Obituary: Joan Lancaster Lewis

Joan Cadogan Lancaster, archivist, librarian and historian, born 2 August 1918, FSA 1960, Director India Office Library and Records 1972- 78, CBE 1978, married 1983 The Rev Kenneth Lewis, died 31 December 1992.

JOAN LANCASTER LEWIS was an archivist of great distinction whose career spanned a crucial period in the development of archive administration from the Second World War onwards.

A deceptively quiet and private person, she possessed exceptional qualities of mental application, lucidity and tenacity which carried her forward and outward into areas of increasing responsibility and achievement culminating in her period as Director of the India Office Library and Records, in London from 1972 to 1978. The axioms of her professional credo were simple, deep and universal. A sense of history gave understanding and balance to human affairs. Above all, history rested on the study of archives and manuscripts. These must therefore be preserved and cherished wherever they survived, in Leicester or London, Karachi or Calcutta.

Joan Lancaster was born in 1918, the second daughter of Cyril Cadogan Lancaster, a London pharmacist, and Mary Ann Lancaster. Her education at a South London School and at Westfield College first turned her mind towards medieval England and church history, encouraged by her tutors, Norman Sykes and Rosalind Hill.

After graduating in 1940 she went to work at Leicester Record Office with Eleanor Cottrill - a warm-hearted and vigorous woman who provided in some sense a role model, and gave her an excellent grounding in the basic principles and practices of archive work. By 1943 she had acquired an MA in palaeography and an ALA - an unusual distinction which made her almost equally at home in the management of archives and books.

War-time service in the ATS interrupted her career, and it was not until 1946 that she held her first independent post as archivist at the City of Coventry. Although her tenure was brief, her involvement was intense, for it was here that she developed an expert capacity to carry out historical research and write up the results with clarity and precision.

The results indeed were steadily manifest throughout her life, notably in her Guide to St Mary's Hall, Coventry (1949), her study of Godiva (1967), and her contribution to the Coventry sections of the Victoria County History (1969).

Joan Lancaster's period as Assistant Librarian at the London Institute of Historical Research (1948-60) may in retrospect be seen partly as a bridge between her work with local archives and her later career in the India Office Library and Records. Among other opportunities, it provided her with ample experience in preparing historical bibliographies and the daily management of an academic library. She was also energetic enough to combine it with personal work for the British Records Association (BRA) as Reviews Editor and later Editor of the journal Archives (1951-63), and membership of the BRA Council and its Records Preservation Committee.

This brought valuable insight into the formation of British archival policy, plus the advice and the friendship of distinguished archivists such as Sir Hilary Jenkinson, Sir Robert Somerville and Roger Ellis.

Joan Lancaster's work at the India Office Library and Records (1960-78), where she rose from Assistant Keeper of the Records to Director of the combined department, gave her a unique opportunity to use her experience and develop talents as a creative administrator. When she entered the Records in Whitehall in 1960 she found a small, run-down section, with no trained personnel, no conservation facilities, no publications and a vast accumulation of unknown archives dating back to the 17th century. By 1968 she had established an efficient staff of trained archivists plus an expert conservation unit; had supervised the arrangement and listing of several miles of records; written several key reports and articles; launched a full publications programme, including the definitive edition of the Indian Transfer of Power documents; and also played a leading part in designing and equipping the new repository in Blackfriars Road, to which the whole IOLR moved in 1967. From then until 1972 she shared with the late Stanley Sutton the credit for establishing the IOLR in its new home as a world centre for South Asian and related studies.

Between 1972 and 1978 Joan Lancaster directed the entire IOLR operations, launching new initiatives for recording the memoirs and collecting the papers of civil servants in India and Burma. It was also under her guidance that the IOLR forged close links with archives and libraries in south Asia, through training programmes and the exchange of microfilms - the results of her fruitful visit to the Subcontinent in 1974. She retired in 1978 and was appointed CBE.

Of course, in assessing Joan Lancaster's contribution it has to be realised that she was fortunate to accomplish her plans before government economies put a brake on such institutional expansion, it also has to be said that for some during her later years, she seemed less flexible and approachable than before. None the less the abiding image must be of a tiny, white-haired, indomitable woman, working very hard and long in a big room, but somehow finding the time to help anyone who genuinely sought her advice and support.

She was a complex person: forceful and realistic yet shy and innocent. She was an accomplished musician, playing the organ at several churches. To everyone's surprise she got married in 1983, to Kenneth Lewis, and this relationship brought to her life a final phase of deeper personal happiness.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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 Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...