Audrey Amiss Archive
- Amiss, Audrey, 1933-2013
- Archives and manuscripts
About this work
The archive contains material created by Audrey Amiss over the course of her life, including:
- Photo albums and Scrapbooks
- Account books
- Record books
- Log books
- Personal and family papers
The archive also includes an additional set of materials donated by Dorothy Amiss (Audrey's sister) including letters from Audrey and related materials.
A brief overview of the different categories of records is provided below, although more information can be found at the section level catalogue record for each set of the material.
Personal and family material (PP/AMI/A): A small collection of Audrey's personalia and family papers, including school and employment records, photographs, a passport and address books, lists of works exhibited, and other similar personal and administrative papers. Family papers include Audrey's father's satchel, defence medal, and other paperwork; and Audrey's mother's death certificate.
These personal and family belongings were mostly grouped together in Audrey's living room, and found together either on her living room table or in a box on the floor.
Sketchbooks (PP/AMI/B): Audrey frequently sketched life around her, with common themes including people, flowers and plants, life drawing, London city / street scenes, and more local sketches from South West London (Clapham South), animals (mainly at London Zoo or in London parks), and objects / still life (not composed). Works are in pencil, coloured pencil, wax pastel and water colour paint, with occasional felt tip pen and ball point pen.
These volumes are frequently annotated with the subject of the sketch, and often dated. Audrey would often fill a whole sketchbook in one sitting or day, drawing things as she encountered them.
A family member has estimated that there are approximately 50,000 individual pages of sketches within Audrey's sketchbooks. The volumes date from 1950s up to 2013.
Artworks (PP/AMI/C): 152 paintings, 136 prints, 91 drawings, 13 folders, 2 embroideries and 1 volume. Works in oil and water colour were produced by Audrey from around the late 1940s onwards. Many were created when she was a student at the Royal Academy School of Art in London. Includes still life, landscapes, local scenes, portraits, figures.
Some works were exhibited by Audrey and have been labelled by Audrey accordingly, others were kept on display or stored in Audrey's home.
As well as framed works, this series includes loose paintings on paper, paintings on canvas boards, and portfolio work. Styles include water colours and oil paintings, as well as some prints and sketches. Also includes material from Audrey's art portfolio, including architecture and texture studies, and experiments with different styles and techniques.
Photo albums and Scrapbooks (PP/AMI/D):
234 volumes, 1977-2013.
Collage and scrap material and photographs pasted by Audrey into photograph albums and scrapbooks, between the years 1977 to 2013.
Earlier volumes take the form of photograph albums. Some contain primarily photographs, others have been used more as scrapbooks and contain newspaper and magazine cuttings as well as other ephemera.
Later scrapbooks contain mainly food packaging, and associated everyday ephemera (eg, envelopes, letters, newspaper and magazine cuttings, and packaging from household goods). Pasted items are often annotated with Audrey's commentary and some contextual information (eg, where and when the item was purchased, associations to the design, and how it tasted). The extent of these annotations is variable.
Account Books (PP/AMI/E):
47 volumes, 1996-2013.
Audrey Amiss created a series of notebooks in which she documented money spent and received, and budgeted her money, over the years 1996 to 2013. The volumes are dated by Audrey, and described by her as "Account books".
Receipts are generally arranged chronologically within a volume, and are normally numbered sequentially within each day. The volumes often document expenditure (and income) down to the penny.
The volumes mostly contain receipts, as well as postal orders, tickets, appointment cards, envelopes and letters, bank and pension statements. Some volumes also contain scrapbook style material, such as newspaper / magazine cuttings and food packaging. These items are annotated with Audrey's commentary (eg, whether the sums add up, money tendered, change given, date and time of purchase, comments on the purchase / shopping experience). Audrey also comments about her experiences and feelings (eg, how the food tasted, whether the price has gone up, if she was asked to leave the shop).
Some lists of purchases are handwritten by Audrey, with items ticked off and added up. Receipts are for household goods and food shopping, bills, donations to charity, receipts acknowledging receipt of letters, and bus tickets.
Record books (PP/AMI/F):
37 volumes, 1992-2001.
Set of notebooks used by Audrey to document the letters she sent to various people. Each entry contains the day and date, the name and address of the recipient of the letter and a summary of the contents of the letter, which varies in detail. Audrey also details the method of delivery (hand delivery / first class postage) and the cost of stamps, and sometimes details the length of the letter sent, and the type of envelope used, as well any other details of interest to her. Recipients of letters vary, and span MPs and public figures, banks and building societies, charities, companies, and families and friends. Numerous letters are often sent on the same day. The themes are variable across and within volumes, but large recurring themes are mental health and the survivor movement, and animal rights.
Log books (PP/AMI/G):
16 volumes, 1999-2013.
Set of diaries documenting Audrey's everyday life. Each entry is titled with the day and date. They vary in length and subject matter but they often start with information about when she woke up and the quality of her sleep. Topics covered include daily routines, such as going to the shops, listening to the radio, and writing letters, as well as physical ailments, encounters with other people, and her health.
Dorothy Weatherell (nee Amiss): collected letters from Audrey and related materials (PP/AMI/H)
Letters sent from Audrey Amiss to her sister, Dorothy Weatherell. Some letters are addressed to John (Dorothy's husband), or to both Dorothy and John Weatherell. Also includes letters from healthcare authorities to Dorothy Weatherell.
These letters were filed in lever arch ring binders by date and kept by Dorothy, who subsequently donated them to Wellcome Library. Each ring binder is labelled "Soeurcare" ("Sister Care"), along with the date range.
Also includes letters to other family members and materials relating to Audrey and her health.
Additionally, numbers given to the volumes (generally written in marker pen on the front cover) by Audrey's relative have been captured in the "previous numbers" field.
Dates have either been provided by Audrey Amiss, or have been estimated based on contextual information found within the material, or similarity in style to other records. Where an estimate has been used, this is given in the form of a 'circa' date, and should be taken as an estimated figure. Where Audrey has dated volumes herself, these are the dates used within the catalogue. From around the mid 1990s, Audrey tends to provide dates over a range of two to three dates, for example "27/28 April 2004 - 15/16 May 2004". These dates have been captured in the title field, and the earliest and latest possible start date have been added to the date field (eg, 27/04/2004-16/05/2004). All item level descriptions specify whether the date has been provided by the cataloguer or follows Audrey's dating system.
Audrey grew up in Sunderland with her parents (Arthur and Belle) and sister, Dorothy. As a child, Audrey attended Bede Grammar School for Girls, where her artistic talent began to flourish. After school, Audrey went on to attend the Sunderland College of Art, before winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy School of Art in London in 1954. She studied painting at the Academy, although she was unable to complete her studies following an episode of mental health problems during her last term of study. This resulted in Audrey's first stay in hospital as a mental health patient at Warlingham Park Hospital, Croydon. In Audrey's words: 'my first breakdown was manic depression and I was taken to Warlingham Park Hospital via MayDay Hospital, Croydon'.
In 1958 after her time in hospital, Audrey was encouraged to apply for a junior "Art Mistress" role at her former school in Sunderland. Audrey did not take this job due to her mental health and instead trained as a shorthand typist in London. This led to a career as a typist for the Ministry of Labour (Hanway House, London), and later at Stockwell unemployment benefit office, where she worked on and off, varying her hours of work in periods of poor or unstable mental health. Audrey described herself on a biography written for an exhibition of her work as someone who "Suffers from mental breakdowns. Civil Service typist, firstly full time, now part time".
Alongside her job, Audrey exhibited her artwork occasionally in open exhibitions in London, describing her work as 'a visual diary, ie home surroundings, local scenes, events, changing seasons and weather, flower drawings and paintings, life drawings, etc'. Throughout her life, Audrey continued to create artworks, the form of which shifted over the years but encompassed photography, sketches, painting and collage. About her life as an artist, Audrey wrote: "I was once in the tradition of social realism, also called the kitchen sink school of painting. But I am now avante garde and misunderstood." While she showed frustration with the formal art scene at times, she pursued her own artistic endeavour and was prolific in her output. The content of Audrey's work was often focused on her immediate surroundings and activities, on the people she saw, the objects she encountered and the foods she ate.
Over her life, Audrey was admitted to psychiatric units on numerous occasions, sometimes following arrest due to altercations in public. Her interactions with mental health staff were often fraught; Audrey battled against her incarcerations in hospital and hated being on medication. Audrey wrote frequent letters complaining about her perceived mistreatment at the hands of doctors in hospital, and launched a lengthy appeal to the Mental Health Tribunal. Audrey saw herself as a psychiatric survivor, and actively campaigned for mental health rights and involved herself in local survivor networks and mental health groups.
Audrey was also a keen traveller, and went on numerous trips abroad as a solo traveller on package holidays, or accompanied by her mother, Belle. These included holidays to India, Nepal, Syria, South America and Russia. When visiting China in the 1980s she was arrested, restrained and returned to England and sectioned at Tooting Bec Mental Hospital in South West London. An account of this experience written by Audrey can be found in her archive.
Audrey lived for many years in Clapham, South West London, with her mother Belle, who sold the family shop in Sunderland to be closer to Audrey. After her mother's death in September 1989, Audrey lived a semi-reclusive lifestyle in the flat. Audrey died at home on 10th July 2013, aged 79.
Audrey Amiss' family numbered the volumes in the collection before donating the items to the library at Wellcome Collection. This was to get an overview of the volume of material but may also be indicative of the order in which the materials were encountered in the flat. For this reason, this numbering sequence has been captured in the catalogue for each relevant item level record (see "previous number" field).