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Surprising Faces in the Archives – Writers

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This blog was written by Katherine Emery, Assistant Archives Officer.

The Parliamentary Archives holds many varied collections. This includes all Acts of Parliament since 1497, the journals for both the House of Lords and House of Commons as well as records of politicians and royal events. Within the collections you can find people that you wouldn’t expect to find. In this blog we will be looking at the authors, novelist and poets in our archive, many of which were found within the Beaverbrook collection.

William Maxwell Aitken, later the 1st Baron Beaverbrook, also known as Lord Beaverbrook, was a press baron and politician. He was very well connected both in and out of politics; he knew everyone who was anyone in the first half of the 20th century. The Beaverbrook Papers within the Parliamentary Archives is one of the largest and most popular collections due to its variety, containing a large collection of both political and personal papers. In addition to this, Beaverbrook collected people’s personal papers and archives that were of interest to him. After his death his collection formed the Beaverbrook Library, which was later closed, and the collections were transferred to the Parliamentary Archives.

Ian Fleming

This letter is written to Lord Beaverbrook from Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series. The letter is from 1954, the year that the second book in the series ‘Live and Let Die’ was published with the first book ‘Casino Royale’ having only been published the year before in 1953. Fleming thanks Beaverbrook for his “kind message” about his new book and discusses the popularity and good reviews around ‘Live and Let Die’ including a positive review from critic Malcom Thompson which boosted the books sales.

“I was certainly surprised and delighted by Malcom Thompson’s review, which I am sure did the sales some good.”

Fleming goes on to tell Beaverbrook about a new book in he has in the works. This would eventually be ‘Moonraker’, the third in the Bond series which would be published the following year in 1955. His publisher Jonathan Cape thinks that this will be the best of the three so far and that there is already a bidding war between publishers over this new book.

“the third book, which Cape’s say is the best of the three, is now with Curtis Brown and EVERYBODY’S put in a first bid for it,”

Interestingly, the ‘Saturday Evening Post’, an American newspaper, was initially interested in this third book as well. However, they decided that it was “too dramatic”, which is ironic considering the over-dramatic million-dollar Hollywood Bond films we have now.

Typed letter on blue paper
Letter from Ian Fleming to Max Aitken (Baron Beaverbrook), 31st August 1954, Parliamentary Archives, BBK/C/135

W.B. Yeats

Another letter written to Lord Beaverbrook, this one slightly earlier in 1927, from Irish Poet W.B. Yeats. He was visiting London from his home in Dublin, and even dined with Beaverbrook and Churchill.

“You were so very kind as to ask me to dine to meet Churchill”

Yeats was in London under the instruction of good friend Lady Gregory because of the “Lane pictures”. Hugh Lane (nephew of Lady Gregory) was a great collector of modern impressionist art. He wanted to bring modern art to Dublin. His ‘pictures’ were a collection of 39 paintings including works by Renoir, Monet and Degas.

Lane intended to donate the pictures to Dublin Gallery once a permanent home was built for the paintings but there were delays in planning, so Lane instead bequeathed the collection to the National Gallery in London. However, in a controversial last-minute change to his will just before he died in 1915, Lane left the collection to Dublin. This change was unwitnessed and was deemed invalid, so the pictures stayed in London.

Yeats, Lady Gregory and others were working to try and return this collection to Dublin, hence Yeats trip to London. At his dinner with Churchill, he suggested to talk to a good friend of his “Birkenhead”, otherwise known as F.E. Smith 1st Earl Birkenhead, about help with the pictures.

 “I should see Birkenhead about the Lane pictures”

An interesting little handwritten note at the bottom of the letter states that Yeats dictated this letter to his wife due to his “horrible” handwriting. Although not the best, I don’t think his handwriting is that bad!

Typed letter with some handwritten additions
Letter from W.B. Yeats to Lord Beaverbrook, 25th April 1927, Parliamentary Archives, BBK/B/24

Arthur Conan Doyle

This letter is not directly related to Beaverbrook but is from his collected Library, it was written to John St Loe Strachey who was a journalist and editor of ‘The Spectator’ and Beaverbrook later collected Strachey’s personal papers. This letter to Strachey is from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes series. It concerns a review of one his non-fiction book ‘The History of Spiritualism’ which was published in 1926. This book discussed the topic of Spiritualism which is a belief based on supposed communication with the spirits of the dead, especially through mediums.

It was clearly a negative review of the book, as seen from these particularly irritated quotes, suggesting that Strachey “merely skimmed the surface” of the book. Conan Doyle was obviously insulted by the review not taking the topic seriously.

“I was grieved to see a review which merely skimmed the surface”

“That book represents 38 years experience, and probably more actual work with mediums than any man has ever had.”

“surely deserves some more serious treatment, even in review”

Handwritten letter on 'Arthur Conan Doyle' headed paper
Letter from Arthur Conan Doyle to Strachey, 6th July 1926, Parliamentary Archives, STR/33/5/63


Handwritten letter signed by Arthur Conan Doyle
Letter from Arthur Conan Doyle to Strachey, 6th July 1926, Parliamentary Archives, STR/33/5/63

Rudyard Kipling

This newspaper clipping from the ‘Manchester Dispatch’ in 1912 also from the Beaverbrook Collection, it features Rudyard Kipling, author of ‘The Jungle Book’. In this case it was not for his role as a writer but as a speaker. It features Kipling alongside Beaverbrook and others in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester.

Kipling was also a journalist and was very politically involved, using his writing as a medium and a voice for his views. Beaverbrook and Kipling were speaking in Ashton “under the auspices of the Junior Imperial and Constitutional League” which was founded 6 years earlier in 1906. This League would later eventually become the Young Conservatives group. The League was originally formed to encourage young people to be practically involved in politics.

newspaper print of 3 men
Newspaper Cutting from the Manchester Dispatch, 19th October 1912, Parliamentary Archives, BBK/L/21

Richard Lovelace

This document is not from the Beaverbrook Collection or Library, it dates much earlier to 1642 and is a petition from the poet Richard Lovelace. Like Kipling, Lovelace was also involved in politics; it didn’t go as smoothly for him, he was a Royalist during the English Civil War (1642-1651) and this document is a petition for him to be released from prison.

Lovelace was arrested for delivering to the House of Commons a petition containing the text of a former petition which both Houses of Parliament had ordered to be burnt. The petition in question was the Kentish Petition which condemned the Militia Ordinance that was passed in March 1642. He was imprisoned in Gatehouse Prison in Westminster on 20th April 1642.

If you want to learn more about the English Civil War, check out our Living Heritage website.

This document is the petition that pleaded to the House of Commons for his release, which was granted, and he was released on bail on 17th June 1642 after serving 2 months in prison. During his time in prison Lovelace wrote one of his most famous poems ‘To Althea, From Prison’, which has the famous lines:

“Stone Walls doe not a Prison make

Nor Iron bars a cage”


Handwritten petition
Petition of Richard Lovelace to the House of Commons, 17th April 1642, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/1/125A

H.G. Wells

This document is from the papers of the journalist Ralph David Blumenfeld, whose papers were donated to the Beaverbrook Library by his son. This letter was enclosed in a note, it is a transcript carbon copy of the original letter. It was written to John Russell, a prominent author and screen writer, from H.G. Wells author of famous titles including ‘War of the Worlds’, ‘The Time Machine’ and ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’. This letter discusses film and property rights for one of Wells’ less well-known short stories called ‘Jimmy Goggles the God’.

This short story was published within the 1903 collection ‘Twelve Stories and a Dream’. John Russel later wrote his own adaptation of ‘Jimmy Goggles the God’ into his own short story called ‘The Last God’ which he published in his own short story collection ‘Where the Pavement Ends’ in 1921. Later in 1930, the year of this letter, the film ‘The Sea God’ was released which was based on Russell’s ‘The Last God’ story. This understandably angered Wells, writing to Russel in this letter as this film completely disregarded his original story and its property rights.

“you had no right to exploit its film or dramatic possibilities without consulting me. By doing so you have destroyed the value of these rights for me”

Wells also addresses that he understood the studio that produced the film Paramount Publix (now Paramount Pictures) were also largely to blame for this. However, Wells didn’t want to press the issue too much towards the studio as it would mostly likely be redirected back to Russell. Even though Wells was angry with the situation he was still cordial and gentlemanly towards Russell.

“Of course the Paramount Publix people are the people directly responsible to me. But I don’t want to press on them too hardly if the pressure is likely to be transmitted to you.”


typed letter
Letter from H.G. Wells to John Russell, 23rd November 1930, Parliamentary Archives, BLU/1/21/WEL.3-4

Robert Louis Stevenson

A more tenuous link, in the personal and political papers of Conservative MP John Campbell Davidson, we hold a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem ‘In Memoriam F.A.S.’. Robert Louis Stevenson was a writer and poet, author of famous works including ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.

This poem ‘In Memoriam F.A.S.’ was originally written in 1881 for Francis Albert Sitwell (F.A.S.), known as Bertie. He was the son of Frances Jane Sitwell a good family friend of the Stevenson family. Bertie died in April 1881 at only 19 years old. This poem was written and privately printed in memory of him. Stevenson wrote the poem whilst he was in Davos, Switzerland under doctor’s orders, with the hope that the clean alps air would help his declining health. The poem was later published in the collection called ‘Underwoods’ in 1887.

“Here, a boy, he dwelt through all the singing season

And ere the day of sorrow departed as he came”


handwritten poem
Copy of Robert Louis Stevenson poem ‘In Memorian F.A.S.’, Parliamentary Archives, DAV/31

These records show some of the surprising faces that can be found within Parliamentary Archives collection. Many of which linked to Lord Beaverbrook’s connections and his collected library. Including Ian Fleming talking about the success of his new Bond series and W.B. Yeats investigating the controversial Lane picture collection, as well as more irritated letters from H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle. Some being more directly linked and involved in politics for better or worse with Rudyard Kipling and Richard Lovelace and the more tenuously linked Robert Louis Stevenson poem.

Be sure to keep an eye out for part 2 to this blog, looking at surprising faces in the archive from the world of theatre!

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