Nicholas Hadgraft

Conservator of books and medieval manuscripts
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The Independent Online

The Wollaton Antiphonal was one of the largest as well as grandest of medieval manuscripts. Made in the early 15th century and acquired by St Leonard's Church, Wollaton, now part of Nottingham, in 1460, it survived into the 20th century perhaps because it was borrowed by a local family, the Willoughbys, and kept at Wollaton Hall. It returned to the church 80 years ago, but had suffered severely, though not irremediably, from damp, mildew and other ills. Its complex and painstaking restoration was undertaken from 2001 by Nicholas Hadgraft. His sudden and untimely death has suspended not only this work, but a great deal else that benefited from his cautious but thoughtful care.

Nicholas Hadgraft, book conservator: born Southgate, Middlesex 27 February 1955; died Cambridge 4 July 2004.

The Wollaton Antiphonal was one of the largest as well as grandest of medieval manuscripts. Made in the early 15th century and acquired by St Leonard's Church, Wollaton, now part of Nottingham, in 1460, it survived into the 20th century perhaps because it was borrowed by a local family, the Willoughbys, and kept at Wollaton Hall. It returned to the church 80 years ago, but had suffered severely, though not irremediably, from damp, mildew and other ills. Its complex and painstaking restoration was undertaken from 2001 by Nicholas Hadgraft. His sudden and untimely death has suspended not only this work, but a great deal else that benefited from his cautious but thoughtful care.

Hadgraft was born in Southgate, north London, in 1955, while his father was Chief Pharmacist at the Royal Free Hospital. His son was educated at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, High Barnet, and the University of Kent, where he read English. Intending to be a schoolteacher, he then took the postgraduate course at the Institute of Education, London University, obtaining his certificate in 1977.

Experience of teaching was less than happy, and in 1980 he joined the British Library as a clerical assistant, working in the section that prepared books for binding and conservation. This was a revelation to him, and, having a natural understanding and sympathy for old artefacts, he became fascinated by books and their construction. He was promoted to be a curator in the Eighteenth-Century Short-title Catalogue Project, and took an MA course in Historical Bibliography at the School of Librarianship, University College London.

In 1984 he moved to Cambridge as conservation assistant in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, and three years later became head of the Cambridge College Libraries Conservation Consortium, which grew out of his previous post. He built up a team that worked on the various libraries involved, not without the difficulties involved in any new organisation, but always constant to the view that the well-being of the books came first.

At Cambridge, he joined his invalid mother, whom he looked after with devoted care till her death. But he also found time to undertake an advanced course in book conservation with Christopher Clarkson at West Dean College, in Sussex, and then a PhD at UCL, with an admirable thesis on "English Fifteenth Century Bookbinding Structures" (1998). He was also an accredited member of the Institute of Paper Conservation, publishing technical articles in The Paper Conservator, as well as editing Conservation and Preservation in Small Libraries (with Katherine Swift, 1994). In 2000 he became a Research Fellow of the London Institute.

In 1998 he was emboldened to set up independently as a book conservator and consultant, working at home and abroad, from Iceland and Prague to Mount Sinai. He was active in rescuing books damaged in the flood of the Founder's Library at the Fitzwilliam Museum and was a popular teacher and lecturer at the Wellcome and Hamilton-Kerr institutes, at Duke University, the Montefiascone Project and elsewhere.

He also collected many things, books, tools, from prehistoric times to the recent past, pilgrim-badges (which he gave to King's College, Cambridge) whose preservation will be another memorial to him, beside all the conservation work that he did. His work will go on, if in other hands.

Nicolas Barker



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