Obituary: John Pafford
Tuesday 26 March 1996
During his 22 years as Goldsmiths' Librarian of London University, between 1945 and 1967, he directed and promoted the growth of the university library into a notable centre of research and scholarship. On a budget that was never generous, he came near to doubling its holdings, and having accomplished its recovery from war damage, developed its premises to house great new collections which he helped to attract. The momentum he gave the library was of a kind to survive his retirement in 1967 and can be sensed even in the present financially dismal situation.
Pafford was a Wiltshire man, born in the pleasant village of Bradford- on-Avon in 1900. A year later his parents moved to the nearby parish of Holt, where from the ages of three to ten he went to the village school. Then he moved up to Trowbridge High School for Boys. He was good at his books, with a bent for literature, and especially good at games: he played cricket and football for the school and was in the rifle-shooting and boxing teams. After coming down from school he was a pupil-teacher in the Trinity Boys Elementary School, Trowbridge, until his 18th birthday, when he was accepted by the elite Inns of Court Officers' Training Corps. He passed out with a silver medal for boxing and a commission in the Wiltshire Regiment. He was not sent overseas, and was demobbed in March 1919.
That September, after a spell of uncertificated elementary school teaching, he went to University College London with an ex-service grant. There he sat under both the legendary William Paton Ker, the Quain Professor of English, and R.W. Chambers who succeeded him in the chair. On graduation in 1922 Pafford worked as an assistant on the college library staff while he studied for the university's newly instituted Diploma in Librarianship. This he obtained in 1924; in 1926 he was elected to Fellow of the Library Association. During this period he was a voluntary lecturer in English and literature at the Working Men's College in Camden Town and taught English in London County Council evening classes. In 1925 he was appointed Librarian and Lecturer in English at the famous Selly Oak Colleges in Birmingham.
Here he spent six years, living as tutor in Fircroft College. To his librarianship and teaching he added research, in the shape of preparing an edition of John Bale's King Johan. This earned him the London MA, in those days a degree of notable status. His edition was published as a Malone Society Reprint in 1931. Pafford had defined his three interests: librarianship, teaching and the study of older literature.
In 1930 Selly Oak awarded him a travelling fellowship which enabled him to spend six weeks visiting major libraries on the continent of Europe. Out of his diaries of this tour he made his most substantial book, Library Co-operation in Europe, published by the Library Association in 1935 and still a standard work of reference.
In 1935 he was appointed Sub-Librarian of the National Central Library, an institution with origins in concern for popular education to which his own responded, since 1973 subsumed in the Lending Division of the British Library. At the same time he continued to lecture at the School of Librarianship in University College and was an examiner for the fellowship of the Library Association. In 1938 and 1939 he was involved in evacuation of the National Central Library from London to Hemel Hempstead. In September 1940 he was recalled as a reservist to the Wiltshire Regiment.
He was promoted captain, commanded a company, and served briefly as adjutant of the regiment's training battalion. But because of imperfect hearing (was it that boxing?) he was denied active service overseas. From 1943 to 1944 he was seconded to Southern Command Staff and, in association with Captain H.R. Mainwood of the Army Education Corps, was put in charge of the Army Education Scheme designed to prepare members of the forces for post-war demobilisation. With Mainwood he produced the War Office Manual Army Education Scheme: Librarian's Handbook (1945), and then his own Books and Army Education, 1944-46 (1946).
Meanwhile he also lectured in the School of Librarianship of London University. In the summer of 1947 he made a second tour of libraries abroad, this time in North America. From 1960 he served on the advisory board of the Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas to the great benefit of the libraries of new universities in developing countries. He was, effectively, the founder of the Standing Conference of Libraries in London University. Between 1940 and 1969 he published some 60 articles and reviews to do with libraries and librarianship.
He also found time to realise his interest in subjects beyond his work. After his King Johan he edited two more 16th- century lays, and then The Winter's Tale for the Arden Shakespeare. He was in demand as a reviewer of books on 16th- and 17th-century English literature, as a ranging antiquary knowledgeable about such subjects as the parliamentary garrison of two Wiltshire towns in 1645 to 1646, the spas and mineral springs of the country, the history of Marlborough Castle, the cost of binding books in 1735, the Saxon boundaries of Bradford-on- Avon AD 1001, about balladry, about a 17th-century highwayman, and the early-19th century folksongs of western New York State. Not surprisingly, then, the moderniser of libraries was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1956, and the custodian of other men's books was awarded a Doctorate of Letters by his university in 1963.
Pafford was a great man with a quiet manner that concealed his ability and strength. From 1946 to 1975 I watched his library grow. In 1962 an early Piers Plowman manuscript of particular interest appeared at Sotheby's. I spent a morning with it and told John Pafford what I had seen. Then I was out of the country for about six weeks; when I next met him he told me casually: "I bought you your Piers manuscript."
The concern he showed in his early teaching carried over into consideration for his staff, who loved him. "He was so kind," one of them told me, "that's why we used to run to do things for him." His monument is the University of London Library, which draws students from around the world.
In 1941, John Pafford married Elizabeth Ford, from a family with a long Quaker tradition. Until 1971 when they moved to Bridport in Dorset, they lived within easy walk of the All England Tennis Club, and their hospitality (and generosity about parking) is a legend.
John Henry Pyle Pafford, librarian: born Bradford-on-Avon 6 March 1900; Sub-Librarian, National Central Library 1931-45; Lecturer, London University School of Librarianship 1937-61; Goldsmiths' Librarian of London University 1945-67; FSA 1956; married 1941 Elizabeth Ford (one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died Dorchester 11 March 1996.
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