Jeffery Ede

Keeper of Public Records
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The Independent Online

Jeffery Raymond Ede, archivist: born Plymouth, Devon 10 March 1918; Assistant Keeper, Public Record Office 1947-59, Principal Assistant Keeper 1959-66, Deputy Keeper 1966-69, Keeper of Public Records 1970-78; Lecturer in Archive Administration, School of Librarianship and Archives, University College London 1956-61; President, Society of Archivists 1974-77; CB 1978; married 1944 Mercy Sholl (died 2001; one son and one daughter deceased); died Hatch Beauchamp, Somerset 6 December 2006.

Jeffery Ede had a long career in archive administration. From 1970 to 1978 he was Keeper of Public Records, in charge of the Government's official archive containing documents from 900 years of history. His 30-year career at the Public Record Office (now the National Archives) coincided with a process of gradual liberalisation of access to government records.

He started his career as an Assistant Keeper in May 1947. At this time the office was still governed by the Public Records Acts of 1838, 1877 and 1898; questions of access to the records and of their preservation and transfer to the office were largely determined by the creating government departments.

The Public Records Act 1958 provided for regular transfer of records and their availability for research 50 years after their creation. The Public Records Act 1967 reduced this period to 30 years. These access provisions continued throughout Ede's keepership and have only recently been superseded by the Freedom of Information Act 2000, under which records are now immediately available unless they fall within exempt categories.

Ede's period as Keeper saw the opening in January 1971 of the records of the first 16 months of the Second World War, followed a year later by the accelerated opening of records for the rest of the war - on the same day as the 1871 Census returns became available for research. It was also marked by an enormous growth in the number of readers.

His posts with the Public Record Office included being in charge of the provincial repository at Ashridge Park in Hertfordshire, in the Modern Records Department. He also served as Head of Technical Services with responsibility for the storage, conservation, filming and photocopying of records and making them available in the reading rooms.

Ede had the ability to master an understanding of the essential elements of any task, and to direct it effectively and ensure its careful execution. He was also one of the best drafters in the office; and he played a leading part in a revised Guide to the Contents of the Public Record Office published in 1963.

In July 1959 he was promoted to Principal Assistant Keeper, and to the Deputy Keeper in December 1966. On 1 January 1970 he became Keeper of Public Records, a post that he held until June 1978. A major challenge for Ede as Keeper was planning the new Public Record Office at Kew, which opened in 1977, and the transfer of staff and records from the Chancery Lane office and the Ashridge repository.

Jeffery Ede was born in Plymouth in 1918, the eldest son of Richard Ede, a customs officer. His family later moved successively to Hayle, Cornwall, and Barnstaple, Devon, and, after his father's death in 1927, to paternal grandparents in Saltash, from where Jeffery went to Plymouth College. In October 1937 he went on an open major scholarship, and an exhibition from the Goldsmiths' Company, to King's College, Cambridge, to read Classics, gaining a First in Part I of the Classical Tripos. In the 1950s he repaid his debt to the Goldsmiths' Company by sorting and listing its archives and advising on their care.

In 1939 he began six and a half years of war service in the Intelligence Corps in which he was mentioned in despatches. In 1940 he was posted to France with the British Expeditionary Force and was at Dunkirk. Early in 1941 he went to Syria, where he rose to company sergeant major, gaining his commission in December 1943.

After D-Day he was responsible for port security and a Mulberry harbour at Arromanches, and later similar duties in Belgium and Germany. He was promoted to major as Port Security Control Officer in Hamburg and to GSO II Intelligence (Ports and Frontiers) on the staff of HQ 8th Corps District, before demobilisation in April 1946. He took his delayed MA at Cambridge and joined the Public Records Office in 1947.

In 1944 he had married Mercy Sholl, who was teaching at a preparatory school, which had been evacuated to Alfoxton House in Somerset, a house with historical associations with Coleridge and Wordsworth. Here her brother, Ernest Sholl, was school chaplain and Classics master, subsequently becoming Rector of Holford and Vicar of Stogursey.

Outside the Public Record Office Jeffery Ede was a Lecturer in Archive Administration at the School of Librarianship and Archive Administration at University College London. He also acted as a Unesco expert advising on the national archives of Tanzania in 1963-64. From 1972 to 1978 he was Chairman of the British Academy Committee on Oriental Documents and in 1976-78 Vice-President of the International Council on Archives (ICA). He served for three years as the President of the Society of Archivists, and in 1979 was made a Freeman of the Goldsmiths' Company and of the City of London.

In retirement in Somerset, at Drayton and later at Ilminster, Ede served as a co-opted member of the county council's Libraries, Museums and Records Committee (1980-88) and as Chairman of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society's Library Committee (1987-93). He sorted and listed the society's own administrative records for transfer to the Somerset Record Office; and similarly a collection of records of the Cely Trevilian family of Midelney and papers of the Heritage of the Ile Trust in Ilminster. He also compiled a report on the records of the Clerical & Medical insurance company and undertook several missions for the ICA and Unesco to Cyprus, Lesotho and Iraq.

His abiding characteristics in public and private life were a sense of duty and discipline, leavened by an easy manner and kindness, understanding and courtesy. He was, too, able to stand back and observe himself and others with puckish humour and wit.

Duncan Chalmers