Literary archives and manuscripts 1600 to present

Portrait photograph of Angela Carter
Angela Carter, novelist and short story writer (photo: Fay Godwin © The British Library Board)

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 WildeWilliam Wordsworth 

See also our guide to the Stefan Zweig manuscripts collection.

20th and 21st-century writers

Novelists include: 

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 WodehouseVirginia Woolf

Poets include: 

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

These include:

  • 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 can consult literary archives and manuscripts in our Manuscripts Reading Room. Use our online catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts, to find and request your material.

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:

Further information

How to guides

Find and request Lord Chamberlain's Plays

How to locate items in our largest single manuscript collection

How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Guide to the copyright of unpublished documents

Guide to researching provenance of books now in the British Library

Where do the British Library’s old printed books ‘come from'? Who owned or read them in centuries past? Why does it matter?

Access manuscripts and archives

Accessing manuscripts and archives and obtaining a Letter of introduction or recommendation

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 170 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass.

How to handle archives

Watch our guide and help us keep our archive material in good condition

Using the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

How to use the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

Guide to Explore Archives and Manuscripts

A guide to help you use the catalogue, covering: login, search, how to manage your results, how to browse the collections and how to request items

About Explore Archives and Manuscripts

With Explore Archives and Manuscripts you can search for information about our rich and unique archive and manuscript collections.

Find Persian manuscripts

Details of Persian manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find Arabic manuscripts

Details of Arabic manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find papyri

How to identify papyri and request them

Search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

How to search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

How to handle folded items

Find out how you should hand items like large maps and book inserts.

Find Hebrew manuscripts

Guide to finding Hebrew manuscripts in our online catalogues

Find charters, rolls, and seals

How to access medieval and early modern European documentary collections

How to get a Reader Pass if you are under 18

How to apply for an under 18 Reader Pass

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services