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National Library of Wales
Davies, W. H., letters

Reference code(s): GB 0210 MSWHDAVLET

Held at: National Library of Wales

Title: W. H. Davies Letters

Short Title: Davies, W. H., letters

Creation date(s): 1905-1962

Level of description: Fonds

Extent: 2 volumes

Name of creator(s): W. H. Davies; E. E. Bissell


Administrative/Biographical history: William Henry Davies (1871-1940), poet and writer, was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, the son of Francis Boase Davies and Mary Ann Evans. Following his father's death and his mother's remarriage he and his siblings were adopted by their grandparents. After leaving school he became a picture-frame maker's apprentice.
In June 1893 he sailed to America, arriving in New York virtually penniless. He spent the next few years tramping across America, begging and undertaking casual labour, with occasional voyages to Britain working on cattle-ships. He then decided to go to the Klondike but while en route, he lost his right leg after falling under a train in Renfrew, Ontario, on 20 March 1899. After convalescing he returned to Britain. He lived in common lodging houses in London and survived by peddling wares and living off the weekly allowance of ten shillings left to him by his grandmother.
He began writing poetry at this time but it was not until 1905 that he succeeded in getting his work published; he managed to save enough money to pay for the printing of two hundred copies of The Soul's Destroyer ([London], [1905]). Several further volumes of poetry and collections appeared between 1905 and 1939. His most famous prose work, Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (London, 1908), was followed by four novels, including The True Traveller (London, 1912) and The Adventures of Johnny Walker, Tramp (London, 1926). Other prose works include Beggars (London, 1909), Nature (London, 1914), My Birds (London, 1933) and My Garden (London, 1933).
In 1905 he was befriended by the poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) and his wife Helen, who in 1907 rented a cottage for him in Sevenoaks, Kent. He returned to London in 1914. Davies married Helen Payne (d. 1979) on 5 February 1923, having met her at a bus stop in London. They lived in East Grinstead, Sussex, before moving back to Sevenoaks, then Oxted, Surrey, and finally to Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, where Davies died on 26 September 1940.


Scope and content/abstract: Papers, 1905-1962, from the collection of E. E. Bissell relating to W. H. Davies, comprising fifty-eight letters and cards, 1905-1938, from Davies to various correspondents including John Gawsworth, Harold Monro and Edward Thomas, with four draft poems by Davies and miscellaneous related papers; together with twenty-one letters, 1951-1962, to Bissell from Richard J. Stonesifer and others concerning Davies.


Language/scripts of material: English.

System of arrangement: Arranged according to NLW MSS reference numbers: NLW MSS 23806-23807.

Conditions governing access: Readers consulting modern papers in the National Library of Wales are required to abide by the conditions set out in information provided when applying for their Readers' Tickets, whereby the reader shall become responsible for compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998 in relation to any processing by them of personal data obtained from modern records held at the Library.

Conditions governing reproduction: Usual copyright laws apply. Information regarding ownership of W. H. Davies copyright can be found at (viewed September 2011).

Finding aids:


Accruals: Accruals are not expected.

Archival history: E. E. Bissell (1910-1998) was a collector of books and manuscripts; he had a particular interest in John Cowper Powys, as well as the likes of A. C. Swinburne, Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame and W. H. Davies. The Sotheby's sale of the library of E. E. Bissell (lots 277-409) included further items relating to W. H. Davies (lots 304-314), mostly first and signed editions of his works and nine autograph and typed poems. There were not purchased by NLW.

Immediate source of acquisition: Purchased at auction at Sotheby's, London (lots 305, 309-10, 313), 16 July 1998 (B1998/31).


Publication note: Richard J. Stonesifer, W. H. Davies: A Critical Biography (London, 1963).


Note: Title based on contents.

Archivist's note: Description revised by Rhys Jones. The following sources were used in the compilation of this description: Richard J. Stonesifer, W. H. Davies: A Critical Biography (London, 1963); Oxford Dictionary of National Biography WWW site, viewed 28 September 2011; Sotheby's, English Literature and History, Sale LN8412 (London, 1998) [auction catalogue].

Rules or conventions: Description follows ANW guidelines based on ISAD(G) 2nd ed.; AACR2; and LCSH.

Date(s) of descriptions: September 2011

Bissell, E. E. | (Edward Ernest), | 1910-1998 | Correspondence
Davies, W. H. | (William Henry), | 1871-1940
Davies, W. H. | (William Henry), | 1871-1940 | Correspondence

Personal names
Bissell , E. E. (Edward Ernest) , 1910-1998
Davies , W. H. (William Henry) , 1871-1940
Gawsworth , John , 1912-1970
Monro , Harold , 1879-1932
Stonesifer , Richard J. (Richard James) , 1922-
Thomas , Edward , 1878-1917

Corporate names


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