korea, Canada, Switzerland and England by the age of ten. Welch's education was somewhat erratic. Initially this was at the hands of a governess. Then at the age of eight he was sent to a school for British children in Shanghai, unlike his brothers who had been packed off to prep schools in England. The next year, following a trip to England, he was sent to a Christian Scientist school in London, and at the age of eleven was sent to St Michaels, Uckfield, Sussex. Three years later he was sent to Repton, at which he was desperately unhappy and from which, at the age of sixteen, he ran away, taking himself to see Salisbury and Exeter cathedrals. Leaving Repton he determined to become an artist, and entered Goldsmiths School of Art in 1933.

On Sunday 9 June 1935 he was knocked off his bicycle on the London to Reigate road. Amongst his several injuries was a fractured spine. He was taken to Greenwich Hospital, and after 4 months to Southcourt Nursing Home at Broadstairs. During this time of having to learn to walk again, and having to cope as an invalid, he made a final break with Christian Science. He also continued painting and writing. Towards the end of 1939 he sold his first painting to the oil company Shell, and wrote an autobiographical novel, which was published in 1942 as Maiden Voyage . He also began writing the journal which he continued almost to the end of his life. In 1944 his second novel, In Youth is Pleasure , appeared, and Denton began living with Eric Oliver, the man with whom he spent the remaining four years of his life. He died at home in Kent on 30 December 1948.

Access Information

Usual EUL arrangements apply.


This description has been largely taken from the entry by Ian Mortimer on Denton Welch in: Jessica Gardner and Ian Mortimer, Modern Literary Papers in the University of Exeter (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 2003). Hub entry compiled by Charlotte Berry, Archivist, 9 September 2003.

Other Finding Aids

The collection is currently unlisted.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Custodial History

Received by the University in 1998 on bequest.

Related Material

In addition, Special Collections also holds a small collection of published items by Welch, including catalogues, first editions, copies of biographies and editions of the journals, poems and paperback editions. This is called the Welch Collection. Please refer to the main library catalogue which is available online at:


Jocelyn Brooke (ed.), The Denton Welch Journals (London: H. Hamilton, 1973); Michael De-la-Noy, Denton Welch: the makings of a writer (Middlesex: Harmondsworth, 1984); James Methuen-Campbell, Denton Welch, writer & artist (Leyburn: Tartarus Press, 2002).