Obituary: Lord Kenyon

Nicolas Barker
Wednesday 19 May 1993 00:02

Lloyd Tyrell-Kenyon, university and museum administrator: born 13 September 1917; succeeded 1927 as fifth Baron Kenyon; President, University College of North Wales, Bangor 1947-82; President, National Museum of Wales 1952- 57; Trustee, National Portrait Gallery 1953-88, Chairman 1966-88; Chairman, Friends of the National Libraries 1962- 85; Member, Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts 1966-93; married 1946 Leila Cookson (two sons, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Gredington, Shropshire 16 May 1993.

LLOYD KENYON's life was devoted to public service, given in the most unaffected and undemanding way.

Born on the border of England and Wales, he was equally at home on either side of it. Despite ill-health which troubled him throughout his life (his sight was always poor, and latterly he was almost blind), he never let it interfere with his many activities. These included the improvement of agriculture and the health service in Wales, service to the University College of North Wales at Bangor, of which he was President, and (more briefly) as President of the National Museum of Wales. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts and, earlier, of the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, a director of Lloyds Bank, and chairman of its North West Board. He was also a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery from 1953 and chairman of the trustees, 1966-88, and chairman of the Friends of the National Libraries, 1962-85.

Of all the good things that he did, perhaps those last two gave him the greatest pleasure. Succeeding Sir Geoffrey Keynes as chairman of the trustees of the National Portrait Gallery, for over 35 years he saw it grow from a small if entirely happy coterie, the natural home of the few who were interested in historical portraiture (whether the sitter or the painter interested them most was immaterial), to become one of the great national galleries, with a distinct identity of its own. When he began, Kingsley Adams had only just succeeded Sir Henry Hake as director; he saw three other directors, David Piper, Roy Strong and now John Hayes, under whose diverse talents the gallery grew in size and reputation. He had been looking forward keenly to the opening of the new building on the north side of Orange Street, which will at last give the gallery space to concentrate both display and its manifold research activities in one site, something he had always pressed for.

The Friends of the National Libraries and the Historic Manuscripts Commission he served with equal devotion. Both had a relatively small impact when he started; both have since attained a wider sphere, and are better known, for which again he was largely responsible. Books were, indeed, the great enthusiasm of his life, and he was a substantial and enthusiastic collector. Characteristically, he was not interested in the obvious or colourful; his passion was early English liturgical books. They were rare when he started and virtually unfindable when he finished. He knew a great deal about his own books, and others like them in public collections, learning that he never paraded, but which was always at the service of librarians. He was a courageous bidder at auctions, not afraid to pay a high price for what he knew to be rare; equally, he did not despise imperfect or shabby copies when, again, he knew that they might be the only ones he might see. It was one of many sadnesses of his life latterly that he was obliged to sell the major part of his collection.

He was not just interested in old books. He had a large part in the revival of the Gregynog Press, the great Welsh contribution to the cause of fine printing before the Second World War. The revival began in 1974 when the Council of the University of Wales agreed to fund a Printing Fellowship. The first fellow, Michael Hutchings, was appointed; and the press came formally into being in 1978. The succession of books, finely printed from metal type, illustrated with woodcuts and bound by hand, had begun again where it originally was, Newtown, Glamorgan. Kenyon took no credit for this, though it was largely his doing.

I suspect that these activities, which I knew, and all the many others which I did not know, were not only welcome in themselves but also as a distraction from troubles, which seemed to come to him unfairly often. He bore them without complaint, and with the same fortitude that he stood his own infirmities. His cheerful smile never weakened, and the eyes behind the pebble glasses saw more than most people believed. The slow cancer that finally carried him off brought to an end a truly useful life, one spent doing good without seeking for a reward. The support that he gave will be remembered with gratitude by the many friends he made in giving it.

(Photograph omitted)

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