Sir Roy Strong donates his archive to the Bodleian Library

14 December 2009

Roy StrongThe celebrated writer, museum director and chronicler of British cultural life, Sir Roy Strong is donating his archive to the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

This archive comprises of personal material, letters and manuscripts relating to a distinguished career in the arts which began in 1967 when, aged just 32, he became the youngest Director of the National Portrait Gallery.

His remarkable and comprehensive archive includes manuscripts of his many books on historical, cultural and artistic subjects; personal diaries including the ones covering the period between 1967 and 1987 which caused a sensation when published in 1997 and letters from illustrious society figures including Gianni Versace, Antonia Fraser, Sir Frederick Ashton, the late Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Sir Hugh Casson, Lady Diana Cooper and Sir Cecil Beaton.

His letters also include complete runs of correspondence with close friends who made a great impact on his life such as his history teacher at his grammar school with whom he kept in touch between 1953 and 2002 and a Dutch academic friend with whom he exchanged correspondence from 1959 to 1985.

Nearly a hundred and fifty scrapbooks capture his marriage to the distinguished designer Julia Trevelyan Oman whom he married in 1971 forming a celebrated partnership in the arts.  These include hundreds of photographs, invitation cards and printed ephemera of every kind covering a period of thirty two years until 2003 when his wife died. It represents a great addition to the family archive of his wife, which Sir Roy has also recently donated. 

An exceptional section of the donation is the garden archive, the largest for any private garden in the second half of the twentieth century. The Laskett is widely acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful, witty, influential and intellectually stimulating English gardens created in the last fifty years.   The archive contains approximately one hundred volumes tracing the gradual transformation of a field to what is recognised as the largest formal garden to be laid out since 1945 recorded in thousands of photographs, transparencies, designs and sketches. 

Roy StrongThe archive covers all of these and many other aspects of Sir Roy’s distinguished, flamboyant and varied public life: his role as High Bailiff and Searcher of the Sanctuary of Westminster Abbey; his work for television and radio; and his scholarship, particularly in Elizabethan portraiture.

Sir Roy Strong said: ‘I’m happy that this material is going to such a good home. At 74 you can’t leave decisions like this any longer.’

Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian, said: ‘Sir Roy Strong has shown extraordinary generosity in presenting his archive to the Bodleian.  The donation continues a tradition of generosity shown to the Bodleian by high-profile public figures who have chosen to gift their archives.  The archive is one of the most important acquisitions for the Library in recent times, and will be a major resource for generations of scholars to come.’

The archive is to be catalogued and will be open to researchers in the future. A public display is planned in the Bodleian’s Old Library in Spring 2011. 

Pictures: above: Sir Roy Strong in his garden; Picture by Chris Fletcher, Copyright Bodleian Library; below: Self-portrait Age 12; Copyright Bodleian Library.  

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