Archives and Special Collections

Literary archives

The University Library holds an extensive collection of library and archive collections of local literary figures. Library collections include print editions of published works (including international editions) and archive collections comprise original drafts, manuscripts and correspondence relating to an individual’s literary output.

Also included within our Literary Leicester collections are those deposited by individuals with an strong affiliation to Leicester.

Our Collections

The Sue Townsend Collection, deposited in 2005 contains the literary, personal and business papers of the bestselling author and playwright Sue Townsend (1946-2014). Author of the ‘Adrian Mole’ series which received international acclaim, Sue Townsend was also responsible for producing plays for the stage such as Woomberang (1979), contributing to television and radio mini series, and publishing novels such as Number 10 (2002) and Queen Camilla (2006). The Collection reflects Sue Townsend’s entire literary career, and includes draft manuscripts of unpublished novels and unproduced screenplays. The Library also holds all print editions of Townsend's novels and their international translations. 

This collection is complimented by the Holden Collection, the archive of artist Caroline Holden who was the original illustrator for The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. Highlights within this collection include concept artwork for the early Adrian Mole novels and merchandise for the franchise.

The Orton Collection comprises the literary and personal papers of award-winning playwright John 'Joe' Kingsley Orton (1933-1967). Regarded as one of the most notorious playwrights of the 1960s, Orton is best known for his savagely satirical and scandalous black comedies such as Entertaining Mr Sloane, Loot and What the Butler Saw. In the height of his success Orton’s literary career was cut short due to his murder by partner Kenneth Halliwell. The Orton Collection reflects both his public and private life with scripts, correspondence, photographs, ephemera and diary entries offering an insight into Orton’s career as a dramatist and a gay man in the 1960s. The Collection is a valuable resource in demonstrating the evolving theatre landscape of the mid-20th century and the narrative of a LGBT+ icon.

As a prolific dramatist who wrote for the stage, screen and radio for 35 years, the David Campton Archive provides researchers with an insight into the literary output of David Campton (1924-2006), one of the first British playwrights to write in the style of the Theatre of the Absurd. Originally from Leicester, Campton was best known for his one-act plays which include Us and Them, Who Calls? and A Point of View. 

Children's literature is a particular strength within our collections, recognisable through the Reg and Ann Cartwright Archive. Born in Leicester in 1938, Reg Cartwright is an award-winning painter and illustrator, whose work has been exhibited around the world. Best known as the illustrator of 40 books for young readers including Mr Potter’s Pigeon, for which he won the prestigious Mother Goose Award in 1980. The archive contains material relating to Reg Cartwright’s illustrations and Ann Cartwright’s stories for children’s books and includes concept artwork, proofs and original illustrations. Print editions of their publications can be found in our Library collections. 

Similarly, the Higson Collection, donated by Dr. Winifred Higson (Librarian of the Institute of Education and the School of Education of the University of Leicester between 1949-1973) provides a vital resource for those researching the history of children's literature or early education. The Collection includes alphabets and readers, stories, annuals, journals and picture books from the 18th - early 20th centuries.

Other literary collections include in those of: Rene MacColl (1905-1971) author and journalist; Laura (Riding) Jackson (1901-1991) poet and author; Andrew Waterman (1940-) poet; Kevin Laffan (1922-2003) playwright and screenwriter; and Chris Challis (1946-1997) poet and creative writer.

How to search

This is just a selection of the material we hold that covers this subject. You can find these items and many more by using the following search tools:

Library Search for published sources. To limit your search to rare books, including those published before 1850 filter your results to Special Collections.

Some of our archive collections for Literary Leicester are currently uncatalogued. Contact us for further information about these holdings. The Orton Collection, Sue Townsend Collection, Andrew Waterman Collection, Caroline Holden Collection and Rene MacColl Collection can be browsed and searched on our Archives Catalogue.

Our digitised collections can be explored through Library Search or directly at Special Collections Online.

How to access

Our rare books and archives are open to all and can be consulted in the Special Collections reading room. Find out how to book your place and order material.

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