On 20 June 2018 a significant collection of personal correspondence belonging to John Wilton Haines (1875 – 1960) was auctioned at Bonhams in London. Known as ‘Jack’ to his associates, he was a Gloucester-based solicitor, poet and botanist. He was friend to a great many literary figures including the Dymock Poets, six writers who congregated in the Gloucestershire village of Dymock in the months leading to the outbreak of the First World War. They were Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, John Drinkwater, Robert Frost, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson and Edward Thomas. The University of Gloucestershire curates a major Dymock Poets Special Collection, including c.1,000 volumes by or about the poets and extensive archival holdings.
The 45 lots sold at auction included rare letters from Robert Frost (1874 – 1963), an American poet who briefly lived in Dymock where he had a profound influence on fellow writer Edward Thomas. The Special Collections and Archives at the University of Gloucestershire were particularly keen to secure some of Frost’s letters, written while he lived in the county, as we did not previously hold any original material in his hand. The letters portrayed Frost’s unvarnished opinion of his fellow Dymock Poets and feelings on the brewing war. Other lots included an annotated typescript of Frost’s poem “The Sound of Trees”; autograph manuscripts of Frost’s poems “Hyla Brook”, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Night Light”; works inscribed by W H Davies; papers and correspondence of W H Davies; a letter from Ivor Gurney; a collection of letters sent to John Haines from Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, Eleanor Farjeon and Walter de la Mare; an autograph article by Edward Thomas; autograph compositional drafts of Thomas’s poems “The Mountain Chapel”, “The Birds’ Nests” and “House and Man”; and letters from Edward Thomas and his wife Helen.
The University first heard of the auction just two weeks before the sale, via the Friends of the Dymock Poets. We moved quickly to work alongside Gloucestershire Archives, Petersfield Museum and the National Library of Wales to ensure we did not bid on the same lots. The University had the support of the Friends of the Dymock Poets and Friends of the National Libraries to fund the purchase of three lots of Robert Frost letters. We were successful with two of our bids. We are incredibly grateful to the Friends of the National Libraries for their help at such short notice.
All of the organisations involved worked tirelessly to save what we could for the nation. It was a great shame the collection went straight to public auction rather than being offered to a heritage institution as a whole in the first instance. The auction gave us the opportunity to work in partnership with other heritage organisations and we hope to strengthen these links as a result.