The Records Office was certainly easy to find from the station and the staff were very friendly and helpful. I've signed up for a Reader Access ticket that's valid for four years. You have to put personal belongings in a locker, and they allow pencls only, but there are power-points on the benches for laptops, so I will know better next time.
In terms of biographical information, which I think has to be a priority, I gleaned very little, and nothing of any significance. Most of what I determined came from two 'interviews', photocopies of which were stored. One was from what appeared to be a privately-printed Cheltenham local interest magazine titled Program and probably associated with the Festival (it reminded me of the fanzines of the Eighties, when I was active in comics fandom), the other was from Lancashire Life in 1955. As far as Neill's own papers are concerned, all these revealed were a middle initial of G, and the detail that he was a lecturer at St Paul's College, Cheltenham.
That is at least a source to approach.
The Archivist suggested Neill's publishers as a source of biographical detail, meaning Hutchinsons. They, he determined, have been merged into Random House and he got me an e-mail address for their archivist.
As to the papers:
These consisted of two sturdy cardboard boxes, of which I was allowed one at a time. Naturally enough, I ended up with box 2 first!
Box 1 contained a folder marked 'Witch Bane discarded sheets' and contained handwritten manuscript sheets in pencil, seemingly incomplete (I did not go into any of the manuscripts in detail). It also contained two parcels done up in brown paper, respectively 'Hangman's Cliff original manuscript' and 'Devil's Weather 1st draft'. I opened the first, which appeared to be the full manuscript, again in pencil, but did npt open the second because I'd found it impossible to fold the brown paper back into place for HC and didn't want to cause problems for myself!
Box 2's contents were more varied, with seven folders of varying thickness, an Indexed Memorandum bookand two stiff-bound scrapbooks. Dealing with these first, there was one each for 'Hangman's Cliff' and 'Black William' and contained newspaper reviews of each book, both loose and pasted in. Intriguingly, a high proprtion of them were American (several were clearly syndicated reviews clippe from a variety of Stateside newspapers, and came with slips from the Staten Island based clippings service Neill employed).
The memorandum book was mostly unused but certain pages had biographical notes on historical characters, the product of research.
The folders, in the order they came out of the box, were as follows:
1. 'Golden Days odd 2nd script' - an incomplete manuscript, typed, with various pen and pencilled corrections/amendments.
2. 'Golden Days odd 1st script' - as above except that this was a handwritten manuscript, in pencil, starting with Ch 27. Neill's writing is cam, smooth, flowing, unhurried, with minimal corrections - it struck me as the produce of careful thought and consideration before [encil was put to paper.
3. 'Witchfire at Lammas odd papers' - a much slimmer folder containing background materials - character summaries, family trees, lists of chapter titles, a chapter plan, a home made calendar marked 1675 and 1715, a list of significant dates in the 1715 rebellion and a typed copy of an entry from the Catterick Parish Register 25th December 1681, which was unfortunately in Latin, so it was meaningless to me!
4. 'So Fair a House remaining papers' - a very slim folder again containing background materials - an extract from Ecclesiastical Law (1957) re Parsonage Houses, calendars for 1747 - 1750, 1958 dates pertaining to the novel, an architectural plan of the gardens and grounds of The Prospect and the site of the house, two pp of notes re the dates of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths of the historical family.
5. 'Crown & Mitre discarded sheets' - very slim folder containing random typescript pages.
6. 'Crown & Mitre remaining pages' - also very slim, containing background materials - character notes, including an AQstrology for Burnaby, on sheets cut from a 1949 Accounting Ledger, list of Commissioners sent to Breda (ie the Declaration of Breda by Charles II), geographical nores 1648, Dates of the Long Parliament, typed notes as to Christenings plus a glossary of terms, Lists of Bishops and Sees both per and after 1660, and of Cromwell's Major-Generals, breakdown of events, notes on Goldsmiths.
7. 'Misc notes'. This was the thickest folder and absolutely /the/ most fascinating. Primarily it contained research materials on a variety of subjects; notes re Witchfinders; Civil War manoeuvres in Lancashire; the Nowell family mid-century;State of London and Monk; the Civil War in Lancashire; Ecclesiastical records in Worcester in 1660; the Park Hall; Filmer on The Divine Right of Kings; the text of 'The Vicar of Bray'; texts usable in church by Non-jurors; Incomes for various classes in 1696; Catholics in Lancashire; Witch's beliefs; Latin terms in use by JPs; notes on 17th Century travel; Scottish Covenanters; list of London Coffee Houses; letter from Westmorland County Council dated 19 Dec 1949, responding to queries about the Layburne family; list of books presumably used for research; several Confidential Reports on Encyclopaedia Brittanica Ltd notepaper on subjects such as Cromwell, Coinage in the early reaign of Charles II and Wines 1661 - 1710; notes re Gambling in the late 17th/early 18th Century; on newsletters; penal law. (phew!)
But for me the absolute motherlode in this folder was a sheak of notes, written on various dates between January 7 1950 and 13 August 1952 (with one later note dated November 1954 (exactly a year before I was born, incidentally) where Neill makes notes for himself about subjects for future novels! Some of the notes are very vague indeed as ideas go - one simply envisages a Golden Wedding Anniversary for the Squire and his wife, surrounded by children and grandchildren, another contemplates a sequel to Pendle (!) focussing on the other Lancashire Witch Trial, using Jennet Preston as a link. There's a surprising number of ideas that focus upon religious doubt and differences which I really cannot see as having any commercial appeal whatsoever. But here and there are the first glimmers of things that would go into publication: there's a long piece proposing a novel entitled "Captain Ferndale", a professional gambler and secret Jacobite agent which is quite clearly the embryonic Tony Marriott/'Captain Storm'.
These I need to type up properly so as to give you the full picture (I have a lot of notes to type up so it's a good job I'm off all Easter).