Paul Morgan

Librarian and local historian
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Paul Morgan, librarian and local historian: born Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire 19 October 1915; assistant librarian, Birmingham University Library 1947-60; Honorary Secretary, Birmingham Archaeological Society 1949-61; FSA 1955; assistant librarian, Bodleian Library 1961-83, consultant 1983-93; Librarian, Printer's Library, Oxford University Press 1970-80; General Editor, Dugdale Society 1977-84, Vice-President 1995-2006; Fellow, St Cross College, Oxford 1978-83; President, Shipston-on-Stour and District Local History Society 1979-86; President, Oxford Bibliographical Society 1980-84; married 1950 Rosemary Bayne (two sons); died Oxford 10 March 2006.

Paul Morgan was as English as Shakespeare. Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, he devoted his life to and spent most of it in the land where Shakespeare grew up and returned to live. His father was an estate agent at Stratford, and he grew up knowing it and the country round intimately. His uncle F.C. Morgan, who lived to be 100, was then a bookseller in the town - before he moved to Hereford to become city librarian and honorary librarian of the Chapter Library. Books, as well as the country, were in his nephew's blood.

He was born in 1915 (at 11 Broad Walk) and attended King Edward VI School, from which he went, in 1933, to Birmingham University, where he read English, French, Philosophy and Latin, finding the last, which he studied with Louis MacNeice, hard going.

Already as an undergraduate he had contributed to the Victoria County History of Warwickshire, and regretted afterwards that he had not read History rather than a general degree, which he had been told would better qualify him for a career in libraries. In 1937 he was taken on by Birmingham University Library as a library apprentice at £1 a week, working on the counter at Edmund Street. He graduated next year, and got a job immediately as assistant in the Shakespeare Memorial Library at Stratford.

On 3 September 1939 he volunteered for immediate service in the Warwickshire Yeomanry, still then a cavalry regiment. He adored riding, and it was with horses that he set off for the war. A storm in the Bay of Biscay prevented him from reaching active service until after 31 December, thus depriving him of the 1939 Star, but he had every other campaign medal. Converted first to lorries and then tanks, he was busily engaged, first in Palestine and Iraq, then fighting at El Alamein in 1942 and following the Eighth and First Armies from North Africa to Italy. After five years' continuous engagement, he finally got home leave and was demobbed in December 1945. He loved the Yeomanry and kept in constant touch with old comrades for the rest of his life.

Morgan went back to the Shakespeare Memorial Library, but Birmingham had not forgotten him, and next year he was back, first at the science library at Edgbaston, then returning to Edmund Street in charge of history and archaeology. In 1948 he took over cataloguing and second-hand book acquisition. This gave him a chance to deploy what had long been a personal interest professionally. He set a high standard, and sacked two cataloguers whose work was not up to standard; one of those who stayed was Rosemary Bayne, whom he married in 1950.

He also found time to finish his MA in 1952, and, outside the library, he began a long series of articles on matters of local antiquarian interest. He was Honorary Secretary of the Birmingham Archaeological Society from 1949 to 1961, editing its Archaeological Journal. He was an energetic member of the Dugdale Society, which took its name from the great 17th-century Warwick antiquary William Dugdale, and became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

In 1958 he published English Provincial Printing, a pioneering study. He compiled the first handlist of the great collection of Joseph Chamberlain's papers when they came to the university. He also worked on the libraries of Thomas Wigan of Bewdley, and St Mary's Church, Warwick, where he discovered a hitherto unknown book printed by Caxton, which was acquired by the British Museum.

All this time he had been living in Stratford, taking the train to Birmingham every day. When the university library moved to its new Main Building at Edgbaston in 1960, the extra length of the journey seemed increasingly a waste of time. He was quite glad to leave at the end of the year to become an assistant librarian at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. There he was in his element, one of a singularly talented and congenial group who shared his antiquarian interests. Together they made the Bodleian a magnet for others with the same passion for books and antiquity in general.

Settled in Oxford, he became a member of the Council of the Oxford Bibliographical Society, editor of its publications (1968-80), and later its President. He took his Oxford MA in 1968, and became a Fellow of St Cross College in 1978. He compiled an invaluable guidebook in Oxford Libraries outside the Bodleian (1973). He was also Librarian of the Printer's Library at the Oxford University Press, 1970-80, and served on the Council of the Bibliographical Society. He retired from the Bodleian in 1983.

He did not lose touch with his Warwickshire roots. He was General Editor of the Dugdale Society, 1977-84, and, halfway between Oxford and Stratford, President of the Shipston-on-Stour and District Local History Society, 1979-86. With his cousin Penelope, daughter of F.C. Morgan and his successor as Librarian of Hereford Cathedral, he joined the successful campaign to frustrate the Chapter's nefarious attempt to sell the famous Mappa Mundi in 1985. In 1954 he was made a governor of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (later the Royal Shakespeare Company); in 1996 he became life trustee of the Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust. His last publication, Printing and Publishing in Warwickshire: miscellaneous notes, came out in 2004.

Paul Morgan's burly figure and brusque manner of speech quite failed to conceal a very warm heart. If he took all his duties, official and self-imposed, seriously and dealt with them punctually and efficiently, he enjoyed all the gossip that they generated as well. He took an almost limitless delight in helping friends and even casual visitors with information, sometimes asked for but often unsolicited.

The Autobibliography that he published in 1999 is the record of over 70 years spent in preserving the small but no less important details of Shakespeare's country over five centuries.

Comments