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Archive of Helen Muspratt


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The archive comprises photographic prints and negatives mainly taken by Helen Muspratt (c. 1929-c. 1977) as well as her cameras; correspondence with Muspratt's parents and husband; original documents belonging to Muspratt together with research on Muspratt gathered by her daughter Jessica Sutcliffe while writing a book; and 1950s toys used in the Ramsey & Muspratt studio to entertain children being photographed.


  • Creation: 1900-2016


31.531 Linear metres (97 boxes)

Language of Materials

  • English
  • Russian

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Conditions Governing Use

The Bodleian Libraries owns all copyright in photographs taken by Helen Muspratt prior to the opening of the Ramsey & Muspratt studio in 1932, and in all photographs created in her Oxford studio following the February 1945 dissolution of her business with Lettice Ramsey. Photographs taken 1932-1937, when Ramsey and Muspratt worked together in Cambridge, may have dual copyright (Muspratt would have had sole copyright in her documentary photographs of the Soviet Union, South Wales and Liverpool). Some of Muspratt's photographs of South Wales (1937) belong to the National Museums and Galleries of Wales, and have been noted in the catalogue.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. 16176 photogr. 1-47, MSS. 16176/1-36, JL 1048-1050.

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 16176, 18854, 21100


Correspondence, papers and photographs of Oxford-based studio and documentary photographer Helen Muspratt (1907-2001) including material gathered for a book about her work by her daughter Jessica Sutcliffe.

Biographical / Historical

Helen Muspratt (1907-2001) was the daughter of Lily May and Lieutenant-Colonel Vivian Muspratt and spent her early years in India and then at boarding school near Chichester in England. In 1922 her father retired to Swanage in Dorset, and Helen and her sister Joan (1908-1957), reunited with their parents after years apart, attended the progressive Swanage school Oldfeld as day pupils.

With the encouragement of photographer Constance Ellis, Muspratt studied photography in evening classes at Regency Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster) for a year from 1927-1928. She worked first as a receptionist at Donald Donovan’s photography studio in London and then in 1929 founded a photography studio at 5 High Street, Swanage, moving to 10 Institute Road in 1932.

Helen was introduced to Lettice Ramsey (1898-1985) by her friend Francis (Fra) Newbery, the retired head of the Glasgow School of Art, who lived near Swanage in Corfe Castle. Lettice Ramsey was a Cambridge graduate and a widowed young mother of two who Muspratt encouraged to take a photography course at Regent Street Polytechnic. Ramsey also had excellent contacts in Cambridge and since the winter season in Swanage was very quiet, in the winter of 1932, Muspratt joined her in Cambridge to create the studio Ramsey & Muspratt, while Muspratt’s sister Joan, who had quit teaching, ran the Muspratt studio in Swanage. (Until 1937, Helen Muspratt would continue to help in Swanage during the busy summer season and after that Joan Muspratt ran the studio on her own until her sudden death in 1957). Some of those Ramsey & Muspratt photographed during this period were the intellectual and left-wing luminaries of the day, including Virginia Woolf, C.P. Snow, Dorothy Hodgkin, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt, as well as Julian Bell, with whom Lettice Ramsey had a relationship. Helen Muspratt’s photographs in the 1930s are notable for her experimental approach, including the use of double negatives and solarisation, inspired by the photographer Man Ray.

Helen met her husband, Oxford University (Balliol) graduate and Communist Party organiser Jack Dunman (d. 1973) in Cambridge where he was working for the railway. In 1936 Helen went on a tour of the Soviet Union with a group organised by the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR, and her photographs from the trip were used in lecture tours and to drum up support for the Soviet Union during World War II. Muspratt and Dunman married in 1937. With a commission from the Left Book Club in 1937, Muspratt did her last major documentary photography series, photographing out-of-work miners and labourers in South Wales and Liverpool, and she also joined the Communist Party, while her husband became a full-time Communist Party organiser and editor of The Country Standard. Meanwhile the Ramsey & Muspratt business was successful enough that they opened a second branch in Cornmarket Street in Oxford in 1937/1938 (formally signing a partnership agreement on 27 July 1939), which Helen Muspratt ran until her retirement in 1977, focusing on studio portraits and weddings. Muspratt also loved to photograph architecture, and she photographed Oxford and its environs for John Betjeman. She did a final documentary series when she was commissioned in 1946 by a group of campaigning doctors to photograph elderly patients in the Victorian workhouse-like conditions of the Poor House near Wantage.

Ramsey and Muspratt’s business partnership was formally dissolved at the end of February 1945, but their respective Cambridge and Oxford studios retained the name Ramsey & Muspratt, and the pair remained friends.

Helen Muspratt's work as a notable female photographer of the 1930s and beyond was acknowledged later in life by a series of exhibitions and documentaries, including a film for the BBC, Women of Our Century: Interviews with Six of Britain's Most Eminent Women: Helen Muspratt in 1988, the exhibition 'Women Photographers in Britain, 1900-1950', at the National Museum of Film and Photography in 1986, and 'How We Are, Photographing Britain, from the 1840s to the Present' at Tate Britain, London, in 2007.


The photographs, correspondence and papers in this archive were arranged and numbered by Muspratt's daughter Jessica Sutcliffe. The photographs were numbered in the format 'box number/item number' and while the boxes have now been relabelled using Bodleian shelfmarks, the original box numbers have been included in the catalogue as former references.

Also included in the archive are a set of index cards which catalogued Muspratt's studio sittings, as well as envelopes originally containing negatives, which were ordered alphabetically or by negative number by Muspratt's photography studio. Two further boxes of index cards of photographs listed by Muspratt's friend Pennie Denton are ordered by subject and sitter name.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Jessica Sutcliffe and Charles Mark Dunman, 2020-2021.


  • Sutcliffe, J. Face: Shape and Angle, Helen Muspratt Photographer (Manchester University Press, 2016)
Catalogue of the archive of Helen Muspratt
Charlotte McKillop-Mash
Language of description
Script of description
Edition statement
First edition

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom