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William Barnes Collection

William Barnes Collection and Archive at the Dorset County Museum

William Barnes Collection and Archive at the Dorset County Museum 

Apart from a very small archive at St John's College, Cambridge, the Dorset County Museum's extensive collection of Barnes material is the only one in existence. Particularly important is the series of Barnes notebooks, which are invaluable for biographical material concerning this most important of English dialect poets. Interestingly, a Barnes book was included in the display of a hundred British writers, at the Festival of Britain in 1951. Barnes was one of the very few modern poets to write in the language of the common people, and the fact in so doing, he attained a very high level of artistic achievement, is amply witnessed by many distinguished literary admirers including Gerard Manley Hopkins, E M Forster and Philip Larkin.

William Barnes encapsulates the social history of an entire English social class over three centuries.  He is probably the only writer to re-create in his work the way in which the rural working class spoke, as well as recording their customs, traditions and daily life.  It covers the social history of agricultural life from the days of Shakespeare until the late 19th Century.

The William Barnes Collection includes correspondence between William Barnes and Julia Miles, during their nine year courtship, relatives and friends; handwritten Italian diary and original sermons, poetry manuscripts, reviews and clippings, paintings and other realia; photographs of the author, friends and families.

William Barnes Collection and Archive at the Dorset County Museum
Selection of Books written by William Barnes

Documents include different editions of published works as well as books from Barnes personal library, and collections bequeathed by Giles Dugdale, Dr Bernard Jones, Trevor Hearl and Clement Denis.

At this stage there is no web-based catalogue of the collection available. However, the William Barnes Archive is available to researchers strictly by appointment.  Researchers wishing to visit the William Barnes collection should complete and submit the Research Inquiry Form.  A minimum of 28 days notice of a planned visit is required to ensure your visit can be managed smoothly.

Currently the Dorset County Museum is currently going under a 2 year development supported by Heritage Lottery Fund. The decision was to close the building during this exciting redevelopment which has meant seeking alternative facilities for the William Barnes Collection to be kept. Access will still be available

In order to provide the best possible research facility for you, you can write to The Curator, William Barnes Collection, Dorset County Museum Offices, The Old Warehouse, 31a Durngate Street, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1JP at least four weeks before your planned visit.  

Click here to contact via the Dorset County Museum website.