Philip Larkin's letters to go under the hammer after being found in an attic

Considered by some as the nation's greatest poet, Philip Larkin is known as a man of many words.

The photograph of Vera Thorpe with the book, both of which are included in the lot
The photograph of Vera Thorpe with the book, both of which are included in the lot

And now some of his writings that have never been seen before will go under the hammer at a West Midland auction house – a collection of personal correspondence to his cousin in Lichfield.

An archive of letters, postcards and what could be the last Christmas card the writer sent will be up for auction at Richard Winterton’s fine art sale in the city on February 15.

The correspondence was sent to his cousin Vera Thorpe, nee Larkin, who lived in Lichfield, during the 1970s and 80s.

It was discovered in the attic of a house in Sutton Coldfield.

The Christmas card was postmarked December 17, 1984 – less than a year before his death on December 2, 1985, at the age of 63.

The correspondence begins with a letter from 1977 to an address in Beacon Street, Lichfield, signed ‘Philip (Larkin)’.

The others were all sent in the early 1980s to a home in Longstaff Croft, Lichfield, and are simply signed ‘Philip’.

Although the literary figure himself was born in Coventry, his father Sydney had family in Lichfield since the 18th century, trading as tailors, coach-builders and shoe-makers, and the poet continued an association with the cathedral city until his death.

In a 1977 letter on headed notepaper discussing the death of his mother, Larkin tells ‘Cousin Vera’: “We hope her ashes will eventually be interred beside those of my father in St Michael’s Churchyard in Lichfield.”

Other correspondence includes a postcard sent to Vera in August 1984 thanking her for a birthday card.

Larkin spent the last 30 years of his life in Hull, and the postcard is illustrated with a photograph of Princes Dock in Hull in 1887.

The poet wryly signs off: “Hull doesn't look like this nowadays, worse luck!”

He describes himself as ‘alright but too fat and deaf’ and confesses that his ‘memory has mislaid your (married) name’.

“Please let me have it and I will put it in my book,” he asks – a request which was granted, given the next communication.

In that letter dated October 9, 1984, also on headed notepaper, Larkin writes: “Thank you for your letter, letting me know your married name.

“It is nice to know there is at least one Larkin in Lichfield but perhaps there are more?

“While uncle Alfred was alive my mother and I used to visit him from time to time. I liked Lichfield but the streets seemed very narrow for the traffic. Perhaps they have changed.”

The final item is a Christmas card with envelope postmarked December 17 1984, where he again has a dig at his adopted city.

“Thank you for Lichfield card,” Larkin writes, adding: “Afraid this isn't Hull, worse luck.”

In addition to the letters and cards, the lot includes a first edition of the book ‘Required Writing – Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982’ signed by another Larkin cousin, Edgar, and a photograph of Mrs Thorpe holding the book.

There is also an order of service for Larkin’s memorial at Westminster Abbey on February 14, 1986, and a ticket stub from the Lichfield Festival’s celebration of Philip Larkin in July of that year.

There are also 20 programmes for the David Garrick theatre company dated 1949-1952, and vintage guides to Lichfield Cathedral and the city’s St Michael’s Church.

Ephemera valuer Robert French said: “Whilst tinged with a somewhat moribund air at times – unsurprising given Larkin’s typical preoccupation with mortality – the letters and cards are also peppered with self-deprecating wit and genuine affection for his relative.

“The repetition of ‘worst luck’ is interesting – perhaps it was a private joke between Larkin and Vera?"

He noted how Larkin's later letters became more contemplative in their nature, and wonders whether he was beginning to consider his own mortality.

Mr French said: “In the letter dated October 1984, Larkin adopts a rather wistful tone, discussing his memories of Lichfield and expressing his surprise at having lived in Hull for almost 30 years – ‘something I can hardly believe’, he wrote, adding ‘and am 62 – can’t believe that either’.

“He goes on to discuss his sister Catherine’s family, refers to his mother’s death some eight years prior and ends by asking for more information on Vera and ‘the rest of the family’.

“It is poignant to think that at the time of this correspondence, Larkin’s own death was now fast approaching – the following year he began to suffer from oesophageal cancer, by June it was found to have spread and he died on December 2.

“Whilst writing those last communiques to Cousin Vera, could he have had a sense that he was coming to the end of his days?”

The archive is estimated to sell for around £300 to £500 in the sale at Richard Winterton's Lichfield auction centre at Fradley Park, starting at 9.30am.

Larkin remains one of Britain's most popular poets although revelations about his personal life and opinions have caused controversy.

His work reflects the dreariness of postwar England and the unhappiness it caused.

His working career began as a librarian at Wellington in 1943, and lived there for three years. But he is not universally celebrated in the Shropshire market town after describing it as a 'hole of toad's turds' and suggested it would benefit from being bombed. He also described his job as being to 'hand out tripey novels to morons'.

Uneasy with fame, Larkin rarely gave interviews and continued as a librarian right up until his death, spending his last 30 years working at Hull University.

He was offered the role of Poet Laureate following the death of John Betjemen in 1984, considering himself to have retired. He also declined being made an OBE in 1968.

Larkin is quoted as observing: “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth."

The same sale features nine signed drawings by Royal fashion designer Norman Hartnell discovered in the Barton, including concepts for dresses for Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother.

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