Hamish Henderson collection secured

From left, Steve Byrne, Graeme Eddie and Grant Buttars examine the archive. Picture: Ian Rutherford
From left, Steve Byrne, Graeme Eddie and Grant Buttars examine the archive. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A RARE collection of letters, manuscripts and notebooks belonging to one of Scotland’s most treasured poets is to be opened up to the public for the first time.

The archive of documents created by songwriter and folklorist Hamish Henderson – a man referred to as the most important Scots poet since Robert Burns – will be available to read through the University of Edinburgh’s main library in George Square from next month.

Those behind opening up the private stockpile of more than 10,000 letters have also had discussions about holding a public exhibition of a selection of works.

Among the unique items is correspondence between the him and several families that he lived with in Germany during the 1930s.

His letters even include information about his attempts to help smuggle Jews out of the country.

Letters of thanks from the African National Congress sent to Henderson form another highpoint from the collection. Henderson’s song, Men of Rivonia, was written in 1964 as a pledge of support for Nelson Mandela and the South African freedom fighters.

The letters are from nearly 3400 correspondents, with 136 notebooks and diaries included in the archive, and Steve Byrne, trustee with the Hamish Henderson Archive Trust, said they shed light on the everyday people of the time.

“Some of the letters were incredibly mundane, but they’re interesting for that reason – because they’re showing that these revered tradition bearers as they’re called in the folklore world were just as ordinary as the rest of us, but extraordinary in the songs that they had in their mouths and their hearts,” he said. Henderson died in 2002 at the age of 82. His work as a folk-song collector formed the bedrock of the country’s folk revival.

Outside of his literature contributions, Henderson, pictured above, was a CND supporter and a campaigner against injustices such as apartheid.

The archive will be available on the library’s sixth floor.

Edinburgh University deputy archivist Grant Buttars said: “We’ve got nothing as comprehensive in relation to somebody’s life and work for any of his contemporaries. We’ve got a lot of literary collections but one of the joys of the Hamish Henderson papers is it covers all different aspects of his life and work.”