An extensive collection of documents, letters, photographs, reviews, binoculars and even a telescope is held in the J.A. Baker Archive in the Special Collections section of the Albert Sloman Library at the University of Essex, Colchester. Notes describing the items held have been prepared by John Fanshawe, who wrote the introduction to the Collins edition first published in 2010. Most of the papers were received from Bernard Coe, brother-in-law of J. A. Baker.
A full descriptive catalogue of the J A Baker Archive compiled by Hetty Saunders can be found here.
The University’s website also gives information about viewing the collection, which from summer 2016 has been made more widely avaialable for visitors to study. An article about the opening up of the archive can be found at University of Essex website. Information on how to contact the Albert Sloman Library, where the archive is held, is at Albert Sloman Library.
Viewing the archive gives a greater insight into the life and work of J. A Baker. The copies of drafts and proofs give a better understanding of how he wrote, with amendments and additions to his original drafts becoming visible. In one of the proof copies of The Peregrine, his page by page count of adjectives, similes and metaphors shows how carefully he analysed his writing.
The many photographs include pictures of his wedding to Doreen at Christ Church Chelmsford in 1956 and at social events. All his diaries are available rather than the selection chosen by John Fanshawe in the Collins edition. These enable a more complete picture to be obtained.
I am a volunteer for the National Trust at Hatfield Forest, just over 15 miles west of Chelmsford. The full diary has an entry for Wednesday 19th May 1954, where he writes: Hatfield Forest dominated by noisy jackdaws everywhere and rooks. The descendants of those jackdaws are still present today by the Forest Café, where they are continually making a noise and looking for scraps of food!
There is a link from the notes to a listing of the books in his bookcases. These show a wide range of books, both fiction and non-fiction. Poetry is represented, for example, by Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes; fiction by T H White (The Goshawk) and Len Deighton; countryside books by Oliver Rackham and many travel guides, recipes and guides to The Bible. It is truly an esoteric selection!
The archive thus provides a much greater understanding of J. A. Baker both as a person and as an author. If you have the chance, then arrange to see it at the University of Essex.