Obituary: Bertram Schofield

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The Independent Online
BERTRAM SCHOFIELD, Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum from 1956 to 1961, was an excellent palaeographer and a musicologist of international standing. He combined these skills to especially good effect when he established once and for all the dating and provenance of the English round "Sumer is ycumen in", which originated from Reading Abbey in about 1250-60.

Of the four Keepers of Manuscripts under whom I served, a post sadly no longer extant, Schofield must be judged the most effective of all. He was a sound administrator, and masterminded a major redevelopment of the Manuscript Students' Room, which not merely doubled its size but also provided, and still provides - though not for much longer - a greatly improved working environment for both readers and staff. He was a quiet but highly effective manager, and could correct a colleague without giving the faintest offence.

Though he held office as keeper only for six years - recalled by one of his staff as the happiest six years of his service in the museum - the acquisitions Schofield made included medieval manuscripts from Holkham and illuminated manuscripts from the Dyson Perrins collection. These were by no means the only examples of his skill in acquiring desirable items, especially in the field of music MSS, at a time when the funds available for acquisitions were far smaller than they later became. He was responsible for acquiring the Tregian Anthology of Italian and for identifying the compiler as being that of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

Yet he took no narrow view of what should be acquired, and was equally keen on adding manuscripts of such composers as Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams, as well as modern literary and historical MSS.

On taking office in 1956, he had to mend a few fences, for his immediate predecessor, a genial and charming man once released from the cares of office, found it hard to cope with the responsibilities of being keeper and had allowed this to affect his relationships with his colleagues in the department and elsewhere in the museum.

No doubt it helped that Schofield, though some years older, had been at Liverpool University and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, not long before the then Keeper of Printed Books and subsequent director of the museum, Sir Frank Francis, in the days when the museum still had its own directors. A good relationship with Francis did not prevent Schofield standing up with vigour for the interests of the Department of Manuscripts, and there is a perhaps apocryphal tale of an occasion when he was said to have remonstrated forcibly and somewhat uncharacteristically with the director with the words "Don't be a bloody fool, Frank."!

He did not have an entirely easy ride as keeper, and was saddened by the suicide of one of his colleagues and the divorce of two others, and though almost all his staff were easy, one or two, now dead, were not, and one of these indeed verged on the paranoiac. He was a wise delegator, and handed over the task of editing the Catalogue of Additions to the Manuscripts in the British Museum, traditionally undertaken by the keeper, to his senior deputy keeper, who raised the standard of editing to an intimidatingly high level.

Before ever he came to the museum, Schofield was marked down for success. He went to Liverpool University from University School, Southport, secured a First in History and then became Charles Beard Fellow and later a University Fellow.

In 1917 he joined the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry. Though he was a tolerable shot, he could see to aim a rifle properly only out of his left eye, a thing particularly difficult to do with the old bolt-action short- magazine Lee Enfield rifle, and hence was sent to serve in Ireland, an experience he disliked.

From 1919 to 1921 he continued his studies in Anglo-French legal and constitutional history at the Sorbonne, the Ecole des Chartes and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, which left him with an abiding love for France, and then returned to study in Cambridge, before joining the Department of Manuscripts in 1922.

His greatest single achievement was during the Second World War when he was acting as liaison officer with Inter- Services Intelligence and found in the bookstacks of the Reading Room of the museum vol xxxv of the Bulletin de la Societe Prehistorique Francaise, 1938, which gave a "most detailed description of a clay patch on the beach at Luc-sur-Mer near Caen", as noted by Chester Wil-mot in his The Struggle for Europe, 1952. This description provided "a valuable contribution to the solution of the problem" of landing mine-clearing "flail" tanks to clear underwater obstacles on D-day beaches in Normandy, and must have saved many a tank crew's life. There can scarcely ever have been a more bizarre outcome of wide-ranging skills in bibliographical research than this.

After retiring in 1961 Bertram Schofield moved with his wife, Edith, to Kidlington in Oxfordshire and lived there till the age of 101, on his own after her death in 1981, but sustained by a devoted home help. He is survived by a family of exceptionally wide-ranging talents, from nuclear physics and music to robotics, mathematics and oceanography.

Bertram Schofield, palaeographer and musicologist: born Southport 13 June 1896; Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts, British Museum, 1922-47, Deputy Keeper 1947-56, Keeper 1956-61; CBE 1959; married 1928 Edith Thomas (died 1981; one son, two daughters); died Oxford 15 May 1998.