The Archive of Hugo Williams

Item author: Hugo Williams
Item date: 1942ff
Grant Value: £5,000
Item cost: £30,000
Item date acquired: 2015
Item institution: Eton College Library
Town/City: Eton
County: Berkshire

Hugo Williams’ archive consists of the manuscripts of all his writing in poetry and prose: twelve volumes of poetry, two travel books and his journalism for the ‘Freelance’ column in The Times Literary Supplement. What makes it so special is its completeness. Williams, who has never used a computer, has kept all his working papers, from his schooldays at Eton to the present day.

There are rough drafts (often written out many times), fair copies, corrected typescripts and proofs of every poem he has written. A single poem may exist in as many as fifty versions, the final poem differing considerably from the original thought. This provides fascinating material for the scholar or teacher to trace every stage in the creative process.

The archive also includes the manuscripts of Hugo Williams’ two travel books. The first, All the Time in the World, describes a two year journey in the early Sixties to and from Australia via the Middle East. During this Williams kept notes, observations and thoughts in a series of exercise-books he bought en route, from which he later wrote up the account of his journey.

Williams has been called a confessional poet, as his poetry is largely autobiographical. The deaths of his parents feature in Writing Home (1985) and Dock Leaves (1994), while asequence of poems From the Dialysis Ward from his book, I Knew the Bride (2014), describe his experiences while waiting for a kidney-transplant. Together with the travel books and hundreds of short ‘Freelance’ essays, Williams’ poetry can, therefore, be said to be his autobiography. Yet they are much more than this. His work provides a commentary and an insight into what it was like to be living in the new freedom of the post-war years, from 1960 to the present day.

Williams has been called ‘Eton’s most important poet since Shelley’, and so it is particularly pleasing that, thanks to generous contributions from FNL and, with FNL's help, Old Possum 's Practical Trust, we have been able to add Hugo’s archive to the Eton College Library, where it will take its place beside manuscripts of Shelley, Thomas Gray, Winthrop Mackworth Praed and A. C. Swinburne.  The archive is available to visiting scholars, interested members of the public and is also used in Eton's outreach programme.