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Archive of Katherine Watson


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The archive consists of correspondence, journals, literary notebooks and typescript drafts, photographs, and papers relating to Carolyn King's biography of Watson.

The largest concentration of correspondence consists of letters sent from Katherine Watson to her friend, the archaeologist and poet Nancy K. Sandars, 1944-2008. The majority of letters from Sandars to Watson were accidentally destroyed in 2007 during the clearance of Watson's house. The archive includes letters sent from Watson to her brother Martin Watson 1932-1992, to her cousin Ben Watson 1995-2007, and some to her niece Matilda Bell and other relations. The correspondence includes personal letters sent to Watson by the literary critic John Bayley in 1952 and 1991-2004, and include letters and postcards from his first wife, the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, and his second wife Audi Villers.

The literary papers consist of draft notebooks and annotated typescript drafts of Watson's poetry. Some seem to have been prepared as collected editions for publishers. The archive also contains the typescript draft of Watson's pilgrimage via bicycle, Pedallers to Rome.

The archive also contains papers of Watson's relatives and friends which were accumulated by Carolyn King in the course of research for her biography Katherine Watson: A Life of poetry, faith and love, in addition to papers created whilst preparing the biography for publication.


  • Creation: 1924-2011, n.d.


3.2 Linear metres (70 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark, e.g. MS. Katherine Watson 1.]

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Katherine Watson 1-70.

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 11518


Archive of Katherine Watson, (1918-2008) poet and bookseller.

Biographical / Historical

Katherine Agnes Watson (1918-2008) was a poet and bookseller, publishing The Source and Other Poems in 1956.

After serving in the Women's Royal Naval Service, 1941-1946, Watson joined the Roman Catholic Church and in April 1949 became a postulant at Holy Cross Abbey, Stapehill, Dorset. Later that year, she returned to secular life, and in 1950 undertook a pilgrimage to Rome from Austria by bicycle, which she describes in Pedallers to Rome. The theme that runs throughout her writing is her sense of conflict between her strong religious convictions and her poetry. An equally important influence was her companion Pamela Redmayne, with whom she lived from 1964 until Redmayne's death in 1991.

In 1952, Watson was in a relationship with the literary critic and scholar John Bayley (1925-2015) who during this time proposed marriage. This did not materialise and Bayley later married Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) in 1956. Their correspondence shows that by 1994 Watson, Bayley and Murdoch were in regular amicable contact.

From 1959-1969 Watson edited 'Nemo's Almanac', an annual literary competition. In 1966 she realised her ambition to own a bookshop, opening Watson's Bookshop in Burford, Oxfordshire, which she ran until it closed in 1980. She died in 2008.

Watson's account of her pilgrimage, Pedallers to Rome was published posthumously by her friend and literary executor Carolyn M. King in 2012, along with her Collected Poems (2012).

For further details of Katherine Watson's life, see King's biography, Katherine Watson: A life of poetry, faith and love (2011).


Some of the correspondence had been grouped by correspondent and roughly sorted into chronological order by Carolyn King. This arrangement has been maintained for the correspondence. Where it was possible to date the literary material, it has been ordered chronologically. The archive is arranged into five series: journals, correspondence, literary papers, papers and correspondence of family members, and papers and correspondence of Carolyn King.

Custodial History

The archive was accumulated by Carolyn King during the course of her research for the biography of Katherine Watson, with some of the correspondence given to King by Matilda Bell, Ben Watson and Nancy K. Sandars during this time.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The archive was given by Carolyn King , 19-22 June 2015. MS. Katherine Watson 39 was donated separately by Ben Watson on 23 June 2015.


  • Watson, K. The Source and Other Poems (Oxford University Press, 1956)
  • Bayley, J. Iris and the Friends: A Year of Memories (Gerald Duckworth & Co.,1999) pp.124-139.
  • King, C. M. Katherine Watson: A life of poetry, faith and love (Walrus Books, 2011)
Archive of Katherine Watson
Finding aid prepared by Rachael Gardner
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom