Skip to main content

Beverley Nichols papers

Identifier: MSS 0620

Scope and Content Note

The Beverley Nichols papers document the personal and professional activities of prolific twentieth-century English novelist, playwright, journalist, composer, and political activist Beverley Nichols. The collection comprises correspondence, diaries, scrapbooks, manuscripts, musical compositions, and photographs dating between 1911 and 1991. The collection is organized in seven series: I. Personal records; II. Correspondence; III. Works by Nichols; IV. Beverley Nichols: A Life ; V. Photographs and Artwork; VI. Printed Matter; and VII. Media.

Series I. consists of personal records maintained by Beverley Nichols, divided into two subseries. The first subseries includes diaries and scrapbooks kept by Nichols documenting his personal life, professional accomplishments, and travels, and include correspondence, flyers, brochures, photographs, and clippings. One scrapbook was maintained by American fan Ray Harris, whom Nichols met on his 1918 lecture tour of the United States and later employed while working as the editor of American Sketch . Materials are arranged in rough chronological order. The second subseries consists of appointment books that document Nichols's daily activities and financial material. The twenty-five appointment books span the years from 1932 to 1981; the bulk of the books cover 1932 to 1942. The financial material include royalty statements, tax documents, and stock receipts. Materials are arranged chronologically.

Series II. consists of two groupings: outgoing correspondence from and incoming correspondence to Beverley Nichols, reflecting the arrangement of the series as received by the University of Delaware Library. The first grouping consists of outgoing correspondence, arranged alphabetically by correspondent's surname; one file has been created for letters collectively addressed to members of Nichols's family. Significant correspondents include Nichols's close friend and confidante Cornelia Thorne and members of his family, with whom he shared details of his travels in Greece, Australia, the United States, and France. The second grouping is comprised of incoming correspondence, sub-arranged alphabetically by the surname of the correspondent or by the first letter of a business's name and then chronologically. Significant correspondents include English writer Rebecca West; English photographer and designer Cecil Beaton; English poet John Betjeman; Winston S. Churchill, grandson of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill; and English author W. Somerset Maugham. Miscellaneous correspondence includes a circa 1922 letter from English travel writer Freya Stark to Jean Connolly, the wife of English literary critic Cyril Connolly, and one letter responding to Nichols biographer Bryan Connon's newspaper advertisement for information concerning Nichols, which includes a photocopy of a 1981 letter from Nichols to a Mrs. Dele concerning Nichols's battle with cancer toward the end of his life.

Series III. consists of materials contributing toward the publication of works by Beverley Nichols and is divided into three subseries. The first subseries comprises manuscripts of published and unpublished dramatic works, novels, short stories, speeches, prose pieces, sketches, musical verse, and poetry, as well as some of Nichols's notes about his works. Nichols's involvement with social and political movements such as disarmament are also represented. The manuscripts are arranged alphabetically by title. Project folders often contain multiple drafts: where possible discrete drafts have been identified; however, no attempt was made to arrange the drafts chronologically. Titles applied to project folders during processing appear in square brackets. One folder contains untitled and/or otherwise unidentified manuscript material, some of which are fragments. The second subseries contains materials related to Nichols's musical compositions, which includes scores and manuscript material. The third subseries consists of materials contributing to the production of Nichols's published works arranged into two groupings: illustrations and proofs. Included in the series are illustrations for two of Nichols's garden works, Merry Hall (1953) and Green Grows the Garden (1939), marked for layout purposes and Nichols's advance uncorrected proofs of his 1933 collection of plays titled Failures . The set of proofs for Failures includes the original preface by Nichols, much of which was cut for final publication. Within the two groupings, material is arranged alphabetically by title of the work.

Series IV. consists of a typescript of Bryan Connon’s biography of Nichols Beverley Nichols: A Life , extensively corrected in what is presumed to be Connon's hand.

Series V. comprises photographs and artwork that document Nichols's personal and professional activities, arranged into loose groupings of portraits, professional activities, Nichols's gardens and homes, and miscellaneous, in rough chronological order. Though the bulk of the photographs were taken on his various estates and in English gardens, the earliest portraits present Nichols in his Army uniform shortly after World War I. Various candid photographs capture Nichols giving speeches, playing cards, playing piano, signing books, sitting with his cats, and attending the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The artwork in this series consists of two pencil drawings by artist Harly Trott of Nichols posing in the nude. Dates provided during processing appear in square brackets.

Series VI. consists of a variety of printed matter collected by Beverley Nichols, including programs, invitations, clippings, and catalogs. Materials are arranged in rough chronological order.

Series VII. is a small series consisting of one seven-inch reel-to-reel audio tape, the contents of which are unknown at this time.


  • Creation: 1698, 1911-1991, undated
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1911-1991


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce isrequired from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Novelist, playwright, journalist, composer, and political activist John Beverley Nichols was born September 9, 1898, in Bristol, England. Nichols was a popular writer, best known for his sentimental and witty "musings on gardening, country life, and cats."

After an unsuccessful first term at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1917, Nichols joined the Army Labour Corps, a noncombat division. Transferred to Cambridge in 1918 to train officer cadets, he was made secretary to vice-chancellor of Cambridge University Dr. Arthur Everett Shipley and joined Shipley and the British Education Commission on a tour of United States colleges and universities. The Commission was charged with extending cooperation between English and American educational institutions. During this trip, Nichols finished what became his first novel, Prelude (1920), which drew much from his schooldays at Marlborough College.

Returning to Oxford in 1919, Nichols assumed the editorial responsibilities of the Oxford student newspaper, Isis , while simultaneously launching and editing his own periodical, Oxford Outlook . Nichols served as the president of the Oxford Union, a debating society, for a short time. While a student, Nichols emerged as a somewhat controversial figure for his outspokenness in the press on topics such as politics, women's rights, and his commentary on the post-War rebellion and cynicism of young British men and women.

Greatly affected by the war, Nichols became an outspoken pacifist and advocate for disarmament, giving speeches at rallies and appropriating the slogan "peace at any price." Themes reflecting this ideology are prominent in several of Nichols's literary pieces. His 1931 play production Avalanche explores the theme of individuality, collective identity, and nationalism. In 1933, he published Cry Havoc , which investigates the ways in which the connection between government and industry perpetuates armament in developed nations and denounces modern warfare, stating, "chivalry was a flower too fine to blossom on the poisoned fields of Flanders." Nichols's outspokenness was not limited to the war and its aftermath; as an openly gay man, Nichols became an advocate for sexual tolerance, a theme often incorporated into his work, particularly during the early 1930s, when he met and began living with English actor Cyril Butcher, who remained his lifelong partner.

Nichols's creative output is as varied generically as it is topically. Novels, juvenile fiction, short stories, plays, poetry, travel books, and musical revues all comprise Nichols's repertoire. Nichols served as a reporter and columnist for both London and American newspapers and magazines, including the London Daily News , the London Sunday Times , the London Sunday Chronicle , and Good Housekeeping . Nichols developed a moderately successful career in theater in the 1920s, composing music for revues and writing his own plays; in 1933 a collection of three plays under the title Failures was published.

Perhaps Nichols’s most widely read work was his "garden literature," inspired by his country homes: Ellerdale Close in Hampstead, Thatch Cottage in Glatton, Sudbrook Cottage, and Merry Hall in Surrey. The style of his garden books is marked by long digressions incorporating memories and musings on politics. Nichols also published a popular fictionalized version of his own gardening experiences at Glatton titled Down the Garden Path (1932).

A prolific writer of creative non-fiction, Nichols published on a variety of topics in addition to politics and gardening, including religion, social satire, cats, parapsychology, and his own life. Nichols irreverently penned a memoir at twenty-five, titled Twenty-Five (1926). One of Nichols's most scandalous publications, Father Figure (1972), recounts his three attempts to murder his abusive alcoholic father. Another controversial piece, not based on his own life, was A Case of Human Bondage (1966), a volume that excoriates English author Somerset Maugham for the treatment of his wife, noted English interior decorator Syrie Maugham.

Beverley Nichols died in 1983 in Glatton, England.

"(John) Beverley Nichols."Contemporary Authors OnlineFarmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010. (reproduced in Biography Resource Center). (accessed October 2010).Connon, Bryan. "Nichols, (John) Beverley (1898-1983)." Rev. Clare L. Taylor. InOxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman. (accessed October 14, 2010)."The Official Beverley Nichols Website." Timber Press, Inc. (accessed October 14, 2010).Connon, Bryan.Beverley Nichols: A Life. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2000. Additional biographical information derived from the collection.


3.5 linear foot (10 boxes) ; OCLC # 002591329


The Beverley Nichols papers document the personal and professional activities of prolific twentieth-century English novelist, playwright, journalist, composer, and political activist Beverley Nichols. The collection comprises correspondence, diaries, scrapbooks, manuscripts, musical compositions, and photographs primarily dating between 1911 and 1991.


Purchase, September 2005.

Materials Cataloged Separately

Two monographs that were received with the collection, Beverley Nichols: A Life (1991) by Bryan Connon and In an Eighteenth-Century Kitchen (1968), were removed and catalogued separately with the printed holdings in Special Collections.

Shelving Summary

  1. Boxes 1-3: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons
  2. Box 4: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes
  3. Box 5: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (17 inches)
  4. Boxes 6 and 9: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (18 inches)
  5. Box 7: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (15 inches)
  6. Box 8: Shelved in SPEC MSS shoeboxes
  7. Box 10: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (24 inches)

OCLC Number


Processed and encoded by Christopher La Casse, May 2010. Updated by Maureen Cech, October 2010.

Finding aid for Beverley Nichols papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2010 May 8
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA