Collection: MS 1309: Katharine Mary Briggs, correspondence and papers

Archive Collection icon Archive Collection: Katharine Mary Briggs, correspondence and papers

Details

Title: Katharine Mary Briggs, correspondence and papers

Level: Collection 

Classmark: MS 1309

Creator(s): Briggs, Katharine M (1898-1980)

Date: c.1900-1980

Main language: English

Size and medium: 7 boxes

Persistent link: https://explore.library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections-explore/6579 

Collection group(s): English Literature

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Description

Katherine Mary Briggs was bom in London in 1898, the eldest of three surviving daughters of Ernest and Mary Briggs. The Briggs family had its origins in Yorkshire and had built up its fortune from the coal mining industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the Halifax and Wakefield areas. During Katherine’s lifetime the family business centred around a colliery in Normanton but her father’s ill-health prevented him from taking a prominent part in the family concern and his elder brothers ran the business on a daily basis. Ernest Briggs divided his time between the family home in London and Scotland, where he spent much of his time painting and fishing. He later had Dalbeathie House designed and built in Perthshire and the family moved there in 1910. Katherine’s father was an accomplished watercolourist, with several pictures exhibited at the Royal Academy. He was an imaginative storyteller and devoted to Katherine and it was from this childhood influence that Katherine developed a strong interest in fairytales and folklore later in life. Katherine’s father died when she was fourteen and she spent the next fifty years of her life in a close knit relationship with her two sisters, Winifred and Elspeth and their mother. The family affluence meant that neither Katherine nor her sisters were under any pressure to work for a living and this left them free to fully pursue their own interests. They were all very keen on amateur dramatics and throughout her life Katherine was involved in amateur productions - at school, at Lady Margaret Hall, with the Summer Players in the 1920s and 1930s, in the RAF during the war and after that at Burford where she lived until 1975. Katherine and her sisters were very interested in the Civil War period and the collection includes several unpublished typescripts of historical novels set in the seventeenth century. After the Second World War, Katherine settled at the Barn House in Burford and concentrated on more serious folklore studies, starting with her Ph.D. thesis on folklore in early seventeenth century literature. This was followed by other major works including The Personnel of Fairyland and The Anatomy of Puck and tales such as Kate Crackernuts and Pale Hecate’s Team. However, it was not until after the deaths of her mother and sisters that Katherine began to flourish on her own. She became heavily involved with the Folklore Society and wrote prolifically on folklore, as a consequence of which she was invited to lecture in the United States on several occasions including a period as a Visiting Professor at the University of California in 1973. Katherine was interviewed on radio and television and in 1971 her four volume work, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language, was published. The collection not only illustrates the depth and diversity of Katherine’s interests but also the history of the family. A large part of the collection consists of family letters dating from the late nineteenth century, much of the early correspondence reflecting Ernest Briggs’ life. The later material consists mostly of Katherine Briggs’ own extensive correspondence with her sisters and friends, which covers some sixty years until her death in 1980. The correspondence has been arranged alphabetically by correspondent and is documented in a number of ways to provide as comprehensive access as possible. Firstly, all correspondence has been documented in the handlist in chronological order as much of it is undated and without any form of chronological documentation, much of its significance would be lost. In addition to this, letters are recorded on the letters database which allows several points of quick access and also on catalogue slips in alphabetical order of correspondent. The remainder of the collection comprises of unpublished manuscript and typescript works by Katherine and her sisters; family memorabilia, including photographs and the Dalbeathie Album containing watercolours by some eminent contemporaries of Ernest Briggs. There are notes on the family history by Hilda Ellis-Davidson in preparation for her book and work on the family letters done by Katherine and Winifred Briggs. Finally, there are several small collections of papers relating to Katherine’s work with the Girl Guides, the game of Eric and the Civil War period of English history together with copies of published works. These materials have individual manuscript numbers (MS 1309/1 - 1309/99) and are listed in numerical order.

The boxes contain: (1) Family history, memorabilia, and tributes to her; (2) Papers relating to the game of Eric and to Girl Guides; (3) Manuscripts of her work, the Dalbeathie Album; (4) Manuscripts of her sister Elspeth's work; (5) Copies of her own books; (6) Correspondence, authors A-Z (not Briggs); (7) Correspondence, Briggs family

Administrative or biographical history

Katharine Mary Briggs was born in 1898 in Hampstead, London, the eldest daughter of Ernest and Mary Briggs. The Briggs family had its origins in Yorkshire and had made a fortune from the coal mining industry there. Ernest Briggs was a watercolourist who specialised in Scottish scenery. He built Dalbeathie House in Perthshire and moved his family there in 1911, but died in 1913. In 1918 Katharine went up to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, to read English. After obtaining her B.A. degree in 1922, she returned to Perthshire and spent the years between the Wars in writing, producing plays, running an amateur touring company (The Summer Players) and doing Guide and Brownie training. She studied folklore and the history of seventeenth-century England. When the Second World War broke out she taught for a short time in a Polish Refugee School and then joined the medical branch of the W.A.A.F. After the War she went back to Oxford to gain her D.Phil. by a thesis on Folklore in seventeenth-century literature. Having obtained this degree, she went on to publish a book called 'The Personnel of Fairyland' about British Fairies. After this she continued to write other and more scholarly books on folklore, including 'A dictionary of British folktales in the English language', 1971. She was awarded the D.Litt. in 1969 for her contribution to scholarship and lectured at various conferences and American universities. During this period of her life she lived at the Barn House in Burford. She died in 1980.

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Related people and organisations

Briggs, Elspeth Briggs, Elspeth

Related subjects

WARNING: many of our records have not been classified by subject. So if you search our catalogue by subject using the links below then you are unlikely to find all relevant records. But you will find some...

Folklore

Fairies

English literature

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