Lady Spender’s Papers

Repository: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

Identity Statement

TitleLady Spender’s Papers
Archive ReferenceGB 0225 PRONI/D1633
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates1888-1966
Extent Medium12 Boxes comprising c3100 documents + 65 volumes


Creator(s): Spender, Sir Wilfrid, 1876-1960 Spender, Lady Lillian Dean, 1880-1966, wife of Sir Wilfred

  • Administrative History ↴

    The diarist, Miss Lillian Dean, later Lady Spender, was born in 1880 at a house in Wimbledon Common, the youngest of five daughters of a comfortably placed so-called 'Russia merchant' in London. Her style as a diarist is straightforward and detailed, yet rhythmic, and her diaries are germane to life and events in Ulster during the heady days from 1913 to the early 1920s and beyond. The first extant diary started on Boxing Day 1898, when Lillian was 18 and living in Lancaster Gate, and they continue, largely unbroken, for 67 years until 1966, when she lodged the series in PRONI.
  • Archival History ↴

    Lady Spender deposited this collection with the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in 1966.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴


Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Spender, Sir Wilfrid, 1876-1960 Spender, Lady Lillian Dean, 1880-1966, wife of Sir Wilfred ↴

    The Spender Papers are extensive and consist of hundreds of letters between Lillian Spender (nee Dean) (1880-1966) and her husband Sir Wilfrid Spender, (1876-1960), mostly dating between 1915 and 1918 when Sir Wilfred was serving with the army in France. During this period the Spender’s wrote to each other nearly every day. Lady Spender’s diaries run from 1899 to 1966 (with gaps) and number 64 volumes, of which the first c.15 and the last few are perfunctory in content and of limited interest. They are accompanied by some correspondence and printed matter, 1911 and 1943-1961.

    Lillian Dean was well placed as an observer because, returning from a visit to Canada in May 1913 – where her aunt Lady Williams was the wife of the Governor of Newfoundland, Sir Hugo Williams – and at the age of 32, she met Captain Wilfrid Spender, already 37 years old and on leave from his post in India, and they were married on 9 September 1913 in London. After honeymooning in Norfolk they came to Belfast, because Spender had been drawn to Ulster because of his strong support of the Unionist cause. By February 1914, they were ensconced in a rented house in Adelaide Park from where, and later other houses, Lillian continued with her diary.

    The diaries were written primarily for circulation within the family. This is evident in their content. While they cover stirring political times, with leading figures – at least Unionist ones – daily crossing her path, the diaries are not essentially political diaries: rather, they describe social events and daily domestic occurrences, houses, gardens, people, social functions, dogs, and above all music – for music was the delight of Lillian’s life and she herself was a keen singer, if not on the concert stage, at least in more sheltered soirees.

    These are unusual diaries, which are important for their style and vigour and for their detailed and often charming descriptions of the lives, lifestyles, houses and preoccupations of one sector of Ulster life over a remarkable period of time. They include accounts of great, and sometimes terrible, events. In writing of these, the Englishwoman Lillian’s indignation and outrage at the actions of the ‘enemies of Ulster’, and therefore of Imperial England, are at times evident. But there is also clear distaste for Orange excesses and attitudes, and – above all – no rancour and no bitterness.

    PRONI is indebted for the full description to Dr Dennis Kennedy of the Europe Resource Centre, QUB, who has been researching the diaries and gave a paper to the Belfast Literary Society on the subject at the end of 1996. This is an extract of that description and the full version can be found by contacting PRONI directly.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Accruals ↴

    No further accruals are expected
  • Arrangement ↴

    The Spender Papers have been arranged in chronological order as follows:
    D1633/1 Correspondence (1888-1964)
    D1633/1/1 Letters from Sir Wilfrid Spender to Lady Spender (1915-1942) (1691 items)
    D1633/1/2 Letters from Mrs Lillian (later Lady) Spender to her husband, Sir Wilfrid Spender (1915-1953) (1071 items)
    D1633/1/3 Correspondence between Sir Wilfrid Spender and his family (1902-1926) ( items)
    D1633/1/4 Correspondence between Lady Spender and her family (1888-1923)(
    D1633/1/5 Letters of condolence received by Lady Spender on the death of Sir Wilfrid Spender. (1960-1962)(111 items)

    D1633/2 Diaries of Lady Spender (1899-1966)(64 items)

    D1633/3 Miscellaneous press cuttings and biographical notes (1911-1964)(7 items)

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions D1633/1 can be consulted in the reading room in PRONI in accordance with PRONI guidelines. D1633/2-3 are closed to the public - copies of these papers are available on microfilm by consulting MIC651 in PRONI.
Conditions Governing ReproductionItems may be copied for personal research use only. If a researcher wishes to publish any documents from this collection, a request must be submitted in writing to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Creation Dates1888-1966
Extent Medium12 Boxes comprising c3100 documents + 65 volumes
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Characteristics Tech ReqNo special characteristics or requirements
Finding Aids A full descriptive list is available online at: Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Copies InformationD1633/2-3 originals are closed to the public, but copies of these papers are available on microfilm by consulting MIC651 in PRONI.
Related MaterialSir Wilfrid Spender Papers D715 and D1295.


NoteThis is a shortened version of the original description for this collection. A longer description is available by contacting PRONI directly.

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteWesley Geddis
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.
Date of Descriptions1986