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MS 677

Reference code

MS 677


Frank Ashton-Gwatkin archive



Administrative / Biographical history

Ashton-Gwatkin, Frank (1889-1976)

Frank Ashton-Gwakin was a diplomat and author. He was born on 14 April 1889 in Twickenham, the son of Revd Walter Henry Trelawny Gwatkin and Frances Lilian Ashton, who, when they married, began using the name Ashton-Gwatkin. He was educated at Eton College as an oppidan and afterwards at Balliol College, Oxford where he won the Newdigate prize for a poem on Michelangelo. However he left in 1909 having completed only two years of his studies. In January 1913 he was appointed by the British consular service as a student interpreter in Japan and was based at Yokohama. While in Japan he married Nancy Violet, a ballet dancer, who was the daughter of William James Butler of Melbourne.

Ashton-Gwatkin’s association with Japan continued until 1919, when he returned to England and was temporarily employed in the Foreign Office’s political intelligence department. In 1921 he transferred permanently to the Foreign Office as a second secretary, where he remained for nearly nine years as a member of the Far Eastern Department. In 1921 he was attached to the suite of Japan’s Crown Prince Hirohito during his visit to England and later the same year travelled to the Washington Conference as part of the British delegation to discuss naval disarmament and the future security of the Far East.

During his time in Japan he began writing novels under the pseudonym John Paris. His literary interests can be seen throughout his life; however his career as a published author was brief. He created a separate identity for John Pari,s commenting in a lecture that he lived between the years 1913 and 1931 and referring to him as ‘My Friend’ and ‘my second self’ (‘The Life and Times of John Paris’ – MS 677 05).

He was fascinated by the personalities he met and the traditions he encountered and the result was five novels which were a social commentary of Japanese civilization and included:
Kimono (1921)
Sayonara-Goodbye (1924)
Banzai (1925)
The Island beyond Japan (1929)
Matsu (1932)

He also published a work of poetry entitled ‘A Japanese Don Juan: Narihira at the Temple’ (1926).

The works were considered by Western readers to be a realistic portrait of life in East Asia, and today they provide a recollection of pre-war Japan. They were particularly popular in the United States, but they caused offense in Japan. Ashton-Gwatkin continued to be fascinated by the country, lecturing and writing about his time there up until his death.

In 1929 he was the acting counsellor in the British embassy in Moscow before joining the Foreign Office’s Western department. He accompanied Lord Runciman, the president of the Board of Trade, on his mediatory mission to Czechoslovakia in July 1938, and he participated both in the Munich conference in September and in the subsequent ambassadorial conference at Berlin which oversaw the transfer of the Sudetenland to Germany. In 1939 he inaugurated the first Economic Department of the Foreign Office. He became one of the principal advisers of Anthony Eden during his scheme for the reform of the Foreign Office in 1943.

During the Second World War he was seconded to the Ministry of Economic Warfare, where he focused on fostering Anglo-French economic co-operation. In 1940 he returned to the Foreign Office, and in 1944 he was appointed senior inspector of HM diplomatic missions with the rank of minister, a role he held until his retirement in December 1947. After his retirement he was made Associate Director of Studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, working alongside Arnold Toynbee.

In 1974 he returned to Japan for the first and only time since having left in 1919.

He was appointed CMG in 1933 and CB in 1939.
He died on 30 January 1976.



Extent & medium

16 boxes and 10 volumes comprising 5 series

Content description

The collection covers various aspects of Ashton-Gwatkin’s life from his family history and his upbringing; his career in the Foreign Office; and his work as a writer.

The family papers stretch back to the mid-nineteenth century and cover both the Ashton and Gwatkin side of the family, although the Ashton family is covered in more detail. The papers also contain extensive material relating to Ashton-Gwatkin’s relationship with his wife Nancy.

The greater part of the archive consists of papers that cover his time as a diplomat in Japan during the 1920s, although these are not official papers, they offer an insight into the work he did. They offer a personal reflection of life in the Far East as well as a visual depiction through photographs and postcards.

The literary related papers cover the period from when he was at Oxford to after his retirement and includes manuscripts and typescripts as well as copies of minor published material. The majority of the papers relate to unpublished works and published articles. He would also lecture regularly on Japan and the Foreign Office and his typescripts lectures are found throughout the papers. None of the drafts relate directly to his five published novels, however a number of the lectures and articles discuss the work produced under the pseudonym John Paris.

The papers contain various letters, but with the exception of the letters to his wife, these are very sporadic. However it does contain correspondence with a number of other prominent figures of the day including, Joseph Conrad; Nancy Astor and Nancy Mitford


The collection was created or accumulated by Ashton-Gwakin during his life.

Associated material

Eton College Library also contains copies of his published material as well as a copy of ‘Michelangelo’ that Ashton-Gwatkin donated in 1972

Eton College Library MS 325 is a manuscript of 'Eleven flowers from A Garland of Latin Verse' composed by the scholars of Eton College for H.M. Queen Elizabeth I; and translated into English verse by Frank Ashton-Gwatkin, presented to Eton College Library by Lord Salisbury, F. Ashton-Gwatkin and Christabel Aberconway in 1959.

Papers relating to Ashton-Gwatkin’s career are held at the National Archives among their Treasury; Cabinet Office and Foreign Office papers.

Conditions of access and use area

This collection contains items that are restricted until 2046. These have been identified at file level.

Finding aids

A handlist of material including correspondence is held by the Library
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