The John Betjeman Collection documents the personal and professional life of John Betjeman between 1908 and 1990, with the bulk of material dating between 1936 and 1984. The collection provides evidence of Betjeman's career as a writer and broadcaster and consists of correspondence, writings, personal papers, newspaper clippings, audiovisual materials, and a small number of candid photographs. A substantial volume of the correspondence is from Betjeman to his wife Penelope Chetwode and provides insight into their relationship. More broadly, owing to Betjeman's role as Poet Laureate and connection with various authors, the collection is a window into literary life in Britain during the twentieth-century.
Betjeman's writing career, as a poet, reviewer, and prose author, is chronicled in the collection. Most notably, the collection traces Betjeman's creative process through initial scribblings in his notebooks to more formal drafts and then the publishing process found in galleys and correspondence with editors and publishers. Since Betjeman often doodled, annotated, and commented on his early drafts these are rich documents of his creativity at work. A number of Betjeman's well-known poetry publications are represented in the collection, including Church Poems, Summoned by Bells, and New Bats in Old Belfries. Betjeman's correspondence chronicles his literary life and acquaintances. For example, in a letter to the journalist Thomas Driberg he discusses his interest in the poet laureateship (May 18, 1969) and in his correspondence with the poet Siegfried Sassoon he explains his approach to reading and analyzing poetry. Numerous clippings provide a sense of Betjeman's public life as poet laureate, such as celebrations and criticisms of his poetry, inquiries into his private life, and more mundane observations, such as his astrological sign and birthday wishes. Ephemera from the Betjeman-inspired production "Betjemania" and menu and matchbook from the "Betjeman Carving Restaurant" further capture his presence as a public figure.
In addition to his poetry, the collection also provides evidence of Betjeman's writings on architecture. His work for Architectural Review and his book-length publications such as Ghastly Good Taste and The City of London Churches attest to his lifelong passion for architecture (particularly buildings of Victorian and provincial design). In addition to drafts for these publications, Betjeman's sketchbook is full of drawings of various buildings (especially churches), which were often later used in print. Betjeman fought to save a number of buildings from destruction through his writings, broadcast work, appearances at fundraisers, and by lending his name to various campaigns. The collection contains an assortment of publications resulting from this work as well as a number of newspaper clippings following Betjeman's involvement in conservation work, whether successful (as in St. Pancras Station) or unsuccessful (Euston Arch).
The collection also includes a few scripts from Betjeman's work in broadcasting as well as several recordings of his radio and television appearances. The majority of the recordings are reel-to-reel audio tapes, although the collection does contain some film and video. As the recordings demonstrate, Betjeman's work in the media industry was predominantly with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Betjeman's radio and television programs reflect his interests in poetry, architecture/urban development, and religion, as his series "Choirs and the Places Where They Sing" and "Three in Hand: Three Churches" illustrate. In addition to the scripts and recordings, the collection contains newspaper clippings reflecting Betjeman's various projects, including his documentary Metroland.
The majority of the collection is comprised of the Duncan Andrews Collection of John Betjeman. Duncan Andrews, of New York, began collecting Betjeman material during the 1950s, and shortly thereafter met both Betjeman and Chetwode. The collection contains items reflecting Andrews's role as a collector, such as his correspondence and printed material, which provide insight into the collecting process and the personality behind the project. Andrews's relationship with Betjeman, Chetwode, their children, book dealers, scholars, and his work to create a bibliography (achieved later by William S. Peterson) can be traced through the correspondence. As Betjeman began to suffer from Parkinson's disease and struggled to maintain his correspondence as Poet Laureate, Andrews replied to letters on Betjeman's behalf. Andrews's willingness to provide researchers with access to the collection and to pull together exhibits is documented. Notes in Andrews's hand throughout the collection further demonstrate his effort to build the collection and to ensure its cohesion for future researchers.
GEN MSS 675
Betjeman, John, 1906-1984
1908 - 2002Majority of material found within 1936 - 1984
Conditions Governing Access:
The materials are open for research.
Boxes 10-12, Oversized boxes 21-22 (audiovisual materials): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.