We hold manuscripts and archives of pre-eminent poets, novelists and playwrights, and the archives of publishers and literary societies
About the collection
Manuscripts and personal archives
Manuscripts and personal papers of writers represent all stages of literary production, from rough notes and first drafts to corrected proofs and correspondence between authors and publishers.
Our collection includes drafts and fair copies of novels and prose works, play books, single poems, verse miscellanies, commonplace books, diaries, and personal and business correspondence. For contemporary writers we are increasingly collecting digital manuscripts and emails.
17th-century writers include
Launcelot Andrewes, Katherine Austen, Samuel Butler, Thomas Browne, Margaret Cavendish, John Dryden, Fulke Greville, John Harington, Robert Herrick, Ben Jonson, Philip Massinger, John Milton, Katherine Philips, Walter Ralegh, William Shakespeare, Thomas Traherne
18th-century writers include
William Blake, Frances Burney, Robert Burns, William Cowper, Daniel Defoe, Thomas Gray, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Allan Ramsay, Samuel Richardson, Ignatius Sancho, Laurence Sterne, Jonathan Swift, Mary Wortley Montagu
19th-century writers include
Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anne Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, Robert Browning, Lord Byron, Lewis Carroll, John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevskii, George Eliot, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Hardy, Heinrich Heine, Friedrich Hölderlin, John Keats, Rudyard Kipling, Edward Lear, Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, Christina Rossetti, Walter Scott, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Algernon Swinburne, Alfred Tennyson, Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoi, Oscar Wilde, William Wordsworth
See also our guide to the Stefan Zweig manuscripts collection.
20th and 21st-century writers
Robert Aickman, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Beryl Bainbridge, J G Ballard, John Berger, Angela Carter, G K Chesterton, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lawrence Durrell, Eva Figes, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ian Fleming, E M Forster, Margaret Forster, Graham Greene, Stella Gibbons, Kenneth Grahame, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, B S Johnson, James Joyce, Hanif Kureishi, Malcolm Lowry, Shiva Naipaul, George Orwell, Mervyn Peake, Jean Rhys, Andrew Salkey, Will Self, Graham Swift, Edward Upward, Keith Waterhouse, Evelyn Waugh, P G Wodehouse, Virginia Woolf
Al Alvarez, W H Auden, James Berry, John Betjeman, Rupert Brooke, Bob Cobbing, Wendy Cope, T S Eliot, David Gascoyne, Lee Harwood, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Laurie Lee, Katherine Mansfield, Andrew Motion, Wilfred Owen, Sylvia Plath, Kathleen Raine, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Stevie Smith, Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu, Dylan Thomas, Edward Thomas, Vernon Watkins
Archives of publishers, literary societies and charities
- Carmen Callil
- Golgonooza Press
- Peter Hodgkiss - Galloping Dog Press, Poetry Information and Not Poetry
- Macmillan & Co (19th-20th century)
- Poetry Book Society
- Punch magazine (1841-2002)
- Royal Literary Fund (1790- ) - on loan
- The Society of Authors (1876-1982)
- Turret Books/Bernard Stone
- Virago Press
- Wasafiri Magazine of International Contemporary Writing
Theatre and performance
See also our guides to Theatrical Archives and Manuscripts 1900 - present, the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays and the Modern Playscripts collection.
What is available online?
The Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue contains catalogue entries for literary archives and manuscripts.
A selection of literary manuscripts and related personal papers have been digitised in full or in part on the Discovering Literature website: Shakespeare and Renaissance, Restoration and 18th Century, Romantics and Victorians, and 20th Century.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
You may need to provide us with a letter of introduction or further information in order to access manuscripts and archives. Use the online catalogue to find out whether access conditions apply. It is advisable to contact the Manuscripts Reference Team before travelling to the Library, particularly if you are consulting autograph literary manuscripts. Up to 5 working days’ notice is required to process applications to consult restricted collection items.
We don't generally allow access to uncatalogued material, but please contact the Manuscripts and Maps Reference Enquiry Team for further advice on this.
We also provide onsite access to a wide range of relevant subscription resources, including British Literary Manuscripts Online, Perdita Manuscripts: Women Writers, 1500-1700 and Nineteenth-Century Collections Online.
What is available in other organisations?
British literary archives and manuscripts are found in libraries and archives throughout the UK and worldwide. The National Libraries of Scotland and Wales have strong holdings of archives and manuscripts of Scottish and Welsh writers. The following resources will help you find material held in other institutions:
- Location Register of English Literary Manuscripts and Letters
- GLAM, the Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts
- Archives Hub
- The National Archives’ Discovery website
- P. Beal et al, Index of English Literary Manuscripts, 4 vols (London: Mansell, 1980–93)
- CELM - Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450-1700
- C. Fletcher (ed.), 1000 Years of English Literature (London: The British Library, 2012)
- H. Kelliher and S. Brown, English Literary Manuscripts (London: The British Library, 1986).