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Secretary's correspondence

RA Collection: Archive

Archive context

Showing item 2 of 28 in this group

Reference code



Secretary's correspondence





Extent & medium

3 boxes

Content Description

The papers consist mostly of correspondence received by the Secretary and presented at meetings of the President and Council, or copies of correspondence which the Secretary was instructed to send. Much of the correspondence relates to individual members. All the Royal Academy's surviving original correspondence for the first hundred years of its existence, prior to the move to Burlington House, will be found in this series and the next, RAA/SEC/3, apart from a few letters in the RA scrapbooks.


The papers have been arranged to follow the approximate order of an old reference system (written in pencil) consisting of a capital letter, followed by (usually) a Roman numeral and then an Arabic number. This reference appears on nearly all of the surviving Secretary's correspondence and papers from 1769 until 1867. It is not used on any later item and so purely relates to material antedating the move from Trafalgar Square. Correspondence is arranged by surname of individual correspondent (mostly Academicians) or by initial letter of subject group. The only reference letter codes present are B, G, H, M and R. Group B includes correspondence relating to the portrait of the child actor Master Betty, and as such includes letters on the subject from John Opie. It also includes groups relating the British Museum and British Institution. G includes letters from Guildhall and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. There are only a few letters from individuals whose names begin with M, but that letter is also used for Memorial, and as such includes, for instance, a memorial from one Elizabeth Keating, of 1792, on the manufacture of crayons. There are also a few only from correspondents with names beginning with R, but R is used for correspondence sent to the RA in an official capacity, including a letter from Soane and Westmacott when serving as Auditors. And R is also used for Royal correspondence, of which there are a number of groups. The Victorian RA scrapbooks, however, while containing early official correspondence (among a lot of other interesting and poorly arranged early material) within the same groupings, such as letters from Boswell, Gibbon and Hone, also contain letters from Langton, Toms, Wright and others. Few of these items are referenced, but the references may have been erased during conservation: thus we still have a G and an H on letters from Gainsborough and Hone. However, we also have a C (John Copley) and two Ws (the Duke of Wellington and David Wilkie). The numerical part of the reference, equating to sub-series and item, is quite confused for B, but is more straightforward for the other letter groups, and is roughly alphabetical. The groups include within their sequence some correspondence dating from the 1860s alongside much earlier material, and it seems likely therefore that the references were added not earlier than the 1860s. Some of the Victorian captions in the first scrapbook are initialled "H. E.". This is Henry Eyre, clerk and later registrar from 1849-1884. It would appear that Eyre made up the scrapbook, and that he had the full range of letter groups available to him when he made his selection. Eyre had been thanked by the Council in 1853 for compiling the index to the books and transactions of the Royal Academy, and it is likely that Eyre himself was responsible for arranging and referencing the early Secretary's correspondence. Comparison of the letter part of the pencil reference with Eyre's capitals show marked similarity. It may be that this process was part of an administrative overhaul of records prior to the move from Trafalgar Square (the RAC groups of correspondence commence with a similar division for royal correspondence in 1870). The creation of the scrapbooks however, must have led in some measure to the marginalisation of the loose correspondence, and its separation from the other main records, and at some point the majority of the correspondence became lost. Some was recovered from a basement in Burlington House in the mid-1990s. Given the quality of the information contained in many of the letters, the way they supplement the minutes, and the extra biographical details they provide for many Academicians, the loss of so much material is very regrettable.