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MS 710

Reference code

MS 710


Hardy-Sparks archive



Administrative / Biographical history

Sparks, Nathaniel (1880-1956)

Nathaniel (Nat) Sparks, 1880-1956, was a first cousin once removed of Thomas Hardy. Thomas Hardy had four cousins: Rebecca, Tryphena, Martha and Nathaniel Snr. Sparks. Nathaniel Snr. married Annie Lanham in 1877 and they had two sons: James and Nathaniel (Nat). Both brothers were raised in Bristol and became artists. Nat attended the Royal College of Art and became a professional etcher. James became head of department at Exeter University College. Thomas Hardy's relationship with the Sparks side of the family was an interesting one. As a child he was close to his cousins (Rebecca, Tryphena, Martha and Nathaniel Sparks Snr.) but grew apart from the family over time, particularly during his marriage to Emma Gifford who somewhat shunned them as socially inferior. Even though James and Nat modelled and drew Hardy subjects, they did not have a close relationship to Hardy. They did, however, maintain a closer relationship to Mary and Kate, Hardy's sisters. In his spare time, Nat was an antiquarian and took a great interest in the family history. He carried out serious genealogical research and also wrote a fictional history of the Sparks and Hardy families - 'The History of the Gobs'. The story has a strong anti-Hardy bias, reflecting the somewhat strained relationship between the two families. James died in 1938 and Nat in 1956. There are no children from either line.


19th-20th century

Extent & medium

14 boxes, 1 folder and 29 oversize items

Content description

The archive is the original estate of Nat Sparks. Also included are Celia Barclay's research papers about the Sparks and Hardy families, and a small number of later acquisitions that complement the original holdings of the archive. The archive creates a vivid picture of the Sparks family and, through it, their Hardy relatives. It provides a unique insight into the relationship between the two sides of the family. The estate of Nat Sparks consists of family papers, literary manuscripts by him and John Antell, a cousin of Hardy's, correspondence between members of the Hardy and Sparks families, artwork by James and Nat, family photographs, some printed material and a number of artefacts that belonged to the Hardys. The family papers include the papers of Nat Sparks, James Sparks, their father Nathaniel Sparks Snr., and others from both the Sparks and Hardy sides of the family. These papers include personal documents and, particularly in the case of Nat Sparks, research into family history. Nat Spark's literary manuscripts are dominated by several drafts of his 'The History of the Gobs', an unpublished fictional history of the Sparks and Hardy families. Also included are several notebooks containing the fictional history of the 'Gob' family, manuscripts of short stories and poems all by Nat Sparks. There are also autograph poems by John Antell, a relative of the family. The correspondence in this archive consists mainly of autograph letters between members of the Sparks and Hardy families. There is a large number of letters from Kate Hardy to James and Nat Sparks. The letters from Thomas Hardy have been extracted and are now part of the Hardy archive. There are also postcards, cartes-de-visite and calling cards. There is a significant collection of artwork by both Nat and James Sparks, including sketches, watercolours, etchings and oil paintings. The sketchbook of James Sparks contains a famous sketch of Hardy. There are also many Dorset scenes, and some of the art depicts scenes from Hardy's works. The archive contains artefacts passed down to Nat Sparks through Kate Hardy, Hardy's sister, including jewellery and small objects. There are locks of hair and some objects relate directly to Hardy. For example, the archive contains a waistcoat of Hardy's. The printed material notably includes Nat Sparks' copies of Hardy's works and a copy of 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' purported to be Hardy's own copy. The Celia Barclay research papers expand upon the primary material in the Sparks archive and provide a detailed history of the Sparks and Hardy families.


The estate of Nathaniel (Nat) Sparks went to Maurice Cockin, the husband of a friend of Nathaniel's called Alys Gear. It then passed to Celia Barclay, Cockin's daughter.
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