Papers of Ruth Pitter
The archive comprises literary papers and other material relating to Ruth Pitter’s career as a poet (c.1903-1983 and some posthumous material), as well as personal correspondence with an emphasis on literary and social letters (1911-c.1988) and personal and financial papers (1897-1988), including material relating to Pitter’s business Deane & Forester.
Also included are photographs (c.1884-1981), prints, drawings, engravings and watercolours (c.1900-1989), audio recordings of interviews with, and songs and poems by, Ruth Pitter (1981-1987 and n.d.), and material relating to Ruth Pitter which was collected by her friend Mary Thomas (1897-1998).
- Creation: c.1884-1998
3.99 Linear metres (29 physical shelfmarks)
Language of Materials
Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. 7154/1, Folder 1].
Full range of shelfmarks:
Collection ID (for staff)
CMD ID 7154
Papers of Ruth Pitter (1897-1992), poet
Biographical / Historical
Ruth Pitter was born on 7 November 1897 in Ilford, Essex, the eldest of three children of the assistant school teachers George Pitter (1862-1926) and Louisa Rosetta, nee Murrell (1869-1941). She started writing early, and encouraged by her parents, began contributing regularly to A.R. Orange’s periodical New Age when she was still a young teenager. Nature, and particularly Hainault Forest where the family later rented a cottage, were her key inspirations.
In 1914, after leaving school, she joined the War Office as a clerk for two years, and then started working for Walberswick Peasant Pottery Co., a small firm on the Suffolk coast, decorating furniture and other household items in 1916. Pitter first moved to London when her employers moved the company to the capital in 1918, and it was here that she met her lifelong friend and business partner, Kathleen O’Hara.
Besides her day job as a craftswoman, Pitter continued writing poetry, and published her collection First Poems in 1920. She socialised with other writers in London, and, amongst others, befriended the young Eric Blair, alias George Orwell. Hilaire Belloc became one of her early champions, financing her next books, First and Second Poems (1927) and Persephone in Hades (1931). Pitter received increasing acclaim as a poet with A Mad Lady’s Garland (1943), a series of political sketches of insects and animals, with A Trophy of Arms (1936) and with The Spirit Watches (1939).
In 1930, Pitter and O’Hara, under the name Deane & Forester, had started their own furniture painting firm in Chelsea, but at the beginning of the Second World War, the two women left their flourishing business to join the war effort, working in a factory. During these years, Pitter found inspiration in C.S. Lewis’s religious broadcasts and writings, and joined the Anglican Church, merging her new faith with her love of nature to celebrate in her poetry an all-pervading divinity in creation. The 1940s saw the publication of The Rude Potato (1941), The Bridge (1945) and Pitter on Cats (1946), and the post-war years brought many new and lasting literary friendships, such as with Lord David Cecil and with C.S. Lewis. Urania was published in 1951, but it was The Ermine: Poems 1942-1952 (1953) that became Pitter’s most celebrated collection of poetry, and that won the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1955 (Pitter was the first woman to receive this honour).
In 1952, Pitter and O’Hara had bought a cottage, The Hawthorns, in Long Crendon, a quiet village in Buckinghamshire, where Pitter could indulge in her love of gardening, and continue her decorative painting. This rural retreat was soon to be balanced by broadcasting engagements with the BBC, which included contributions to radio programmes such as Woman's Hour, as well as regular appearances on television with The Brains Trust. In the late 1950s, Pitter also wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, such as a weekly column on gardening, nature and faith for Woman in 1958-1959.
In the second half of the 1960s, encouraged by the American editor Carolyn Kizer, Pitter returned to poetry and published Still by Choice (1966), and Poems, 1926-1966 (1968). Her final collections, The End of Draught and A Heaven to Find, appeared in 1974 and 1987 respectively, and comprised previously unpublished poems and fragments written between 1908 and 1976. Her Collected Poems were published in 1990.
In her last years, Pitter was blind and confined to her home, but she still received visitors and engaged in rich conversations. She died at The Hawthorns on 29 February 1992.
Honours and Awards: Hawthornden Prize, 1937 (for A Trophy of Arms); William E. Heinemann Award 1954 (for The Ermine); The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, 1995; Royal Society of Literature, Companion of Literature, 1974; Commander of the British Empire in 1976.
The material is now in four series: A. Correspondence, B. Personal and financial papers; C. Literary Papers; D. Miscellaneous Papers and memorabilia.
The papers had been partly sorted, by Ruth Pitter, who selected and extensively annotated the material herself in the late 1970s, with view to donating it to the Bodleian after her death. Any intact original files were kept as found, although obvious stray items were sorted back into sequence. The original file titles, where relevant, are given in the description in inverted commas, e.g. 'Literary and Social Jun Sept 1949 – Dec 1951’.
Previously unsorted material was sorted by date, name, or topic, as appropriate.
A considerable proportion of financial and administrative papers (e.g. household bills and receipts, insurance papers, bank statements and related correspondence, printed ephemera like brochures and instruction leaflets for household appliances) were weeded.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Bequeathed to the Bodleian Library by Ruth Pitter in 1992. Additional material, now MS. 7154/29, was donated by Mary Thomas in various tranches between 1994 and 1998.
- Catalogue of the Papers of Ruth Pitter
- Finding aid prepared by Svenja Kunze
- Language of description
- Script of description