Archive Collection TON - Tonks (Rosemary) Archive

Identity area

Reference code



Tonks (Rosemary) Archive


  • 1980 - 2014 (Creation)

Level of description

Archive Collection

Extent and medium

0.5 linear metres.

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Rosemary Tonks was born in 1928 in Gillingham, Kent. The only daughter of Gwendoline and Desmond Tonks, her father was a mechanical engineer who died of blackwater fever in Africa before Rosemary was born. Her father's uncle, Henry Tonks, was a surgeon and painter who worked as an official war artist on the western front in World War One before becoming a professor of fine art at the Slade in the 1920s. Brought up by her widowed mother, Rosemary attended Wentworth College boarding school in Bournemouth and began writing children's stories in her teens, before marrying in London in 1949. Rosemary suffered a number of medical crises during her life. In her childhood, Rosemary had numerous eyesight problems including a squint, lazy eye and astigmatism in both eyes. After her marriage, her husband's work as an engineer saw them living in India and Pakistan where Rosemary contracted first paratyphoid fever in Calcutta, and then polio in Karachi in 1952. The latter left her with a slightly withered right hand, causing her to teach herself to write and paint with her left. Between 1952 and 1953, the couple lived in Paris until they moved to Downshire Hill, Hampstead, becoming near neighbours of Dame Edith Sitwell. During this time, her husband became a financier and Rosemary worked for the BBC and wrote about both these careers in her novels of this period between the early 1960s and 1970s. Rosemary became strongly involved in London's literary scene, being one of the few women poets to be published at the time, and writing reviews for leading journals and newspapers. After her mother's death in 1968, Rosemary suffered a personal crisis, exploring various forms of religion before turning to fundamentalist Christianity. Her marriage collapsed in this period, and in 1977 she underwent an emergency operation for detached retinas in both eyes. Although her sight was eventually saved, Rosemary spent several years in a state of near-blindness. In 1980, Rosemary completely renounced her past life; she moved to Bournemouth and incinerated an unpublished novel and a collection of valuable Oriental treasures. She refused republication of any of her poetry or fiction, further cutting herself off from family and friends. In October 1980, she travelled to Jerusalem and was baptised near the River Jordan. She continued to live in Bournemouth until her death in April 2014, with her disappearance from the literary scene continuing to be a source of mystery until after her death with Neil Astley's publication of her obituary and explanation of her disappearance in The Guardian . Rosemary Tonks published two collections of poetry to great critical acclaim in the 1960s: Notes on Cafes and Bedrooms (1963) and Iliad of Broken Sentences (1967). She also published six novels in the 1960s and early 1970s, and collaborated with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to create an experimental sound-poem, entitled 'Sono-Montage'. One of her first works, 'Miss Bushman-Caldicott', written while she was still at school, was broadcast on BBC radio in 1946 and her first published work, On Wooden Wings: The Adventures of Webster (1948), was also illustrated by her. Two of Rosemary's poems were included in Philip Larkin's anthology of twentieth-century English verse, and copies of the original volumes of poetry were selling for sums of up to £1500 prior to a collected edition of her work being published after her death. This collection, Bedouin of the London Evening (2014) contains examples of her prose writing in addition to all her published poems. During her active years in the literary scene, Rosemary gave few interviews; in 2009, her disappearance was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 programme, 'The Poet Who Vanished', as part of the Lost Voices series.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Consists of digital copies of the personal diaries of the poet Rosemary Tonks, plus correspondence between Tonks and Joan Moat from the University of Exeter, and photocopies of Tonks' personal records including birth, death and marriage certificates.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Open with some restrictions (researcher interview may be required)

Conditions governing reproduction

Permission to make published use of any material from Newcastle University's Special Collections must be sought in writing from the Special Collections Librarian (email: ) and from the copyright owner if appropriate. The library will assist where possible with the identification of copyright owners, but the responsibility to obtain copyright clearance rests with the user.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier


Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used


Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion




Accession area

Related people and organizations

Related genres

Related places