A.N.L. Munby book collector, academic and ghost story writer

Found - a scarce pamphlet outlining the life of Alan Noel Latimer ('Tim') Munby (1913 - 1974). He was born on Christmas Day, hence the unused name 'Noel.' The Victorian diarist and poet Arthur Munby ('Man of Two Worlds' of Derek Hudson's book) who 'adored the roughest working-girls' and was for years secretly married to his kitchen-maid was his great-uncle. As a schoolboy and as an undergraduate (at King's College, 1932-35) he collected books; for a brief period after graduation he worked at Quaritch's bookshop. During the war he joined the Territorials (Queen Victoria Rifles); he was captured at Calais in 1940 and held as a prisoner of war in Germany for 5 years. On his return to England he worked at Sotheby's, then in 1947 was appointed College Librarian at King's. He is best known for an excellent collection of ghost stories The Alabaster Hand. Ghost fiction watchers Boucher and McComas praised the stories in The Alabaster Hand as 'quietly terrifying modernizations of the M.R. James tradition.' M.R. James was also a Cambridge academic and Cambridge produced several other writers of fantastic fiction.. The pamphlet is typical of the slim memorial papers  turned out at the great universities when a distinguished or well known colleague had died.

Alan Noel Latimer Munby
T.D., Litt.D.

A Memoir composed by direction of
the Council of King's College, Cambridge

Privately printed for

Alan Noel Latimer Munby ('Noel because he was born on Christmas Day, of 1913, but 'Tim' to everyone, from Latimer) was one of the best known and best loved Kingsmen of the past forty years. His devotion to King's, his efficiency and unaffected friendliness as an administrator, and his astonishing mastery of bibliographical detail made him for twenty-seven years an ideal Librarian for the College. But he also served it as Praelector from 1951 to 1960, a most welcoming 'father' for those who returned to take their M.A. or higher degree, and as Domus Bursar from 1964 to 1967, when the major joint building scheme with St Catharine's and the reconstruction of the Hall required someone of practical ability, intimate knowledge of our workings, and tact. And even this was far from being all. Thus when the Royal Family visited the College in 1951 he was put in charge of the arrangements, for which seventeen draft schedules were needed before Provost Sheppard was finally happy. When the Fellows' summer parties (called 'Ladies Nights' until we had Fellows of both sexes) were inaugurated, it was he who mainly devised the sideshows. When the cost of running the Chapel became so great that it was seriously proposed that we should set up a turnstile and charge for admission, it was he who undertook to organize alternative ways of raising money (by instituting the stall and giving prominence to the great chest of King Henry VII as a receptacle for alms), with such success as to make further measures unnecessary. He devised an ingenious method of cutting down a banner strung by climbers between the Chapel pinnacles without going to the considerable expense of hiring steeplejacks. The friendship he formed with Major Allnatt, ripened in shooting parties on the latter's Osea Island, was a liaison most helpful to the College in the period when elaborate arrangements had to be made for the accommodation of the Rubens Adoration of the Magi in the Chapel. When a thief was found to have cut out and stolen Ackermann prints from volumes in our Library and those of a dozen other Cambridge Colleges, he devoted some four hundred hours to refitting the many that were recovered into their rightful places. In situations as varied as these people turned to Tim, and his help was unstinted. His loss, like that of John Saltmarsh three months earlier, is irreparable. Often no one else could have done the things they did; and they have left, besides, a yawning gap in the collective living memory of the College. Tim was President, and a particularly useful one, of the King's Association in the last year of his life.

  The 'Munby, Man of Two Worlds' of Derek Hudson's recent book (the Victorian gentleman who adored the roughest working-girls and was for years secretly married to a kitchen-maid) was Tim's great-uncle. His father, A. E. Munby, was an architect (he designed the Library Building at Gresham's School, styled 'classical re-revival' by Pevsner.) His mother was née Ethel Greenhill, and he had one sister. When he went to Clifton it was fortunately to School House, then under the admirable Cecil Taylor, a great friend of Provost Sheppard and of George Rylands (who passed on to Tim a portrait of Taylor by Duncan Grant); and thus it was that he was steered to King's in 1932. After getting a II.1 in Classics he diverted to English, completing his degree with a II.2. His methodical ways were already evident. Each day was mapped out in advance; and when the clock struck at the end of an hour allotted, say, to reading, he broke off even if he was in the middle of a sentence.

  But books had became his ruling passion even at school, where, encouraged by Taylor, he frequented the dozen antiquarian bookshops of Bristol. (In the first of his stories in The Alabaster Hand a boy has an eerie experience in one of them.) From a greengrocer at Kew he bought a volume of early tracts on vaccination, two of them inscribed by Jenner himself, for ninepence; and a great collector of medical books was lucky to take it off him for five pounds. In his first week at Cambridge he bought for a shilling on David's bookstall a coverless volume, the Aldine Herodian. It had manuscript readings in the margin in what he hoped mightbe the hand of the great Stephanus. Comparison established otherwise, but only after the freshman had been accompanied to the University Library by Sir Ellis Minns and Professor D.S. Robertson. On his first day in College he had had the good fortune to encounter another freshman who was a kindred spirit, Harold Forster; and being himself in lodgings he made Harold's room in 'The Drain' his base, to the extent of setting up a last there and singing as he hammered his shoes. Together they visited David's shop on the crucial Friday evenings and his stall on Saturdays, hovering over the old man as he unpacked his books and snatching choice items from him as soon as he had pencilled in the price. On occasion, indeed, David would rescue a book from the hands of some elderly don with the excuse that 'Mr Munby will probably want it'. With an amiability astonishing as between rival bibliophiles the two friends collected eighteenth-century English verse, tossing a coin when necessary, and amassed more than a thousand items between them. When Tim was billed to read a paper on their joint collection to an undergraduate society, by his account Harold, who had been through it with him word by word beforehand, was the only member who turned up; by Harold's, there were more present, and Tim had to interrupt his reading to silence the disturbing periodic flushings of the neighbouring lavatories by locking each cubicle inside and then climbing over the door. Eventually the problem of ownership was solved when Tim had to sell his share to Harold to pay his degree bill. Meanwhile he had already achieved, in 1934, his first publication, a limited edition of Letters to Leigh Hunt from his son Vincent, with some replies, elegantly printed by another King's undergraduate, Michael Clapham, at his Cloanthus Press.

  On going down in 1935 he was fortunate, at a time when openings were scarce, to obtain through a family friend employment in Bernard Quaritch's bookshop, where he acquired not only knowledge of antiquarian books and their values, but such arts as detaining an unknown customer in conversation while his colleague slipped down to a shop in Albemarle Street to check the name against a list of people notorious for not paying bills. Two years later he moved to Sotheby's.*

  The prospect of war with Hitler's Germany was now all too plain, and Tim joined the Territorials (Queen Victoria's Rifles) in 1936. This brought him contacts with people of all classes in a world very different from that of antiquarian books, contacts which he greatly valued and in some cases retained long after the War. (Ex-C.S.M. Johnson and five others attended his memorial service.) He liked to recall in later years that he was a licensed boxing referee; and the Territorials also provided scope for his practical abilities. When war broke out he was posted to Kent, and as a Captain in the King's Royal Rifle Corps he crossed the Channel in the summer of 1940 with no prospect other than death or capture. The task of his unit was to help in holding Calais for as long as possible while the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk. With fifty-two men and pitifully few weapons they held the N.W. and N.E. bastions of Fort Nieulay under heavy fire for most of May 24. But when the German guns came within a hundred yards he and the French Captain in the neighbouring bastion decided that further resistance would be quixotic. Hastily finishing a bottle of brandy together, they surrendered; but they had inflicted considerable losses on the enemy and gained valuable time for Dunkirk.** He was mentioned in despatches, and received the Territorial Decoration after the War.

* Delightful reminiscences of his early life are included in his article Book-collecting in the 1930s in the Times Literary Supplement for 11 May 1973.

** An account of his activities may be found in Airey Neave's The Flames of Calais, pp. 111–5.

  There followed five years of dreary captivity, at Laufen (1940–41 ), Warburg (1941–42), and finally Eichstätt (1942–45), relieved only by the making of further lifelong friendships and by the ingenuity of the captives. Through his sister's agency intelligence operators at home arranged for him to make clandestine reports in code, to a fictitious girl-friend called Myrtle. But Tim was always at heart a civilian. Once when he appeared on parade with an old sock on his head to keep out the Bavarian winter an officious regular adjutant picked him out: 'Who are you?' 'Captain Munby'. 'Regular or Territorial?' 'Neither'. 'What are you then?' 'I am a collector of ancient manuscripts'. He did in fact manage to communicate to some of his fellows his infectious enthusiasm for his esoteric interests, and even founded an antiquarian society known as 'Tim's old funnies'. Lectures he gave on the English novelists were robust and penetrating. He and a friend, Colonel H.M.C. Jones-Mortimer, used to make up horrific stories during air-raid blackouts, composing alternate paragraphs in an attempt to scare each other, the model being Provost M. R. James' Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. From these arose his more finished solo compositions collected in The Alabaster Hand, which was published after the War and sold 10,000 copies, since then available also in paperback. Jones-Mortimer, as commander of a 'battalion' of prisoners at Eichstätt, had been allowed to choose three companions to share his room, and had chosen, along with Tim, John Buxton, now a Fellow of New College, and Elliott Viney, who was to be the printer of The Alabaster Hand, to all of whom this account is indebted. Food was never far from their hungry thoughts. The first time Jones-Mortimer had met him Tim had given him a precious morsel of sugarbeet. He now became their chief cook, and devised some remarkable plats du jour, such as a hotch-potch pudding steamed in a sock and served with cough-mixture sauce.

  He also amused himself and his fellow captives by producing a guide to the camp in the style of Baedeker, and by composing wry and satirical verses for their monthly magazine and entertainments which are conspicuous for wit and ingenuity and a tone that is sometimes Betjemanesque. Here is a specimen:

The Rockery
Pause, traveller, and see revealed
Amidst the drab Teutonic scene
This corner of a foreign field
That is for ever Golders Green.
Nostalgic memories recall
The garden of dear Mon Repos,
The arty-crafty wattle wall,
The by-pass and the bungalow.
I never pass but what I hear
A ghostly jerry-builder speak,
Who whispers gently in my ear
'This style from nine-and-six a week'.
Dear shades of my suburban home,
Mosaic paths of pottery,
A roguish terracotta gnome,
A garden's quaint God-wottery.

A few of these poems were reprinted, by Viney in 1948, at the instance of his excompanions, in an edition of thirty-five, under the title Lyra Catenata. (One of his short stories, 'The Fourposter', had actually been printed during his captivity, under the parole system, on the press of the Bishop of Eichstätt. He greatly enjoyed arranging for it to be a limited edition to beat all limited editions, with numbered and signed copies, artist's proofs inserted, and hand binding - and indeed it is a great rarity.)

  With his sense of humour, well-furnished mind, and comparative maturity, his characteristic determination to look on the bright side, and his clear conception of what he wanted to do after the War, Tim was better equipped than most to cope with the psychological stresses of captivity. Though he did not himself take part in bids for escape, he used his manual dexterity in making buttons and hat badges for disguises; and at least two Munby Dummies made a triumphantly successful appearance on parade. His reminiscences were apt to select the hilarious, especially of episodes in the final relief, as when they fled for cover at the sight of the local fireengine being driven towards them at full speed across a ploughed field by drunken Russian soldiers, or when he was confronted in a lane by a Russian who was pushing in a wheelbarrow a grandfather clock which he somehow hoped to get to Omsk.

  Tim had been married, at the very outbreak of War, to Joan Edelsten, and he had the ultimate shock of learning, on his repatriation, that she had just died. But most fortunately he was soon able to find happiness again in marriage to a family friend of long standing, Sheila Crowther-Smith, known by now to generations of Kingsmen and others for the hospitality she has unceasingly provided at their home, whether at Huntingdon Road or Lady Margaret Road or Millington Road. (She survives him with their son Giles.)

  Meanwhile he had a futile, if not uninteresting, temporary posting in London to Rear Headquarters of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Branch of the Central Commission for Germany. This brought him one permanent gain – friendship with Olivier, daughter of the art historian and Kingsman A.E. Popham and wife-to-be of Quentin Bell, Professor of the History and Theory of Art at Sussex University. On release from the Army he returned to Sotheby's; but in 1947 King's, aware of his distinction and persuaded by the accession of the libraries of Ronald Balfour and Maynard Keynes that the appointment of a full-time Scholar-Librarian would not now be inappropriate, saw in him the ideal incumbent. He was invited back to Cambridge, for which he was known to have hankerings, and a year later elected to a fellowship.

  An early example of what his expert knowledge could contribute may be given. One item Keynes had long sought in vain was the De Tolerantia of Locke, his earliest major work, published anonymously in Holland. The only copy that had come into the sale room in living memory had been bought for £80 for the Houghton Library at Harvard. From his knowledge of early sales Tim deduced that if there was a copy to be had it was in Scotland, and if in Scotland, in a particular bookshop in Edinburgh. Turned loose in the shop with a ladder, he came down unsteady with suppressed excitement, clutching a small volume with 'De Tol' on the spine, bought it for ten shillings from the unwitting attendant, and gave it to the College on his return. This was only one of a number of rare books he gave or bequeathed to the Library. He also left the College, subject to a life interest, a sum of £1500 to enrich the research material in its older collections.

  The Library provided him with plenty of scope for his talents, both organizing and bibliographical, and he was fortunate to have the able assistance throughout his tenure of Donald Loukes. In 1962 they transferred the Bryant Library and other older classes down to the vacated Muniment Room at the foot of the approach staircase (D), and moved the Keynes Library into a large north-facing room on the first floor of that staircase. Two years later the Rowe Music Library in the western extension (Old Provost's Lodge) was enlarged, and another room of that Lodge, formerly occupied by W. F. Reddaway, was joined to the Library and fitted up as a reading room in his memory. All this demanded careful planning and detailed work.

  Tim also inaugurated a drive to secure for the Library modern literary manuscripts and correspondence. It began in 1951, when Sir Geoffrey Keynes deposited a mass of Keynes papers; and next year many of Roger Fry's were deposited by his daughter. Most important was the bequest by John Hayward in 1965 of his T.S. Eliot manuscripts and letters. His own papers were given by his sisters. There followed the depositing by Quentin Bell of an extensive 'Charleston Archive'. Some items of Provost Sheppard's were added in 1968. Next came E. M. Forster's papers; Rosamund Lehmann gave a large collection of letters addressed to her by many writers; and the Rupert Brooke Trustees deposited a substantial archive. Meanwhile miscellaneous items, many of them of great interest, poured in, nearly all due to Tim's initiative, and in many cases to his personal friendships, and those of George Rylands, in the literary world. The presence of these papers has greatly increased the number of visiting scholars, and hence the work of the Librarian, latterly assisted in this department by Dr Penelope Bulloch.

  Meanwhile he served the University, though holding no office in it, with his usual generosity, notably as a Syndic of its Library for nearly thirty years. The Syndics have named after him a room on the ground floor. They have also launched an appeal for funds to endow a Munby Fellowship of the Library, for research into those branches of bibliographical study to which Tim contributed so much.

  This was the chief, but not the only, way in which he helped the University. Thus when a benefactor left it a fine collection of furniture and objets d'art, he was called in as an experienced valuer to divide it into lots of more or less equal value for distribution among the colleges; and he gave lectures to research students of the History Faculty on sources of material. Nor was Cambridge the only university he helped. Having been called in by Dean Milner-White to report on the library of York Minster in 1957, he helped to secure a subsequent arrangement by which it was staffed by the University of York and made available to its members. He was also, as a member of the Committee of the Centre for East Anglian Studies at the University of East Anglia (Norwich), instrumental in procuring access for its members to the library of Blickling Hall. Blickling's had been one of the libraries he sorted for the East Anglian Regional Committee of the National Trust, on which he served from 1969 to 1974. Anglesey Abbey's was another, and his friendship with the late Wyndham Ketton-Cremer was of the greatest value in dealing with that Felbrigg Hall.

  His scholarship became widely recognized. He was Lyell Reader in Bibliography at Oxford (1962-63) and Sandars Reader at Cambridge (1969-70), Arundell Esdaile Lecturer for 1964 and David Murray Lecturer at Glasgow in 1965, besides being a visiting Fellow of All Souls in 1968. On one occasion he was flown over to lecture for half-an-hour in America, where he was an Honorary Fellow of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York and a member of the Grolier Club. He became a Trustee of the British Museum Library in 1969 and of the British Library Board in 1973. He was elected President of the Bibliographical Society for 1974, but was prevented from functioning by the breakdown of his health. And he was amused as well as honoured to find himself a member of the exclusive Roxburghe Club. of which he became honorary treasurer.

  The following account of his central activities, as bibliographer and book-collector has been contributed by Dr Philip Gaskell, of the year 1947, Librarian of Trinity College, and formerly Fellow, Lay Dean and Assistant Tutor of King's.

  'Tim Munby's bibliographical writings are notable for the wide range of their subject matter, and for the conscientious – though never niggling – accuracy and thoroughness of their scholarship; and besides these two usually incompatible characteristics they are written in a style that is good humoured without being facetious and elegant without adornment. His best work was centred on the history of his own chief passion – collecting books – and he will be remembered as a scholar especially for his accounts of the great and often obsessive book collectors of the nineteenth century, notably Sir Thomas Phillipps. Going on from the collectors themselves, Tim became interested in the auction sales at which their books were bought and sold, in the booksellers with whom they dealt, and eventually in the whole history of the book trade, wholesale, retail and antiquarian. Then there were many associated bibliographical topics in which he became expert (the word is used precisely): the history of bibliography, of libraries and librarianship, of binding, and of handwriting: and although he was never devoted to the history of the technology of book production, he knew enough about it for his main purposes.

  His output of published work was not massive but it was steady. Forty bibliographical papers were published in the twenty-nine years 1946 to 1974 in addition to a good deal of reviewing (mostly for The Times Literary Supplement) and to the production of his major bibliographical writings: pre-eminently the five volumes of Phillipps studies (1951–60, adapted in 1967 with Nicolas Barker as Portrait of an obsession); and then Cambridge college libraries (1959), a useful guide; The cult of the autograph letter (1962); and Connoisseurs and medieval miniatures (1972). He was also general editor of the series Sale catalogues of libraries of eminent persons.

  Of scholarly importance equal, perhaps, to Tim's writings were the collections he made of books relating to his main historical interests. First among these was the astonishing and unrepeatable assemblage of book-sale catalogues which, along with some of his early bibliographical books, have now happily been bought for the University Library; the combined Munby and University Library collections of catalogues make a tool that will be of permanent value to historical scholarship, for which he will be remembered with gratitude. Associated with this core of his own collection were groups of books illustrating his other bibliographical interests, and further groups, which were changed from time to time, assembled as much for the fun of collecting them as for their intrinsic value. Most of these other books will be sold at Sotheby's, and will be described in a book-sale catalogue with which Tim would have been modestly pleased.

  But Tim's great qualities as a scholar and teacher of bibliography cannot be indicated solely by setting values on his writing and collecting. His passion for books, his joy in collecting them, his undeviating insistence upon good bibliographical scholarship were powerfully conveyed to those who approached him (and few collectors, booksellers and bibliographers did not) by the enthusiastic willingness with which he answered every enquiry, by the complete unselfishness with which he shared his knowledge and his time with everyone who called upon them.

  Tim's death is an irreparable loss, for there is no one else who commands the range and authority of his bibliographical scholarship, and no one else who can bring bibliography to life with sheer charm and enthusiasm. If collecting books needs justification, Tim's life and work help to provide it. He became one of the great book collectors himself, and no collector ever put his bibliomania to better use.'

  Books were not the only antiques that Tim collected. Mrs Bell remembers him in Yorkshire entering every antique shop with 'I happen to be interested in Parian ware busts of named Victorian figures'. Another time it might be book trade tokens, or ancient writing materials, or Gothic revival artefacts. He particularly relished specimens of English 'dottiness'. He owned some beautiful pieces of furniture. At one time he had a small portrait by Landseer of the Duke of Bedford's gamekeeper. His romantic picture by Elmore 'On the Brink', showing a woman at the gambling tables of Hamburg, has been bought by the Fitzwilliam Museum.

  Tim spoke as easily as he wrote, with a perfect sense of timing and with all the resources of his humour and irony, effective whether in college debate or after dinner or as a lecturer. As a writer he was a conscious prose stylist, with Macaulay as his model. The five volumes of his Phillipps Studies, which earned for him his Litt.D. in 1962, are so full of biographical as well as bibliographical interest that a successful radio serial, in which he took part, was extracted from them.

  To young people who shared his interests he was immensely encouraging. A shy freshman who met him at a party and expressed an enthusiasm for old books was surprised to receive through the post a few days later two fine catalogues of part of the Phillipps Collection, and some months later the catalogue of an exhibition of English books held in Paris. He also got invitations to meetings of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, of which Tim was President, a reminder of the Sandars Lectures, and joint visits to David's bookstall. Another thing over which Tim took particular trouble was showing beginners in research the tools of their trade and how to use libraries.

  Shooting was his favourite recreation, whether with a syndicate of friends round Cambridge or ambushing duck in the small hours of the morning on the Ouse Washes. Visits to stately homes and country church crawls were other pleasures. He was also a keen and effective gardener, and a skilful handyman who delighted in making things such as miniature furniture. Nor was anyone more ingenious at devising amusements for children. On one occasion he organized a pumpkin-growing competition for those of his friends, the entries to be delivered to the ever cooperative Mr Loukes at King's College Library and judged by Provost Glanville. Dressing up was another thing he loved, and he was delighted to pick up at second hand the uniform of Deputy Lieutenant of a County, complete with cocked hat. On one occasion he appeared at a Research Students' Club party disguised as a research student in a long wig. His repertoire of old music-hall songs, rendered with gusto in a powerful baritone voice as he drove his car, was another feature. With his somewhat military appearance – he used to say latterly that he had matured from a major to a brigadier – he was every inch a Boer War veteran as he bellowed:

Wheel my chair to the window
And wide the casement fling,
For I want to see the folk, dear,
As they go to greet the King...

In fact he radiated fun; and he never lost the sense of mischief which had prompted him as a small boy to write BUGGER with a pin on a burgeoning vegetable marrow in a vicarage garden, and later to devise discomfitures for a self-important prison-camp commandant.

  Always prepared to make the best of things, he accepted changes from the traditional life-style he instinctively loved with light-hearted tolerance, even enthusiasm. He thus found it easy to get on terms with the young; and the mildness of his liberalism, even his shooting, were readily condoned by more radical junior colleagues. He enjoyed being liked, and deserved to be.

  In 1973 he developed arthritis in both hips and two operations became necessary. He came through the first in September 1974, and was even able to go shooting again with the help of a shooting-stick. But before he could have the second a thrombosis consigned him to New Addenbrooke's Hospital. There a hitherto concealed cancer of the pancreas was diagnosed, and he died on the day after his sixty-first birthday, on 26 December. The attendance at his memorial service, filling the whole of the Chapel beyond the screen, was a fitting tribute to the width of his activities and token of a multitude of kindnesses to individuals.

The photographs are by A. C. Barrington-Brown and, by kind permission, Miss G. Tallerman.

Printed in Great Britain by Kingprint Ltd, Richmond, Surrey © King's College Cambridge 1975

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  1. Pingback: Episode 85 – The Tudor Chimney by A.N.L. Munby - A Podcast to the Curious – The M.R. James Podcast

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