This resource guide highlights archives and books held at the University of Exeter Heritage Collections that relate to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, history and culture. These resources may not always easily identifiable via our webpages or catalogues, so we hope this guide will provide a more accessible means of exploring this material. The collections highlighted in this guide have been identified using our catalogues, but are not exhaustive. If you come across any other sources within our collections that you think should be included in this guide, we would be very pleased to hear about them.
We acknowledge that there is ongoing discussion concerning terminology around sexuality and gender identity. Some of our collections may contain offensive terms or terms that have changed meaning over time. In some cases these terms are included in our catalogue descriptions in order to provide information about the content and nature of the source. The inclusion of these terms does not reflect the views of the University of Exeter Heritage Collections and we apologise for any offence that may be caused.
To discuss our research resources in more detail, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would welcome your feedback on our approach to this resource guide, its content and the terminology used. We believe there may be many more LGBTQ+ stories to explore within our collections and we warmly welcome everyone, particularly those from LGBTQ+ communities, to get in touch if they wish to work with us to bring these stories to light.
Archives and rare books held by Special Collections and the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum are available to everyone. More information about accessing the collections can be found in our Visiting Heritage Collections LibGuide. Please note that there may be some restrictions on accessing and copying (including photography) material in the archives and books held by Special Collections and the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum in line with current data protection and copyright legislation. Always make sure to check the access conditions on the archive catalogue and email Special Collections before your visit for more information about specific restrictions.
Detailed guidance on researching sexuality and gender identity in archives can be found on the webpages of The National Archives.
A LGBTQ+ Resources guide created by the University of Exeter Library provides links to digital archives, e-books & audiovisual materials available to University of Exeter staff and students. A LGBTQ+ reading list is also available.
Rupert Croft-Cooke (1903-1979) was a writer who also published under the name Leo Bruce. As an adult, he taught English for five years, first in Paris and then in Buenos Aires, where he founded and edited the periodical 'La Estrella'. He returned to England in 1925, setting up a bookshop in Kent, as well as doing broadcasting and journalism work. Before joining the British Army in 1940, he moved abroad to Germany, Switzerland and Spain. In the British Army he served in Africa and India until 1946. Returning to the UK in 1946, he took up writing again, holding the position of book critic for 'The Sketch' between 1947 and 1953. For most of his life, sexual relationships between men were a criminal offence and Croft-Cooke never spoke publically about his sexuality. He is thought to have been in a long-term relationship with Joseph Sussainathan, whom he met in India and employed as his secretary. In 1953, Croft-Cooke was convicted of 'gross indecency'. He served a six-month prison sentence, and later wrote critically about the British penal system in 'The Verdict of You All' (1955). In 1953 he moved to Morocco for fifteen years until 1968, after which he lived variously in Tunisia, Cyprus, Germany and Ireland before returning to the UK. A substantial part of his work was written abroad. He published more than 125 books of all genres, many for the mass market, and was best known as a writer of detective fiction: many of these works were published under the name Leo Bruce.
His archive collections at the University of Exeter include: seven scrapbooks; one portrait; photographs; press cuttings; a typescript for an unpublished play; a set of files and envelopes relating to works for 'The Sensual World', his autobiography; a small set of film stills for 'Seven Thunders'; correspondence with publishers; personal letters; fan mail to Rupert Croft-Cooke; and a small group of carbon copies of letters to other writers (copies of letters at the Harry Ransom Centre, Texas).
A full collection description for the literary papers of Rupert Croft-Cooke can be browsed on the online archives catalogue.
Editions of many of Rupert Croft-Cooke's books are held within our Reserve Collection, catalogued under the local classmark: Reserve 828.9/CRO-3. You can browse the titles in the library catalogue
Papers of Angela du Maurier (EUL MS 207/5, EUL MS 276)
Angela du Maurier (1904-2002) was the eldest of the three du Maurier sisters, and the elder of Daphne by three years. Originally aspiring to follow the family tradition of acting, she planned to be an actress and spent two seasons on the stage. During the Second World War, she ran a market garden with her sister, Jeanne, in Cornwall. In the 1930s, she began to write her first novel 'The Little Less', which was initially rejected by publishers due to its lesbian storyline. She published eleven books in total, including two volumes of autobiography 'It's Only the Sister' (1951) and 'Old Maids Remember'. Her works of fiction include 'The Little Less', 'The Road to Leenane', 'Pilgrims by the Way', 'The Perplexed Heart', 'Reveille' and 'Treveryan'. She lived at Ferryside, the family house in Cornwall, for most of her life. Angela du Maurier met her partner and 'twin' (they shared the same first name and date of birth), Angela Halliday, in 1930.
The du Maurier archive collections at the University of Exeter include four notebooks containing manuscript drafts of poetry, a typescript document entitled 'Tributes', photographs, correspondence, and a letter from Angela du Maurier to 'Mrs Powers' relating to media reception of the novel 'The Perplexed Heart' in 1939.
Further information about the papers of Angela du Maurier can be found on the archives catalogue.
The Hypatia Collection includes thirteen books by or about Angela du Maurier. Titles can be browsed on the Library Catalogue.
Papers of Daphne du Maurier (EUL MS 144, MS 206, MS 207, MS 462)
Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) grew up in London, but the family developed strong links with Cornwall after buying a riverside house near Fowey, and it was in Cornwall that du Maurier settled. She began publishing stories and articles in 1928; her first novel, 'The Loving Spirit', was published in 1931 by Heineman. There followed 'The Progress of Julius' (Heineman, 1933) and 'Gerald, a portrait' (Gollancz, 1934) before her first enduring success, 'Jamaica Inn', which was published by Gollancz in 1936. Two years later she published her most significant and best-loved novel, 'Rebecca'. Besides these she published a number of other novels, short-stories and biographical portraits, blending history and literary art in some, while developing her own unique vision of the macabre in others.
Du Maurier used both male and female narrators in her novels and her works often explored themes around gender and sexuality. Until the age of 15, Daphne du Maurier had a male alter ego, 'Eric Avon' (see 'Growing Pains: The Shaping of a Writer', p. 59) and she often spoke privately about having a masculine side to her personality (see M. Forster, 'Daphne du Maurier, p. 222). During her life, du Maurier experienced attraction to both men and women, but she never spoke or wrote publically about her own sexual identity. In 1932, she married Frederick A. M. Browning; they had one son and two daughters.
The University of Exeter's Special Collections include literary and personal papers of Daphne du Maurier. The Daphne du Maurier collections include manuscript and typescript drafts, proofs and correspondence.
Further information about the Daphne du Maurier collections (including papers relating to other members of the du Maurier family) can be found on the archives catalogue.
The Hypatia Collection includes books by or about Daphne du Maurier. Titles can be browsed on the Library Catalogue.
David Rees (1936-1993) was an author, lecturer and reviewer, born in Surbiton. He came out as a gay man in 1974 but had previously been married with two children. In 1968, he moved to Exeter to take up the position of lecturer in Education at St Luke's College, which merged with the University of Exeter in 1978. He remained at the University until 1984, when he retired early to write full-time.
Rees was a prolific writer, producing more than thirty works between 1975 and 1993. He also regularly wrote literary reviews and articles for magazines and newspapers, including Gay News and Gay Times. He is best known as a writer of novels for children and young adults. Some of these works have a historical setting, with several set in Exeter and Devon, while others explore themes around sexuality and life as a gay teenager.
The novels 'Quintin's Man' (1976) and 'In the Tent' (1979) were the first books for teenagers in the UK to have central gay characters. In 1987, The Milkman's On His Way (1982) sparked a nationwide debate on access to gay fiction for young people, after a student complained that the book wasn’t available in their school library. The book was subsequently banned from many school and public libraries in the UK. Due to its positive and detailed descriptions of gay sex, the book was also cited in Parliament during the Section 28 debates in 1988 (Section 28 of the Local Government Act was brought in to 'prohibit the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities').
Sexuality remained an important theme of Rees’ later work, mostly written for adults. In his autobiography Not For Your Hands, he wrote about his experience of coming out and the positive impact this had on his personal life and writing career, stating: 'my growing acceptance of myself as a gay man was freeing me as a writer' (Not For Your Hands, 1992). In 1985, David Rees was diagnosed as HIV positive, which influenced subsequent works such as 'The Wrong Apple' (1987), a novel about a young man who discovers he has AIDS.
David Rees lived and worked in Exeter for most of his life, and time and again the city and its history inspired his stories. In 1978, David Rees was awarded the Carnegie Medal for The Exeter Blitz. In his acceptance speech, Rees spoke of the importance of Exeter to his writing, stating: ‘I’m drawn to it, again and again, as to a magnet...I’m glad it’s The Exeter Blitz that has won the Carnegie; it’s a tribute to that other major influence on me, the place where I live and work’. At least six of David Rees’ stories were set in Exeter, including Quintin’s Man, The Ferryman, Risks, The Exeter Blitz, The House that Moved and In the Tent.
From 1985, David Rees lived with HIV and AIDS. He continued writing and publishing until 1992. He died in 1993.
The archive collection at the University of Exeter comprises literary papers of David Rees dating between c 1975-1993. They include manuscript and typescript drafts of novels, short stories, poems, reviews, articles and interviews; printed copies of articles and reviews; as well as correspondence and reviews relating to his works. The literary papers of David Rees have been catalogued and can be browsed via the online archives catalogue.
Books by David Rees are held within our Reserve Collection, catalogued under the classmark Reserve 828.9/REE-9. You can browse the titles in the library catalogue.
Papers of A.L. Rowse (EUL MS 113)
Alfred Leslie Rowse (1903-1997) was a Cornish historian, poet, diarist, biographer and critic.He was born in Tregonissey near St. Austell, Cornwall. He won a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford, gaining a first class honours degree in history in 1925 when he was also elected Fellow of All Souls, Oxford (the first man from a working-class background to do so). It was during this period that he established so many of the social contacts with academic, political and literary circles within which he was to move for the remainder of his life. He stood unsuccessfully for parliament at Penryn and Falmouth in 1931 and 1935. He became Sub-Warden of the All Souls but was defeated in his election as Warden in 1952, shortly after which he retired to Trenarren, his Cornish home, for the remainder of his life. He began to publish relatively late in life. He produced a tremendous output of works on both history and Shakespeare between the 1950s and 1980s, and published 65 of his 105 books after the age of 65. A.L. Rowse spoke and wrote openly about his views on sexuality, including his own, and published a book entitled 'Homosexuals in History' (1977).
The A.L. Rowse collections contain both literary and historical manuscripts, typescripts and proofs of various published and unpublished works including articles, poetry, short stories, memoirs and autobiographical material, journals and a wide range of correspondence.
Titles from A.L. Rowse's library can be browsed via the library catalogue (classmark: Rowse).
Forrest Reid Collection (Reid Coll. and EUL MS 122)
Forrest Reid (1875-1947) was a novelist and literary scholar, born on 24 June 1875, After some years as an apprentice in the tea trade, he went to Christ's College, Cambridge, at the age of thirty and took his degree in 1908 with a second class in the medieval and modern languages tripos. He then settled down to write in Belfast, which, apart from periods of travel, remained his home for the rest of his life. He made annual trips to visit friends in England, including Walter de la Mare and E M Forster. Reid wrote sixteen novels, two volumes of autobiography, two collections of short stories, critical studies of W. B. Yeats and Walter de la Mare, and a definitive work on the book illustrators of the 1860s and numerous essays and book reviews. Childhood and adolescence supply the subject of most of Reid's work. Same-sex attraction and love is another recurring theme in many of his novels.
The Reid Book Collection held at the University Library contains 45 print-items, including first editions of each of Reid's books. Amongst the titles are a number of presentation copies bearing Reid's autographs inscriptions, including a first edition of 'The Bracknels' (1911) inscribed by Reid to Henry James. Reid was an ardent admirer of James and fostered an epistolary friendship with the older writer, but James was displeased when Reid dedicated to him 'Garden of God' (1905), a novel with a gay romance as its subject. An account of this incident is given by Reid in his autobiographies. The collection is catalogued under the local classmark: Reid Coll. You can browse the titles in the library catalogue.
The archival content of the collection is small, as the items survive as inserts still enclosed in copies of Reid's books. Further information about the Forrest Reid archive collection can be found on the archives catalogue.
Letters from Siegfried Sassoon (EUL MS 43/PERS/1/S/SASSOON abd EUL MS 50a/PERS/1/18/1)
Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) was a poet and writer, born on 08 September 1886 at Weirleigh in Kent. He was educated at Marlborough College and Clare College, Cambridge, of which he was later an honorary fellow. At Cambridge he had a relationship with David Thomas, whose death on the western front in March 1916 would prompt such poems as 'The Last Meeting' and 'A Letter Home'.
Sassoon left Cambridge without taking a degree and lived as a country gentleman. He enlisted as a trooper in the Sussex yeomanry, and in 1915 was commissioned in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and posted to France. Sassoon was wounded in April 1917 and while convalescing in England he felt impelled to write a violent attack on the conduct of the war. This he contrived to have read out in the House of Commons, but instead of the expected court martial, the under-secretary for war declared him to be suffering from shell-shock, and he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital, near Edinburgh. During his three months there he made two important friendships: with the young poet Wilfred Owen, and with the psychologist and anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers. Eventually he decided to fight again and early in 1918 was posted to Palestine. In May he rejoined his old battalion in France, and in July was wounded again, this time in the head.
In The Old Huntsman (1917) and Counter Attack (1918) Sassoon's realistic and compassionate war poems established his stature as a fully-fledged poet, and despite all his later prose and verse, and his growing aversion to the label, it was mainly as a war poet that he was regarded for the rest of his life. In 1919 Sassoon was briefly involved in Labour politics and was the first literary editor of the reborn Daily Herald. Thereafter he lived in London, hunted for a few seasons in Gloucestershire, and brought out volumes of poetry—Selected Poems (1925), Satirical Poems (1926), and The Heart's Journey (1927). All his life Sassoon kept copious diaries. These provide insight insight into his political and literary views, as well as his relationships, including with the the artist Stephen Tennant (1906–1987). In the late 1920s Sassoon turned to prose, drawing on his pre-war diaries and those for the first quarter of 1916 for his Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928). From the 1930s, Sassoon began to write his factual autobiography, beginning with The Old Century and Seven More Years (1938), and continuing with The Weald of Youth (1942) and Siegfried's Journey (1945), which carried his story up to 1920.
On 18 December 1933, Sassoon married Hester Gatty, and they settled at Heytesbury House, near Warminster in Wiltshire, where Sassoon spent the rest of his life. Their son was born in 1936. The marriage ended in 1944. Sassoon died at his Heytesbury home on 1 September 1967. (Biography taken from the entry by Rupert Hart-Davis in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)
The archive collections held at the University of Exeter include several letters from Siegfried Sassoon, in particular two letters from Siegfried Sassoon to Henry Williamson (see EUL MS 43/PERS/1/S/SASSOON) and 33 letters from Siegfried Sassoon to Charles Causley (see EUL MS 50a/PERS/1/18/1).
Material created by or concerning Sylvia Townsend Warner in the Manuscripts and Book Collections relating to members of the Powys family (EUL MS 433)
(Nora) Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893–1978) was a musicologist, novelist and poet, born on 06 December 1893 in Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex. Educated at home she worked in a munitions factory during the First World War, moving on to become a versatile writer whose career spanned poems, short stories, novels, music reviews, a biography, translations of Proust and a guide to Somerset.
Her work as an expert musicologist and co-editor of Tudor Church Music (1922-29) kept her in London in the 1920s but she escaped for weekends and vacations to the Georgian family villa, Little Zeal, on the southern slopes of Dartmoor near South Brent, which her mother and father had built in 1914. One of her fellow editors at Tudor Church Music – and long-time lover – was Percy Buck, a married man twenty-two years her senior.
Warner first bought a house in Dorset in 1930 and lived in the village of Chaldon Herring. Here she met the young poet Valentine Ackland, with whom she would live until Ackland's death in 1969. The couple wrote a volume of poetry together, Whether a Dove or a Seagull (1933), and were part of the literary set in the county. As leading members of the Communist Party of Great Britain they were, from the 1930s onwards, on the radar of the security services and investigated by MI5 for 'communist activities' – Ackland's masculine dress sense attracting the most attention.
In 1937 Warner and Ackland settled in a cottage by a river bend in the village of Frome Vanchurch, eight miles north-west of Dorchester. This is where Warner produced many important works, including her 1948 novel The Corner That Held Them. West Country landscapes and characters inspired and informed Warner's writing and attracted comparisons to Thomas Hardy. From the 1930s through to her death Warner wrote more than hundred and fifty short stories for The New Yorker, many of which she set in the Devonshire or Dorset countryside. In 2006 a collection entitled Dorset Stories brought many of these together, plus a number of previously unpublished short stories.
Country estates, village shops and parish gossips all appear regularly in Warner's work, yet amidst these provincial details her writing was politically charged and she was considered a controversial international figure. She worked for a Red Cross unit in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, protested against nuclear power and openly lived in a lesbian relationship for most of her life.
Her first book of verse, The Espalier, was published in 1925 and followed up by the publication of the novels Lolly Willows (1926), Mr Fortune's Maggot (1927) and The True Heart (1929), gaining her immediate recognition as a novelist. In all, Warner published seven novels, eight volumes of poetry and eighteen volumes of short stories.
In the 1970s she became known as a significant feminist and lesbian writer and her novels were among the earlier ones to be reprinted by Virago Press. Selected letters of Warner and Ackland have been published in 1998 under the title I'll Stand by You: The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland. The ashes of Warner and Ackland lie buried under a single stone in Chaldon churchyard. [Biography by Vike Martina Plock and Hannah Wood for the Centre for Literature and Archives, see https://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/english/research/centres/literatureandarchives/holdings/warner/]
The Manuscripts and Book Collections relating to members of the Powys family (EUL MS 433) held at the University of Exeter include several items created by or relating to Sylvia Townsend Warner. These include letters to and from Sylvia Townsend Warner and Theodore Francis Powys; letters from Sylvia Townsend Warner to Philippa Powys; and published works by Sylvia Townsend Warner (see EUL MS 433/CIRC/1). Listings of all items relating to Sylvia Townsend Warner can be found by searching 'Sylvia Townsend Warner' on the online archives catalogue.
Literary papers and photographs of Denton Welch (EUL MS 123)
Denton Welch (1915-1948) was a novelist and artist. Born in Shanghai, he entered Goldsmiths School of Art in 1933. His time as an art student was cut short when, on 09 June 1935, he was hit by a car while cycling. He sustained several injuries, including a fractured spine. He was paralysed for several months and was able to learn how to walk again, though with difficulty. The accident also resulted in lifelong chronic pain and recurrent kidney and bladder infections.
Towards the end of 1939, Welch sold his first painting to the oil company Shell. His paintings were also exhibited in several art galleries in London. Welch wrote an autobiographical novel, which was published in 1943 as 'Maiden Voyage'. That same year, Denton Welch was introduced to and fell in love with Eric Oliver (d 1995). The relationship endured for the rest of his life. Welch's second novel, 'Youth is Pleasure', was published two years later. A number of Welch's short stories, all in effect autobiographical, were published during his lifetime. Within the space of only eight years, he completed some sixty short stories, all published posthumously, three novels, and a quarter of a million words of journals. He also continued to draw and paint, and nine of his late paintings were reproduced in 'A Last Sheaf' (1951). It took him four years to write his third, and posthumously published, novel, 'A Voice through a Cloud' (1950), an account of the accident itself and the difficulties he experienced recovering from the accident. The manuscript was found beside his bed when he died at home in Kent in 1948. During the last four years of his life he lived with and was cared for by his partner, Eric Oliver.
His archive includes photographs, letters, and manuscript drafts of his stories. The archive can be browsed via the online archives catalogue.
Special Collections also holds a small collection of published items by Denton Welch, including catalogues, first editions, copies of biographies and editions of the journals, poems and paperback editions. This is catalogued under the local classmark: Welch Coll. You can browse the titles in the library catalogue.
The University of Exeter archive contains records relating to the University of Exeter and its predecessor institutions, including the Royal Albert Memorial College and the University College of the South West. The lives of staff and students at the University can be researched through a wide variety of material, including photographs, student magazines and newspapers, and admissions registers. The University Archive is extensive and largely uncatalogued, but box lists for some of the material are available on request.
The Reserve Collection includes books by LGBTQ+ writers and/or exploring themes around sexuality and gender identity. You can find these by visiting the Library Catalogue, search a keyword or the author's name, and select 'Special Collections' from the drop-down menu. The Reserve Collection also includes:
- collections of short stories by gay men:
- and interviews with gay writers:
The Hypatia Collection consists of approximately 10,000 books and journals by or about women. Part of its richness stems from the inclusive collecting habits of its creator who acquired many ephemeral titles and books on subjects and by writers traditionally excluded from the academic canon in her aim 'to make available published documentation about women in every aspect of their lives'.
The collection includes a range of books and pamphlets concerning or exploring themes around sexuality and gender identity. You can find examples of fiction and non-fiction works in the tabs within this box. Please note that these lists are not exhaustive, and further items of relevance may be found within the collection. If you identify any books within the collection that could be added to the list, we would be very pleased to hear about them.
Content warning: some of the books listed under non-fiction relate to discrimination and violence against people in the LGBTQ+ community
Examples of fiction books by LGBTQ+ writers and/or exploring sexuality and gender identity include:
Content warning: some of the books listed below relate to discrimination and violence against people in the LGBTQ+ community
Non-fiction books and pamphlets in the Hyaptia Collection include:
The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum has a collection of over 80,000 objects on the history of the moving image. This is a rich resource for researching and understanding LGBT+ history, not just in terms of representation but also in showing the importance of cinema as a place of identification for LGBT+ communities. As well as books and publicity material on key films, you can also find evidence of the coded expressions of gay life before legalisation in publications such as Films and Filming. You can find more on this in a blog on our website by Dr Chris O’Rourke at http://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/news/queer-uses-of-british-fan-magazines/. In addition we hold important archive material on the work of Derek Jarman, both in the archive of James Mackay, who produced many ground-breaking gay films from the 1970s including Jarman’s Blue, The Garden and The Angelic Conversation and the papers of Don Boyd who produced Jarman’s The Tempest and The War Requiem. We work with a number of scholars across the University in research and teaching on the role of the moving image in LGBT+ histories.
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