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Jeffrey Spittal, 1924-2013

Jeffrey Spittal

Jeffrey Spittal

28 November 2013

Charles Jeffrey Spittal (known as Jeffrey), former Librarian-in-charge of the Queen’s Building Library, died in October aged 89. Jennifer Scherr offers a tribute.

For 35 years, Jeffrey served the staff and students of the Engineering Faculty, the School of Mathematics and the Geology Department as their librarian. Upon retirement in 1984, he spent more than 20 years as Honorary Librarian of the New Room (John Wesley’s historic chapel in Broadmead), becoming an expert bibliographer and biographer of Methodist history.

Jeffrey was born in Catford in 1924, the son and grandson of schoolteachers. After his mother died in 1933, he and his father moved to Bath. His headmaster at the City of Bath Boys’ School noted his ‘bookish’ interests and his conscientious, frank and open manner.

In 1947 Jeffrey married Evelyn Blake, a nurse whom he had met whilst fire-watching at Cossham Hospital during the Second World War. They moved to Frampton Cotterell, where they remained all their lives. Evelyn predeceased him in 2000. 

Jeffrey’s career began as an assistant in George’s Bookshop at the top of Park Street. In 1945 he started as a Junior in the University Library. After gaining his chartership as an Associate of the Library Association, he was appointed Engineering Faculty Librarian in 1949, and planned the library’s move in 1955 from the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College to the Faculty’s new home in the Queen’s Building.

Jeffrey was a reference librarian through and through: he was in his element tracking down material for researchers, and has left many networks of enquirers grateful for his assistance. He was one of the University’s ‘characters’, sometimes awkward and abrasive, but much respected and admired for his bibliographic skills, his collection-building, and the impressive range of his knowledge. A champion of user education, he introduced an enquiries desk, organised sessions to help undergraduates with their research projects, and commissioned a tape-slide guide to the library. He was also in the forefront of local library co-operation, being Chairman of the Western Group of the Library Association’s Reference Special and Information Section for several years. 

Beyond the University, Jeffrey was a founder member and lifelong supporter of the Victorian Society. At home, he and Evelyn helped to found the Frampton Cotterell and District Local History Group, of which he was Secretary and then Chairman, and Evelyn Treasurer. He was also a founder member of the Avon Local History Association. During his retirement, he collaborated with a fellow member of the English Place-Name Society, John Field, to produce A Reader’s Guide to the Place-Names of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland (1990).

Jeffrey was a librarian of the old school, who knew his stock intimately: even after retirement he was able to remember the details of a book donated in memory of a student who had died 30 years before. He once wrote that he believed a librarian should be on duty all his waking hours, much like a vicar, and his life certainly fulfilled this belief.


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