Fonds RC0933 - Lucy Russell fonds

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Lucy Russell fonds

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  • 1926-1971 (Creation)
    Russell, Lucy Catherine

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Physical description

2.6 m of textual records; 225 photographs: b&w and col.; 28 photographic negatives; 75 drawings and paintings; assorted realia.

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Lucy Catherine Russell was a granddaughter of Lord Bertrand Russell, philosopher and peace activist. Her father, John Conrad Russell, was Bertrand Russell’s first son from his marriage to Dora Black. Her mother, Susan Lindsay, was the daughter of American poet Vachel Lindsay.

Lucy was the third daughter of John and Susan. By the time of Lucy’s birth on July 21, 1948, her parents’ relationship had already begun to deteriorate. Lucy’s family initially lived in a small flat in Cambrian Road, Richmond, but by 1950, they had moved to the main floor of 41 Queen’s Road in Richmond with Bertrand Russell (Monk 316-317). In December 1952, Bertrand Russell married his fourth wife, Edith Finch, and soon after she moved into the Queen’s Road home, Lucy’s parents moved out of it (Monk 355).

By the time she was five years old, Lucy and her sisters had become the subjects of a bitter family custody dispute. Bertrand and Edith Russell, with whom the children still lived, initially desired to have the girls made wards of the court on the basis of parental neglect, an initiative which was strongly opposed by Dora Russell (née Black), their grandmother (Monk 356). By 1954, Lucy’s parents had separated, and John, her father, had been hospitalized following a schizophrenic breakdown (Monk 359-360). Subsequently, John Russell moved into his mother Dora’s home, Carn Voel in Cornwall, where he would remain for much of his life.

John and Susan formally divorced in 1955, and John Russell retained custody of the children. However, the children remained in the care of Bertrand and Edith Russell (Monk 361), with much tension ensuing in subsequent years over parental visitation rights.

Lucy attended Kingsmuir School, a boarding school in Sussex, while the family resided at 41 Queen’s Road (Griffin 503). In 1956, when Lucy was eight years old, Bertrand and Edith Russell moved the family to Plas Penrhyn, their home in Wales. Following this move, Lucy and her sisters were sent to Moreton Hall, a private girls’ boarding school in Shropshire (Monk 370; Griffin 503). Near Russell’s home in Wales lived the Cooper-Willis family: mother Susan Williams-Ellis, a renowned potter; father Euan Cooper-Willis, and daughters Sian and Anwyl, who were close friends of Lucy and her sisters. Sian Cooper-Willis would later become a custodian of Lucy Russell’s papers.

In 1960, Bertrand and Edith Russell sought to further secure the girls’ situation by seeking legal custody of them (Monk 394). A protracted custody battle ensued, and in the end, Bertrand and Edith won full custody (1961), with John Russell retaining visitation rights (Monk 400).

Lucy excelled in her studies at Moreton Hall, demonstrating interest in mathematics (Monk 493). In the summer of 1962, at the age of fourteen, she left Moreton Hall to continue her studies at Dartington Hall, a progressive co-educational boarding school in Dartington, Devon. Lucy began to experience academic difficulties at this point, though her instructors noted her aptitude for languages (Monk 493). Lucy’s papers reveal her nascent interest in poetry, literature, and art as well.

In the summer of 1965, Lucy had withdrawn from Dartington Hall, focusing her efforts instead on private mathematics coaching and passing her A-level exams (Monk 493). In subsequent years, Lucy made several failed attempts to pass her A-level examinations and her entrance examinations to Oxford and Cambridge. It was not until 1970 that she was accepted on a course in anthropology and politics at the University of Kent (Monk 501).

Bertrand Russell passed away in February 1970, when Lucy was twenty years old. By 1972, Lucy had abandoned her latest round of university studies, and after a peripatetic period, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia (Monk 501; Moorehead 551). Following her release from hospital, she returned briefly to stay with Dora Russell and her father in Cornwall. On 11 April 1975, Lucy travelled by bus to a graveyard in the village of St. Buryan (Cornwall), where she died by self-immolation. She was, at the time of her death, twenty-six years old (Monk 501-502).

Custodial history

Scope and content

Fonds consists of records created or received by Lucy Russell, predominantly during the period when she was of writing age and under Bertrand and Edith Russell’s care (ca. 1953-1965).

With Lucy Russell’s archive came her childhood library—226 volumes in total. As of January 2024, these books are slated for cataloguing. In the meantime, a full listing can be provided to interested parties.

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Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Lucy Russell’s papers and her childhood library were acquired from Ray Monk in February 2022. Prior to this time, Lucy’s papers had been kept by Sian Cooper-Willis, Lucy’s friend.


Fonds is arranged in nine series:

Series 1: Correspondence.
Series 2: Diaries.
Series 3: Creative work, loose notes, and ephemera.
Series 4: School records.
Series 5: Financial records.
Series 6: Files arranged by Ray Monk.
Series 7: Photographs.
Series 8: Artwork.
Series 9: Realia.

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No access restrictions.

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Further accruals are not expected.

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G. Dunks, 2023.

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