British Institute Archives

The British Institute was founded by a group of Anglo-Italians. Its establishment was intimately connected with efforts during the First World War to counter pro-German feeling in Florence, and to promote the interests of Italy among politicians in London.


Earlier in our anniversary year, on the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, we displayed items from the archive to give a brief outline of our foundation. That small exhibition is now reproduced here.


Of the original founders, Arthur Acton, Lina Waterfield and Edward Hutton retained strong links with the Institute all their lives, an interest that Arthur Acton passed on to his son Harold. The documentation that exists surrounding the foundation and first few years of Institute history is testimony to the work of passionate Italophiles, such as Janet Trevelyan and her husband the historian George Macaulay Trevelyan, and their relationships with the prominent politicians, diplomats and writers of their day.


The British Institute Collection - Series I

Reference code: BRI
Date(s) of creation: 1917 to 1940 (with some additional documents to 1955)
Name of creator: The British Institute
Extent: 20 boxes


Administrative information

Acquisition number: 00

Source of acquisition

Materials from the various offices of the British Institute: the Director's Office, the Library, the School, the Accounting Office, the Governing Body etc. The material has not been kept in any ordered way over time.

Series I includes all the documentation in the period from the foundation of the Institute to its temporary closure in 1940.


The British Institute was founded largely as the result of private initiatives during the autumn of 1917 but quickly received government recognition and initial financial support through the Foreign Office.

The foundation of the Institute is described in some detail in Lina Waterfield's (1874-1964) autobiographical memoir, Castle in Italy. Together with Edward Hutton (1875-1969, author), Lina Waterfield obtained a lease of the Loggia Rucellai in the via Vigna Nuova and there installed the Institute's first reading-room and classrooms. From its inception the Institute was an Anglo-Italian institution with both countries contributing to its teaching programme and to its government and administration.

Among the Italian scholars who helped to establish the Institute in Florence in the autumn of 1917 were: Dr. Guido Biagi (1855-1925, scholar and author), Prof. Guido Ferrando (scholar and translator), Prof. G.S. Gargano (scholar and editor), Dr. Angiolo Orvieto (poet) Sig. Carlo Placci (scholar), Prof. Gaetano Salvemini (1873-1957, historian and political commentator) and Dr. Aldo Sorani (1883-1945, journalist). Important contributions on the English side were made by Arthur Acton (1904-1994, father of Harold Acton), Dr. Walter Ashburner (1864-1936, at one time Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford), Edward Hutton, Herbert Trench (1865-1923, poet) and Lina Waterfield. John Buchan (1875-1940, author), then Director of Information in London, was in favour of the project and government support was supervised by Algar Thorold (1866-1936, scholar and translator) who was responsible for British Information services in Italy at the closing stages of the First World War.

Sir James Rennell Rodd (1858-1941, diplomat), the British Ambassador in Rome, came to Florence to open the Institute in June 1918. By then the first Director, Dr. Arthur Francis Spender (uncle of the poet, Stephen Spender) had been appointed and the Institute had moved to more spacious premises at via dei Conti, 18. With Sir Rennell Rodd's assistance, a constitution for the Institute was drawn up and an application made for the Royal Charter which was eventually granted by King George V in May 1923. Mrs. George Trevelyan (1879-1956), the author and daughter of the novelist Mrs. Humphry Ward and wife of the historian G. M. Trevelyan, did much of the administrative work involved in obtaining the Charter.

The initial subsidy from the Foreign Office was continued only until 1921. At this stage the Institute almost foundered, but was rescued by the private generosity of three benefactors: Sir Daniel Stevenson (1851-1944, Glasgow shipbuilder), Sir Walter Becker (1855-1927, diplomat) and Miss Renée Courtauld (d.1962). For a period of almost 20 years the Institute managed to survive on these donations and its own earnings until, in 1939, the recently formed British Council supported its work.
In May 1923, by now under the Directorship of Harold Goad (1878-1956, soldier and author), the Institute moved into a permanent home in Palazzo Antinori, where it was to remain for over forty years, until December 1965.

During the twenties and thirties the Institute established itself as an indispensable part of the cultural life of Florence and forged close links with the University of Florence. The School functioned largely for the teaching of English to Italians who would be teaching English in Italian schools. This teaching, the Library services and the lecture programme were all developed and expanded during this period, helped during the political crisis by the Director's known sympathy with Fascism, a sympathy which caused much concern at the Foreign Office and among his colleagues.

Francis Toye (1883-1964), the biographer of Verdi and Rossini and music critic of The Morning Post, was appointed to succeed Harold Goad in 1938.
The Institute closed in May 1940 and remained closed throughout the war.

Scope and content (inc. arrangement)

The material relating to the history of the institution had been boxed up and moved at various times. Very little of the material had been sorted and organised in any way, and any ordering that was done had been destroyed by poor boxing-up of materials so that papers again became muddled as boxes were moved.

Series I covers the inter-war period and more has survived for that period than was expected. The material relating to the Director's work and his relationship with the Governors as a result of his support for Fascism is fascinating. Series II covers the post-war period to 1958, when the musicologist Francis Toye was Director.

Until the 1950s the Institute not only had a Governing Body but also a Council in London lobbying for support and funding. Much of the correspondence that exists is between Goad and Janet Trevelyan, who became Secretary to the Institute Council in London in the early 1920s, and it illustrates the way in which Goad had to be castigated for making his support of Fascism too public. At the same time, without Goad's support (and his publications on Fascism) it is possible the Institute would not have survived the crisis of 1935. In addition to this material there is considerable correspondence surrounding the day-to-day running of the Institution.

The School had as its first Headmaster the young Aldo Ricci who set up a rigorous programme for his students: as part of the collection the Institute holds the theses written by students in the 1920s and 1930s. The Institute also published material relating to the school and to Anglo-Italian issues etc, in the form of books or reviews. Its first collections of critical essays and reviews were published in Italian with the title La Vita Britannica.

The collection as a whole is invaluable in its record of the functioning of a British cultural institution in a foreign country, illustrating as it does its relationship with its host country and with its own government and institutions.


Terms of use



Series I and Series II are open for consultation.


The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.


Some of the material is too delicate for reproduction.

Finding aids

A catalogue of the collection now exists.


Related material in the same repository:

(1) Harold Elsdale Goad 1878-1956

AR 335.6 GOA

The working of a corporate state : a study of national co-operation (London, 1934)

AR 370.196 GOA

History of the British Institute of Florence (Firenze, 1939)

AR 820.9 GOA

Thirty-eight sonnets (London, 1958)

AR 820.9 GOA

To Italy from a constant lover (1943)

AR 945.091 GOA

The making of the corporate state : a study of fascist development (London, 1932)

AR 820.9 GOA

The blind prophet : a dramatic poem (London, 1903)

AR 820.9 GOA

The kingdom (London, 1913)

AR 820.9 GOA

Nimrod the builder : an allegory (London, 1906)

AR 820.9 GOA

A Franciscan garland (Perugia, 1951)

AR 271.3 GOA

Franciscan Italy (London, 1926)

AR 409 GOA

Language in history (London, 1958)

AR 271.3 GOA

Greyfriars : the story of St. Francis and his followers (London, 1947)

271.3 GOA

Franciscan Italy (London, 1926)


(2) Aldo Ricci (1893-1930)

AR 942 RIC

Le origini della civiltà inglese : opera postuma (Firenze, 1932)


(3) George Macaulay Trevelyan (1876-1962)

820.9 TRE

An autobiography & other essays (London, 1949)

Mary Moorman's memoir of her father

942.08 TRE

George Macaulay Trevelyan : a memoir (London, 1980)


(4) Janet Penrose Ward Trevelyan (1879-1956)

AR 945 TRE

A short history of the Italian people : from the barbarian invasions to the attainment of unity (New York, 1920)

945 TRE

A short history of the Italian people : from the barbarian invasions to the attainment of unity (New York, 1920)

820.9 TRE

Two stories (London, 1954)

820.9 WAR

The life of Mrs. Humphry Ward (London, 1923)


(5) Lina Duff-Gordon Waterfield (1874-1964)

AR 820.9 WAT

Castle in Italy : an autobiography (London, 1962)


(6) Sir Rennell Rodd (1858-1941)

942.08 REN

Social and diplomatic memories 1884-1893 (London, 1922)


(7) Ian Greenlees

C 370.196 GRE

The British Institute : its origin and history (Firenze, 1979)