MC:P323 Letters from John Betjeman to Lionel Perry
A series of letters, postcards and telegrams from John Betjeman (C.1925–8) to, or concerning, his lifelong friend Lionel Geoffrey Perry (C.1924–7). There are also two letters addressed to Betjeman’s and Perry’s mutual friend ‘Crax’ (Lord William Wicklow). The collection was donated to the Magdalen College Archive in 2005 by Lionel Perry’s nephew, Patrick Perry, also an old member of college (E.1958–61). The collection was given to the college in two separate donations. The first was given to the Archive as accession 05/31 in February 2005, and contained one letter and an attached poem, catalogued as MC:P323/C1/21; the rest of the correspondence was given as accession 06/75 in May 2006 and catalogued as MC:P323/C1/1-20 and MC:P323/C1/22-25. With Acc. 06/75 Patrick Perry also gave the College Library the following books by Betjeman, which are all signed by him and addressed to Lionel Perry:
A Nip in the Air
Mount Zion, or in Touch with the Infinite
Summoned by Bells
An Oxford University Treasure Chest
John Betjeman met Lionel Perry at Magdalen College where the two participated in Oxford’s aesthete society. Both men were eventually sent down but stayed in contact for the remainder of their lives. The letters are of a personal nature and reflect both the importance of Perry’s friendship to Betjeman as well as the impact of the poet’s early experiences in Oxford.
Catalogued by Julie-Ann Vickers, December 2008.
MC:P323/C1 – Letters and postcards
MC:P323/C1/1 12 April 1926
Handwritten card from Betjeman (no sender’s address) to Lionel Perry (Lionel Perry Esq. Magdalen College, Oxford). The letter card depicts various views of Crystal Palace and Betjeman describes his experience of the place and his plans to read poetry while boating on the lake there.
MC:P323/C1/2 n.d. (April/May 1929?)
Handwritten letter from Betjeman (Sezincote, Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire) dated ‘Day after Lord’s Day’, and addressed to Lionel Perry on notepaper with Sezincote letterhead. In this Betjeman writes that he has obtained a job at the preparatory school Heddon Court (a position he held from April 1929 to July 1930). He also describes an intimate encounter with someone he describes only as ‘the boy’.
MC:P323/C1/3 29 March 1932
Typewritten letter from Betjeman (9 Queen Annes Gate, London SW1) to Lionel Perry in which Betjeman mentions his affair with a woman named Camilla (Camilla Russell); writes of his plans for producing a guidebook to Berkshire with the architect Etchells; passes on the news of the deaths of Lytton Strachey and Carrington; and relates his attraction to Pamela Mitford. Other names mentioned are Lucy Byrons, Horace Plunkett (to whom Betjeman was once private secretary), Gerald Heard, John Edward, Cracky, Duff, Sparrow, and the Longfords.
MC:P323/C1/4 before 1935
Doodle sent from Betjeman (Midland Grand Hotel, London SW1) presumably to Lionel Perry. The doodle is of the staircase at the Midland Grand Hotel and is on the hotel’s letterhead. Underneath the illustration Betjeman has written: ‘Grand Staircase here’. It is signed JB and AP.S[?]. There is no date but the Midland closed in 1935.
MC:P323/C1/5 September 1939
The front of this photocopy is labelled ‘Sezincote Sep. 39’. On the back there is a handwritten note as follows: ‘Found this – Blue dress for Queen Mary with a blue wasp swish to beat away the wasps during tea! I can only wonder if the dress maker made it, or the umbrella maker?’ Neither the front label, nor the transcription on the back is in Betjeman’s hand. There is, however, also a typewritten note on the back, which appears to be from Betjeman and is addressed to Lionel Perry: ‘Who are these like stars appearing? Dear old Li, this wishes you all the best’. A final note, in pen, reads: ‘Seán o btje’.
MC:P323/C1/6 9 July 1955
Handwritten letter from Betjeman (The Mead, Wantage, Berks.) addressed to ‘My dear Crax’ in which he writes of his fear of death, and catching up with someone he calls the ‘Colonel’ (probably George Kolkhorst). He also mentions his ex-secretary Jill Menzies, a controversy about whether there should be an altar in the Parish Church, and his wife Penelope. There is also a small doodle of some hay stacks, which relate to his comments on Penelope.
MC:P323/C1/7 26 June 1965
Handwritten letter from Betjeman (43 Cloth Fair, London, E.C. I) to Lionel Perry, in which he offers condolences to Perry on his mother’s death. He also describes the longstanding and unchanging nature of their friendship.
MC:P323/C1/8 2 Dec. 1967
Handwritten letter from Betjeman (Alderley Grange, Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire) addressed to ‘My dear Crax’, in which he says that he is staying with a mutual friend Jim Lees Milne. He also briefly mentions Nevill Coghill, Lord Glenarthur, Lord Bridges, Lord Farrer. The letter closes with Betjeman writing of his wife (who he refers to as Lady It) and her trip to New York to see their son Paul.
MC:P323/C1/9 1 Feb. 1968
Handwritten postcard from Betjeman (43 Cloth Fair, London E.C.I) to Lionel Perry (Lionel Geoffrey Perry Esq., County Hospital, Letterkenny Co. Donegal, Ireland) in which he writes that he is sorry to hear from ‘Crax’ (Lord William Wicklow) that Perry has double pneumonia. The card depicts a page from the Lindisfarne Gospels, and is postmarked 1 Feb. 1968.
MC:P323/C1/10 8 Feb. 1968
Handwritten letter from Betjeman (43 Cloth Fair, London E.C.I) to Lionel Perry, in which he writes more on Perry’s health. Betjeman also mentions Harry William, Dean of Trinity at Cambridge, and Simon Stuart. The letter goes on to describe his wife Penelope’s trip to New York to see their son. Mentioned also are Betjeman’s Teddy Bear, his meeting Mary Wilson at the opera, and his feelings of inadequacy in the presence of Anthony Blunt. In closing the letter, Betjeman provides a description and sketch of his own imagined impression of the hospital in which Perry is staying.
MC:P323/C1/11 15-20 Feb. 1968
Handwritten postcard from Betjeman (Cornwall) to Lionel Perry (Lionel Geoffrey Perry Esq., County Hospital, Letterkenny Co. Donegal, Ireland), dated 15 and 20 February. Betjeman mentions ‘Crax’ (Lord William Wicklow). Some of the card is in Gaelic, and is signed ‘Love Seán o btje’. The postcard depicts St. Hilary Camp in Polzeath, Cornwall.
MC:P323/C1/12 20 Feb. 1968
Handwritten letter (Envelope survives) from Betjeman (43 Cloth Fair, London E.C.I) to Lionel Perry (Lionel Geoffrey Perry Esq., County Hospital, Letterkenny Co. Donegal, Ireland), in which Betjeman again writes of Perry’s health. He provides a revised sketch of what Perry’s hospital is like, based on Perry’s own description of the place. Other names mentioned include: Doctor Gardner, Spansbury[?], Robin Racdow [?], Ralph Radcliffe, Oswin Bateman Brown. Betjeman also indicates in the letter that he has sent Perry an article.
MC:P323/C1/13 11 March 1969
Handwritten letter (Envelope survives) from Betjeman (43 Cloth Fair, London E.C.I) to Lionel Perry (Lionel Geoffrey Perry Esq., County Hospital, Letterkenny Co. Donegal, Ireland), in which Betjeman writes that he is dining with the ‘Widow’. He then writes that he has enclosed a letter from Arthur Marshall, and mentions several people in connection with this: Hamish Hamilton, Hugh Casson, Freddie Hood, Woodrow Wyatt, Joc Lynam. He also mentions ‘Old Philp H.’, and [?.] Bryson, whose art collection Betjeman discusses.
MC:P323/C1/14 8 June 1975
Four handwritten postcards from Betjeman to Lionel Perry that actually form one continuous letter (the last three are numbered 2-4). The postcards do not have a stamp or a recipient’s address, which suggests they were hand delivered. In them, Betjeman writes of the ‘final Laureate arrangements’, invites Perry to dinner, notes friends who are ill, and mentions ‘La Belle’ (possibly Lady Elizabeth Cavendish). The postcards depict, in turn, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Dublin; St Patrick’s National Cathedral, Dublin; Yachts in the harbour at Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin; and The Rosses, Co. Donegal.
Postcard from Betjeman (29 Radnor Walk, London SW3 4BP) to Lionel Perry (Major L. G. Perry, Greenfort: Ballynashannagh, Letterkenny, Co, Donegal Eire) on which Betjeman has typed a very short note in remembrance of friends. The postcard depicts a London Transport poster of 1908, and is postmarked 1976.
MC:P323/C1/16 8 Feb. 1978
Typewritten letter from Betjeman (29 Radnor Walk, London SW3 4BP) to Lionel Perry in which he writes of the death of ‘Crax’ (Lord William Wicklow). He also mentions ‘the Widow’, Wyndham, Cecil, and Katie. In the last section of the letter he writes of Joc Lynam’s funeral and his dead friend’s views on the immortal nature of the soul.
MC:P323/C1/17 c. Feb/March 1978
Typewritten letter (Envelope survives) from Betjeman (29 Radnor Walk, London SW3 4BP) addressed to Lionel Perry (Major L. G. Perry, Greenfort: Ballynashannagh, Letterkenny, Co, Donegal Eire), in which Betjeman thanks his friend for his full account of the ‘the Crax funeral’ (i.e. that of Lord William Wicklow). He goes on to write about other dead friends, death itself and the ‘hereafter’. In the course of this letter he mentions the Cambridge theologian Harry Williams as well as Robin Mcdouall. It is possible that both this letter and the previous letter (MC:P323/C1/16) were sent in the same envelope, which is postmarked 13 March 1978.
MC:P323/C1/18 9 April 1978
Letter (29 Radnor Walk, London SW3 4BP) to Lionel Perry, in which he again thanks Perry for his description of ‘Crax’s’ (Lord William Wicklow’s) funeral. The letter is essentially a long reminiscence, consisting mostly of a list of events that recall Crax. By this stage Betjeman’s handwriting was greatly affected by Parkinson’s Disease and the letter on the whole is barely legible.
MC:P323/C1/19 7 Jan. 1980
Typewritten postcard from Betjeman to Lionel Perry (Major L.G. Perry, General Hospital, Letterkenny, Co, Donegal Irish Republic) on which there is a short note: ‘Thinking of you, old Top! Hold on, God bless you.’ It is signed Seán ó betjemán, 7/1/80’. The postcard depicts a London Transport poster of 1960, and is postmarked 15 Jan. 1980.
Telegram from Betjeman (London) to Lionel Perry (Major Lionel Perry General Hospital Letterkenny, Co Donegal) with the message: ‘Thinking of you, and praying, John Betjeman.’
MC:P323/C1/21 14 March 1980
Typewritten letter from Betjeman (29 Radnor Walk, London SW3 4BP) to Lionel Perry in which he writes with nostalgia of his time at Magdalen and his fondness for the New Buildings. He encloses a poem titled ‘Lines on the New Buildings, Magdalen College, Oxford composed by the Reverend James Hurdis, (1763-1800) D.D. sometimes fellow and Professor of poetry at Oxford and added to by Sir John Betjeman in 1980.’ Betjeman writes that he produced the work in response to the Magdalen Appeal. The contents of the letter also imply that Perry was gravely ill at this time, and he died on 18 September 1980.
MC:P323/C1/22 22 Sept. 1980
Telegram sent from Betjeman (London) to Mrs Braddell (Greenfort, Ballynashannagh, Co., Donegal) at 11.45 a.m. expressing Betjeman’s sorrow on hearing of Lionel Perry’s death.
MC:P323/C1/ 23 22 Sept. 1980
Telegram sent from Bejeman (London) to Mrs Braddell (Greenfort, Ballynashannagh, Co., Donegal) at 12.16 p.m. informing her that he is unable to attend the funeral of Lionel Perry.
MC:P323/C1/24 24 Sept. 1980
Typewritten letter from Betjeman (29 Radnor Walk, London SW3 4BP) to Mrs Braddell, in which he expresses regret at being unable to attend Perry’s funeral because of the debilitating effect of Parkinson’s. He goes on to reminisce about Perry and the value of his friendship. He also mentions Perry’s brother Patrick, his sister Pamela Penelope, Herbert Baker and Michael Dugdale.
Typewritten poem titled: ‘Written in a garden’. This poem is signed by John Betjeman and collected with the other correspondence addressed to Lionel Perry.