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Personal Papers of P D James, 1877 - 2017

Reference Code: GBR/0271/GCPP James

Scope and Contents

Papers donated by P D James in 1999, 2000 and 2004 were catalogued in 2009. These donations were chosen by her to show her creative input, thus there were no unmarked typescripts amongst these papers. Additional papers bequeathed by P D James in 2015 were added to the catalogue in that year. In 2017 the whole catalogue was reworked to incorporate substantial additional material which was donated in 2016 by P D James’ family and by her literary agent. As a result, new reference numbers were assigned to the papers catalogued in 2009 and 2015: former reference numbers have been noted as appropriate in the new catalogue. Further papers again were donated by P D James' literary agent in 2018 and 2019.
The papers of P D James are subdivided and catalogued as follows:
GCPP James 1: Personal and Biographical Records
GCPP James 2: P D James’ Writing
GCPP James 3: Lectures, Talks and Conferences
GCPP James 4: Societies, Learned Bodies and Advisory Bodies
GCPP James 5: House of Lords
GCPP James 6: BBC.
There is, however, a degree of overlap between some of the sections because of the extent of P D James’ output and the range of her activities (for example the overlaps between her work in the House of Lord and her work for the BBC).
The papers have been catalogued broadly as found, in order to reflect the order in which they were organised and kept by P D James and by her personal assistant, although a few items have been extracted from the files in which they were found and catalogued in a more appropriate section: cross-references are included as appropriate.
Each section and sub-section is arranged broadly chronologically.


  • Creation: 1877 - 2017


Conditions Governing Access

P D James' agent will be informed of any usage of the collection. Please contact the archivist for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Anyone wishing to quote from these papers must seek written permission from P D James' agent. Please contact the archivist in the first instance.

Biographical / Historical

Baroness James of Holland Park, better known as P D James, was born in Oxford in 1920, the eldest child of Sidney James, an Inland Revenue official, and Dorothy Hone. The family moved to Ludlow when she was about four, remaining there until they moved, when she was eleven, to Cambridge, where she attended the Cambridge and County High School for Girls. She left at the age of sixteen to work in a tax office in Ely. She married Ernest Connor Bantry White [known as Connor], a medical student, in 1941. After the war, P D James lived in Goodmayes, Essex, until it became clear that Connor’s continuing psychiatric illness would necessitate additional family support. In the spring of 1948, she moved with her two young daughters to live with her parents-in-law, Dr and Mrs Ernest Bantry White. This enabled her to begin working full time with the North West Regional Hospital Board (Paddington) in an administrative capacity. At this time the extended family lived alongside the GP practice at 448 Green Lane, Ilford, in Essex. Following Dr Bantry White’s retirement in 1961 and subsequent move to Suffolk , P D James bought a small house in Richmond Park Road, Kingston upon Thames. She then moved to Holland Park Avenue in London W11 in March 1983, living there until her death. P D James remained with the National Health Service until 1968, when she joined the Civil Service, entering as a Principal in the Home Office. She later worked in the forensic and criminal justice departments, until she retired in 1979 to become a full-time writer. P D James had known from childhood that she wanted to be a writer: indeed, her first literary success was to win a short story competition at the Cambridge and County High School. She did not, however, begin writing in earnest until she was in her mid-thirties. She wrote her first novel, 'Cover her Face' (published in 1962), while working for Paddington Hospital, taking evening classes at the City of London College and visiting her husband in hospital (he died in 1964). She wrote fourteen crime novels featuring the detective Adam Dalgliesh, two featuring the private detective Cordelia Gray, and three further novels: ‘Innocent Blood’ (1980); ‘The Children of Men’ (1992); and ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ (2011). She also published the following non-fiction: ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree’ (1971, with T A Critchley, a historical reconstruction of the Ratcliffe Highway murders); ‘Time to be in Earnest’ (Faber 1999), which she described as ‘a fragment of autobiography’ and which includes childhood memories and her reflections on life and literature; and ‘Talking About Detective Fiction’ (2009), a personal look at the history of the genre. She also wrote short stories and a play entitled ‘A Private Treason’. P D James had a long working relationship with Joyce McLennan, beginning in 1976 when Joyce typed the draft of ‘Death of an Expert Witness’. She typed up the manuscripts of all of P D James’ subsequent books, with the exception of ‘The Skull Beneath the Skin’, which was written while P D James was living in Ireland for a year. In 1991 Joyce began working as P D James’ secretary every afternoon in Holland Park Avenue. She became her full time personal assistant in 2000 and they worked closely until P D James’ death. Her last book, ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’, written in 2011, is dedicated to Joyce McLennan with these words: ‘To Joyce McLennan, Friend and personal assistant who has typed my novels for thirty-five years. With affection and gratitude’. P D James lectured widely and produced a prolific number of reviews, forewords, introductions and articles. Many of her lectures and articles were on crime writing, but she also wrote and talked about religious subjects, the preservation of the English language and other subjects of interest to her. She is published widely overseas. Her books have attracted prizes and awards in Britain and the United States and they have been filmed for television in both countries. Her futuristic dystopian novel, 'The Children of Men', was made into a feature film of the same name in 2006. In 2013, 'Death Comes to Pemberley', her sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, was dramatised for television. P D James' connections with Cambridge and East Anglia were strong. As well as attending school in Cambridge, she was elected an Associate Fellow of Downing College in 1986 and she became an Honorary Fellow of Girton College in 2000. She had a house in Suffolk and used East Anglia as a setting for a number of her novels. She received an OBE in 1983 and was created a Life Peer in 1991, taking the title Baroness James of Holland Park. She also served as a Governor of the BBC from 1988 to 1993 and was a member of the Arts Council and the British Council. She was an active member of a number of literary societies and learned bodies: in particular she was President of the Society of Authors and a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Society of Literature. She held a number of honorary doctorates and, in addition to her honorary positions in Cambridge, she was an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. P D James continued writing into her nineties. She died in Oxford on 27 November 2014. [These biographical notes are drawn from P D James’ personal papers and from information supplied by her family.]


70 archive box(es) (69 boxes) : Paper

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Papers of P D James have been transferred to Girton College Archive from several sources. P D James donated the manuscripts of some of her work, together with some research notes and correspondence, in 1999, 2000 and 2004. (At this stage she chose to donate only material which shows her creative input, thus there were no unmarked typescripts in these deposits.) Further papers were bequeathed in 2015. In 2016 P D James' literary agent donated files relating to her work (papers relating to publication, book reviews, interviews, articles and some manuscripts). Also in 2016 and 2017 P D James' family donated further papers (further manuscripts, lectures, articles, photographs, correspondence, papers relating to the BBC and the House of Lords etc). Further papers were donated by P D James' literary agent in 2018 and 2019. Cambridge and County High School for Girls magazines containing P D James' school writing were donated by Heather O'Neill in 2017. A few items have been acquired from elsewhere, such as obituaries printed from online sources. Each item in the catalogue indicates the source from which it came and the date of transfer.


Girton College Library holds a copy of P D James, 'Time to be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography', Faber 1999.


A number of files in this collection have been redacted to remove third party personal addresses. There are also some files in the collection where it has not been possible to redact such information: these files are closed and will be reviewed in due course. In addition, some files have been closed broadly in line with the Public Records closure period, either because they contain potentially sensitive third party material or because they include papers of organisations which may not yet have made their records publicly available. Again, these files will be reviewed in due course. In the case of all closed files in the collection, the relevant catalogue entries are not available online.

Date information

DateText: [1877, 1933-2017].


James, Phyllis Dorothy White (1920-2014) Baroness James of Holland Park, author

Finding aid date

2017-05-10 13:20:43+00:00

Repository Details

Part of the Girton College Archive Repository

The Archivist
Girton College Archive
Huntingdon Road
Cambridge CB3 0JG United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 338897