Archive Collection GB - Bell (Gertrude) Archive

Identity area

Reference code



Bell (Gertrude) Archive


  • 1874 - 1938 (Creation)

Level of description

Archive Collection

Extent and medium

24 linear metres [The papers were conserved in 1994 which increased the physical size of the collection]

Context area

Name of creator

(1868 - 1926)

Biographical history

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born in Washington, in what was then County Durham, in 1868. Her father, Sir Thomas Hugh Bell, was the son of Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, the industrial metallurgist, whilst her mother was Mary Shield, the daughter of John Shield of Newcastle upon Tyne. Her mother died in 1871 and Hugh Bell subsequently married Florence Olliffe, the daughter of Sir Joseph Olliffe.

Gertrude Bell was educated at Queen's College, London and at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford where she obtained a first class in modern history in 1888.

In the years immediately following Oxford, she spent time on the social round in London and Yorkshire, she also travelled extensively in Europe, and visited Persia. Her travels continued with two round the world trips, in 1897-1898 and in 1902-1903. At about this time too, in the seasons 1899-1904, her climbing exploits in the Alps earned her renown as a mountaineer.

But from the turn of the century onwards, her life was governed by a love of the Arab peoples, inspired, it seems, by a visit to friends in Jerusalem in 1899-1900. She learned their language, investigated their archaeological sites, and travelled deep into the desert, accompanied only by male guides. She learned to speak Persian and Arabic and wrote about her archaeological findings and her travels.

Bell's knowledge of the region led her into service with the British Intelligence during the First World War where she worked under Sir Percy Cox and Sir Arnold Wilson. In 1915 she was appointed to the Arab Bureau in Cairo, which was involved in gathering information useful for mobilising the Arabs against Turkey. She also joined the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force in Basra and Baghdad. In 1920, she became Oriental Secretary to the British High Commission in Iraq and was influential in establishing the Hashimite Dynasty when Faisal I became the first king of Iraq in 1921. Her first love, however, was always for archaeology, and between 1923 and 1926, as Honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq, she established the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

Gertrude Bell died on 12 July 1926 in Baghdad, where she was buried.

Her most important works include Safar Nameh : Persian pictures (1894); Poems from the Divan of Hafiz (1897); The desert and the sown (1907); The thousand and one churches by William M. Ramsay and Gertrude Bell (1909); Amurath to Amurath (1911); Churches and monasteries of the Tr 'Abdn and neighbouring districts (1913); Palace and mosque at Ukhaidir : a study in early Mohammadan architecture (1914); The Arab of Mesopotamia (1917); Review of the civil administration of Mesopotamia (1920).

Archival history

The correspondence between Gertrude Bell and Charles Doughty-Wylie was returned to Gertrude Bell after Charles Doughty-Wylie's death at Gallipoli in April 1915. The letters were later deposited to Newcastle University's Special Collections as part of the Gertrude Bell Archive.

The library also holds Gertrude Bell's library which was given to Armstrong College (a predecessor of the University of Newcastle) by Gertrude Bell's family in 1926. The books in the Gertrude Bell Collection ) are catalogued on the Newcastle University library's main catalogue.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Gertrude Bell's photograph albums and books were given to Armstrong College (a predecessor of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne) by Lady Elsa Richmond, Gertrude Bell's step-sister, in 1926. The papers were given to the University by Lady Richmond in 1962, with some additional material added in 1965. Subsequent additions have been made by St Anthony's College, Oxford in 1982-1983 and Cleveland County Library in 1986.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The papers and photographs of Gertrude Bell mainly consist of the letters Gertrude Bell sent home to her family whilst on her travels, of the diaries she kept when abroad, and the photographs taken whilst she was away.

The papers consists of sixteen thousand letters, sixteen diaries, seven notebooks and forty-four packets of miscellaneous material; whilst the photographic collection is about 7000 in number, and consists of photographs taken by her between c.1900-1918. Those of Middle Eastern archaeological sites are of great value because they record structures which have since been eroded or, in some cases, have disappeared altogether, while those of the desert tribes are of considerable anthropological and ethnographical interest.

Her competence as a field archaeologist and photographer means that the papers are indispensable for archaeological research of parts of the Middle East.

The items in the Bell Miscellaneous Papers contain material relating to Bell's work and travels, including contemporary articles, notes by Bell on various topics (archaeological sites, Arab tribes, etc.), letters concerning the publication of Bell's letters by Lady Richmond and letters to and from Gertrude Bell, maps and plans, literary manuscripts, lecture notes and copies of letters from Gertrude Bell held elsewhere. There is also a series of the letters known as the Doughty-Wylie letters, 1913-1915. These are the letters between Gertrude Bell and Charles Doughty-Wylie, an army officer with whom Bell was in love. The letters were returned to Gertrude Bell after his death at Gallipoli in 1915.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

The letters and diaries are arranged separately and in chronological order. The photographs remain in the original albums and are arranged by journey and date.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access


Conditions governing reproduction

Please refer to the Gertrude Bell Research website for information on reproduction:

Language of material

  • Arabic
  • English
  • French
  • German

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Over 12,000 items from this collection have been digitised and can be viewed on the dedicated Gertrude Bell website alongside 1,409 letter and 2,115 diary transcriptions.

A portion of the archive labelled Misc is not available online, but a PDF handlist is available.

Uploaded finding aid

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Digitised copies and transcripts of the letters are available to view on the dedicated Gertrude Bell website:

Related units of description

The library also holds Gertrude Bell's library which was given to Armstrong College (a predecessor of the University of Newcastle) by Gertrude Bell's family in 1926. The books in the Bell Collection are catalogued on the library's main catalogue.

Items held in other repositories: Oxford University : St Anthony's College, Middle East Centre:

Letters to Humphrey Bowman, 1920-26, ref. Gertrude Bell Collection; National Register of Archives ref.: NRA 20811

Correspondence with H. St. J. Philby; National Register of Archives ref.: NRA 40827 Philby

Durham University Library : Archives and Special Collections:

Intelligence reports on Iraq, Syria and Ibn Saud; National Register of Archives ref.: NRA Balfour FCC

National Archives of Scotland:

Letters to Philip Kerr, 1917-24, ref. GD40; National Register of Archives ref.: NRA 10737

Related descriptions

Publication note

A selection of some of the published material concerning Gertrude Bell :

The letters of Gertrude Bell edited by Florence Bell. London, E. Benn, 1927.

The earlier letters of Gertrude Bell edited by Elsa Richmond. London, E. Benn 1937.

Gertrude Bell by R. Bodley and L. Hearst. New York : Macmillan, 1940.

Gertrude Bell by M.R. Ridley. London : Blackie and Son, 1941.

Daughter of the desert : the story of Gertrude Bell by J. Kamm. London : Bodley Head, 1956.

Gertrude Bell from her personal papers by Elizabeth Burgoyne. London : E. Benn, 1958-61.

Gertrude Bell by H.V.F. Winstone. London, Constable, 1978.

Gertrude Bell by Susan Goodman. Leamington Spa : Berg, 1985.

Desert queen : the extraordinary life of Gertrude Bell ... by Janet Wallach. New York, Anchor Books, 1996.

Gertrude Bell : the Arabian diaries, 1913-1914 edited by Rosemary O'Brien. Syracuse, N.Y. : Syracuse University Press, 2000.

Notes area

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Accession area