Fonds RC0094 - J. L. Garvin, Frank Waters, and Oliver Woods fonds

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J. L. Garvin, Frank Waters, and Oliver Woods fonds

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  • 1919-1981 (Creation)

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Physical description

17 m of textual records, graphic material, and realia:
62.5 cm of textual records and graphic material (J. L. Garvin);
1.4 m of textual records and graphic material. Includes journals kept during World War II (Frank Waters);
15 m of textual records, graphic material, and clothing (Oliver Woods)

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Name of creator


Biographical history

J. L. (James Louis) Garvin was born at Birkenhead on 12 April 1868. After a rudimentary education, he began work as a clerk in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 1891 he became a proof reader on the Newcastle Chronicle with the option of contributing to the newspaper for free. His reporting on Charles Stewart Parnell's (1846-1891) funeral launched Garvin's career. In 1899 he joined the Daily Telegraph as a leader and special writer. In 1908 he became editor and manager of the Observer a post he held until February 1942 when he had a falling out with the owner, Waldorf Astor. Garvin finished his career at the Daily Telegraph after an interim stint at the Sunday Express. Garvin was the editor of the 13th and 14th editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and well as a three-volume Life of Joseph Chamberlain (1932-1934). He died on 23 January 1947 at his home, Gregories, Beaconsfield.

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Oliver Frederick John Bradley Woods spend his entire career with The Times. His work with that newspaper started in 1934 and was only interrupted by military service in World War II. After the war, he was appointed Colonial correspondent and travelled extensively. In 1961 Woods was appointed Assistant Editor of The Times and shifted his attention primarily to the British domestic scene. Just before his death in 1972 he had nearly completed his draft of The Story of The Times (1983).
Longer biographical sketch by Richard A. Rempel can be found in Library Research News 9, no. 2 (Autumn 1985): ii-iv.

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Frank Henry Waters was not a dominant journalist on the scale of James Louis Garvin. He was, however, trusted and enormously well-liked on Fleet Street. Because of his probity and discretion, many members of the Establishment confided in him. He started in the Beaverbrook newspaper empire in 1936 and then from 1945 to 1950 was Assistant Manager of The Times. He ended his career as Managing Editor of the News Chronicle.
Longer biographical sketch by Richard A. Rempel can be found in Library Research News 9, no. 2 (Autumn 1985): ii-iv.

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Scope and content

J.L. Garvin:
The major treasure of this part is the series of letters between Garvin and Viola Woods, Oliver’s mother and Garvin’s future wife. Viola was unhappily married to the writer Maurice Woods when she first met Garvin but the death of Garvin’s first wife in 1918 seems to have spurred her to divorce – still an unfamiliar and scandalous procedure among the upper classes of early twentieth-century England. The couple’s efforts to marry were further complicated by their Roman Catholic religion, by Garvin’s influential position in British society and by the eccentric behavior of Viola’s sister, Una Troubridge, who had left her husband to become the lover of the notorious Radycliffe Hall. All these stresses are reflected in the passionate letters they wrote to one another between 1919 and their marriage in 1921.

Almost as valuable for the light which they throw upon Garvin in his final years, is the series of letters to his stepson Oliver Woods who was serving with distinction in a tank regiment during the Second World War. Perhaps significantly, apart from a single earlier example, Garvin's wartime communications with Oliver commence in March 1942, a month after he had ended his thirty-four year long editorship of The Observer. Although he soon began to write regularly for the Sunday Express it is probable that, with the burdens of editorial responsibility lifted, Garvin was able to devote more time to his correspondence and to following the fortunes of the war, and in particular to the fortunes of his beloved Oliver.

Frank Waters:
Frank Waters was not a journalist of the stature of J. L. Garvin and while the Waters material, included as Part II of this archive, lacks both the chronological and geographical scope of the Woods section, Waters was a man of intelligence, sensitivity and real literary ability. His journals, especially those which he kept during the Second World War are important and immensely readable with the kind of literary polish for which his friend Oliver Woods was only to find time in his published work. Indeed the Second World War is like a leit-motif running through the Waters material for, apart from the letters of condolence which flooded in to Joan Waters during October 1954, following Frank's untimely death, most of the correspondence and much of the literary, business and ephemeral material in this section of the archive dates from the years between 1939 and 1945.

Both Frank and Joan Waters were inveterate collectors of anecdotes and quotations and much of the material collected for a projected anthology is represented here, as is the raw material for another projected volume to comprise observations about The Times over more than 150 years. Oliver Woods was also involved in collecting material for his friends to use in the latter volume but neither was ever published.

Joan Maude, as a film and stage actress of some repute, had already established a wide circle of friends when she married Frank Waters in 1933 and many of her friendships survived into the years of her marriage to Oliver Woods. Rather than arbitrarily divide such letters to Joan between the Waters and Woods correspondence, all series of correspondence with Joan which continued after Frank's death (with the exception of letters of condolence, which are in the Waters section) have been placed in a single series in the Woods correspondence. References to such series are given in the Waters correspondence.

Oliver Woods
The material relating to Oliver Woods, scholar, soldier and man of The Times, comprises more than three quarters of the Garvin/Waters/Woods archive (114 of 132 boxes).

The Woods correspondence is a fascinating melange which accurately mirrors the many facets and encyclopedic interests of Oliver Woods. Among its most valuable contents are the letters exchanged with those who played major roles in African colonial and post-colonial history. Such British governors as Sir Andrew Cohen and Sir Evelyn Baring and newly emergent African leaders including Hastings Banda took Woods into their confidence.

Many of Britain's most influential politicians also found in Oliver Woods an intelligent, sympathetic and discreet correspondent and this section of the archive includes a litany of former prime ministers: Eden, Callaghan, Douglas-Home and Heath, as well as an intimate exchange with Hugh Gaitskell and his wife. There are lengthy series of letters between Woods and many members of the Astor family, and long exchanges with former Times editors such as William Haley.

Also Woods' many former army colleagues figure prominently here, men like Sir John ("Shan") Hackett who became close friends during the war years when Major Woods acquitted himself so bravely in the desert and who, as they rose to high positions of power, provided invaluable insights and information.

This part also includes some personal and family correspondence. While Oliver's mother Viola's letters to her husband J. L. Garvin are in the Garvin part of the archive, her letters to her son and his wife are here, as are substantial exchanges between Oliver and two of his Garvin half sisters, Viola and Katherine (Gordon).

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Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

The fonds was purchased in October 1982 from Joan Nancy Woods.


The fonds is arranged into three parts, one for each journalist. Within each part the series arrangement is as follows: correspondence, writing, business and ephemeral material such as scrapbooks and news clippings. The fonds derives its coherence from Joan Woods who was married to two journalists, Frank Waters (1908-1954) and then, from 1956 on, his close friend Oliver Woods (1911-1972). Oliver Woods was the stepson and professional protégé of journalist J. L. Garvin.

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No further accruals are expected.

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