Literary papers of John Betjeman

Scope and Content

One file containing original typescripts of 8 poems, with minor annotations in the hand of the author [mid-late 20th c.].

The poems contained are: 'In a Bath Teashop', 'Sudden Illness at the Bus Stop', 'Before the Anaesthetic or A Real Fright', 'On a Portrait of a Deaf Man', 'Myfanwy', 'Senex', and ['Lake District']. A second copy of the poem 'Senex' (untitled here) is signed by the author.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984), poet, broadcaster and architectural historian, was the son of E. E. Betjeman and was educated at Marlborough College before going up to Magdalen College, Oxford in 1925. He married Penelope Valentine Hester (ne Chetwode) in 1933, and the couple had one son and a daughter. He began publishing poetry and pieces on topography and architecture, subjects which continued to occupy him throughout his life, in the Twenties and obtained a job at The Architectural Review in 1930. Betjeman succeeded Cecil Day Lewis as Poet Laureate in 1972, and he was to hold the position until his death. He has been described as a 'national monument', the most popular poet Laureate of the twentieth-century. Certainly his poetry, including a verse autobiography Summoned by Bells (1960), reached a wide audience, and he raised the public profile of architectural history, particularly that of English Parish Churches, through his published writings and his popular television broadcasts on this topic.

Betjeman accompanied his family on holidays in Trebetherick, North Cornwall, as a boy and he retained a life-long affection and association with the region which is reflected in his publications, including Victorian and Edwardian Cornwall from Old Photographs, compiled by John Betjeman and A.L. Rowse (1976) and Betjeman's Cornwall (1984).

An immensely well-known and well-loved public figure, Betjeman was friends with a great many poets and writers of his day, including the novelist Kingsley Amis, the writer and critic Cyril Connolly, the cricket commentator John Arlott, and the Sitwell family, as well as many younger writers, including the man who was to succeed him as Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes. Betjeman's working library includes many books gifted and inscribed to Betjeman by these, and other prominent literary and public figures of the twentieth-century. He was knighted in 1969, awarded a CBE in 1960, and a CLitt in 1968.

Access Information

Usual EUL arrangements apply.


Description compiled by Charlotte Berry, Archivist, 18 Feb 2004, and encoded into EAD 2 June 2004.

Other Finding Aids

Currently unlisted.

Conditions Governing Use

Usual EUL restrictions apply.

Custodial History

Purchased by the University Library at auction (Dominic Winter Books) via Quarritch in Dec 2003.

Related Material

The working library of Betjeman has been held at the University of Exeter Library (Special Collections) since 1997: EUL MS 117 contains manuscripts of stray archival materials found loose within the working library collection.

Other papers of Betjeman are found in many UK repositories, including the following: British Library, University of Oxford (Bodleian Library; St. Edmund Hall, Merton, Pembroke, Christ Church, Worcester Colleges), University of Cambridge (University Library, King's, Clare, Emmanuel, Magdalene and Clare Colleges), University of Leeds (Brotherton Library), University of Durham, University of Hull, University of Reading, University College London, Trinity College Dublin, Cheltenham College, Eton School, Clifton College (Bristol), Northamptonshire Record Office, Birmingham Reference Library, Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution, London Metropolitan Archives, National Sound Archive, BBC Written Archives Centre, Royal Society of Literature, Royal Institution, Tate Gallery, British Library, National Library of Wales and the National Library of Scotland. Papers are also held at the University of Victoria Library, Canada, and the Lockwood Library, State University of New York, Buffalo, USA.


Not known.