Obituary : Jane Lidderdale

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In appearance and in life, Jane Lidderdale epitomised the English virtue of understatement.

From her mother she inherited a strong Protestant attachment to work and philanthropy; from her grandfather, the painter C.S. Lidderdale, came her lifelong affiliation to the arts. These were the guiding strands in her many-sided interests and activities.

In the first part of her career, after leaving Oxford with an Honours degree in PPE, Lidderdale was able to realise her exceptional talent for organisation and research through a variety of posts in the Civil Service. She joined the Ministry of Shipping in 1940 and was secretary to a number of cabinet committees during the Second World War, and immediately afterwards to the Fuel Committee in the winter of 1946-47, one of the hardest of the century.

During the post-war Attlee government she worked especially closely with Herbert Morrison, and she played a leading role in organising the Festival of Britain in 1951. She was secretary and chief researcher for the Nathan Report on Trust Law at that time, and even after leaving the Civil Service in 1953 she continued to carry out research for a variety of official and semi-official inquiries, particularly concerned with education and employment.

The pattern of her life thereafter was to prove Jane Lidderdale's talent not only for organisation, but for far-sighted leadership and a determined resolve to set goals for herself and others, and then to achieve them. In this respect she had some of the characteristics of a renowned philanthropist of an earlier generation, Octavia Hill.

Lidderdale came to know Rachel Alexander of Aubrey House, Kensington, and together they opened Ray House, a residential home for elderly ladies. But after visiting one of Britain's first Day Centres, in Camberwell, south-east London. Lidderdale decided that there should be a similar place in North Kensington where frail elderly people could have a degree of care, enjoy company and share in activities, thus avoiding the need to leave their homes for an institutionalised ending to their lives. She found a site and, using her formidable range of contacts and skills of persuasion, raised the pounds 40,000 needed to build the centre she envisaged. Lidderdale became the founding Chairman of the Kensington Day Centre in 1963 and remained so until 1988. It was her devotion, interest and diplomacy that gave the centre the secure foundation and excellent relationship with the Royal Borough which continues today.

In the midst of this work Lidderdale became interested in the Byam Shaw School of Painting and Drawing (as it was then called), a few doors away from her home in Campden Street.

She was elected to its Council of Management in 1961 and nine years later became Chairman. The Byam Shaw derived its strength as a fine art school from its independence from the state system. Throughout the 18 years of her distinguished chairmanship Lidderdale was adept at preserving that independence in the context of a constantly fluctuating art education scene; she ensured that the school's Diploma retained its high reputation and status, and among many changes she guided the school through its move in the 1980s from Kensington to Archway in north London.

Jane Lidderdale made an art of chairmanship. The least flamboyant of figures, always soberly dressed and restrained in manner, she made up in the authority of her bearing for her modest stature. She was a stickler for detail. Possessed of great precision of mind, she insisted on clarity of syntax and drafting and on the business-like conduct of meetings; her preference for order was often in elegant contrast to the normal clutter of an art-school studio in which her meetings were conducted.

She was impatient of anything she regarded as sloppy, either in written or oral expression, but she never allowed her own high standards to override her concern for others.

Perhaps the greatest fruit of her researches was Dear Miss Weaver, the biography of her godmother, Harriet Shaw Weaver, published in 1970. Weaver had been the patron of James Joyce, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and others, and Jane Lidderdale's book made a significant contribution to the knowledge and understanding of this period of English literary life and achievement.

Like many people who live alone, she loved the company of friends. She often entertained in her modest London house, where the courtyard garden was her pride. She had a sparkling sense of humour and was very observant both of people and of nature: she loved birds. She had a good eye for pictures, preferring English 20th-century paintings to live with including a number by her friend Professor Carel Weight, and also works by Byam Shaw students purchased over the years at Diploma Shows.

In later life she suffered uncertain health, but she never lost her enquiring mind or her will to do good for other people. She was deeply drawn to matters spiritual, yet it was typical of her many-sided personality that she combined a profundity of spirit with a tremendous sense of fun and a cheerful acceptance of change in the modern world. Perhaps it was this which enabled her to have an exceptional rapport with young children, for whom she would fashion unique toys when they visited her.

Her church was St George's, Campden Hill, where her neat, familiar figure was to be seen every Sunday, and which was the focus of her deep and abiding Christian faith, the foundation of her whole life and her lasting achievements.

Jane Hester Lidderdale, civil servant: born 21 July 1909; OBE 1952; died 7 September 1996.