OBITUARY: George Jeffery

George Jeffery, bookdealer: born London 31 March 1925; married (five children); died Dorset 31 December 1994.

The Farringdon Road has long been the dreariest of all the approaches to the City of London, but for devoted hunters of antiquarian and secondhand books the stretch between Clerkenwell Road and Cowcross Street possessed a romance excelled by no other thoroughfare in the world. Until last year this was home to a collection of kerbside stalls known as the Farringdon Road barrows. Early every Saturday morning, those who dabbled in, dealt in, or just doted on old books would cluster around the tarpaulin-sheeted barrows awaiting the moment when the proprietor would whip back the covers and the battle for the books would commence.

The maestro orchestrating this activity was George Jeffery, whose death aged 69 signals the end of an era. Both his father and grandfather had worked the barrows before him, setting up in East Street in 1880, then moving to Farringdon Road just before the First World War.

Born in Clerkenwell, Jeffery trained as a printer after leaving school but the Second World War intervened. Broad rather than tall, lion-hearted, and blessed with enormous strength, Jeffery made an ideal paratrooper and saw action at Arnhem. Immediately

after the war he worked as a printer in Cairo but eventually joined his father back on the barrows, taking them over in 1957 and only retiring (or taking a back seat in favour of his son) two years ago.

To satisfy his voracious customers, George Jeffery needed fresh stock of some 2,500 volumes a week, or 100,000 a year. This was bookselling on a monumental scale, hard graft demanding considerable stamina and a prodigious knowledge. Books poured into hiswarehouse in Clerkenwell (to which customers were not welcome), huge job lots initially hauled by handcart from Sotheby's late and much-lamented Hodgson's rooms in Chancery Lane.

The major auction houses frequently delegated to Jeffery the task of clearing whatever remained from the libraries of large country houses after they had taken their pick. Along with books often came dusty portfolios of engravings, maps, and chests of documents and letters. As late as 1979 a previously unknown contemporary manuscript of St Thomas More's devotional treatise of 1535, A Dialogue of Comfort, turned up on the barrows; this was an extraordinary discovery but a host of finds from a lesser firmament could be found on any Saturday morning and at prices to suit the most penurious collector.

Jeffery dispensed his books without fear or favour, an honest, generous, upright, downright dealer, the undisputed emperor of the lower reaches of the trade. Despite the open-air nature of the barrows he was rarely bothered by book thieves, for he had a reputation for meting out summary justice when he caught them at work.

Many a discarded volume which made a final inauspicious appearance on Jeffery's barrow now enjoys hallowed status in a public or private library, or upon the mahogany shelves of West End booksellers. Indeed, many now well-known dealers began their careers and found their feet scrambling profitably for books on Jeffery's barrows.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high