Gavin Bridson

By Myers, Robin | The Independent (London, England), February 22, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Gavin Bridson

Myers, Robin, The Independent (London, England)

Bibliographer and librarian

As the son of a book-collector and grandson of an antiquarian bookseller, Gavin Bridson had bibliophily in his blood. His bibliographical output in graphic art printing and natural history illustration was prodigious. A Guide to Nineteenth Century Colour Printers (1975), jointly with Geoffrey Wakeman, was followed by Printmaking & Picture Printing: a bibliographical guide to artistic and industrial techniques in Britain, 1750-1900 (1984). After Wakeman's death in 1987, Bridson continued alone. His last letter announced the impending completion of his "Historical Directory of Graphic Arts Printers in the British Isles, 1750-1900" - if over- large for paper publication, then to be available online.

In natural history, his first publication was Natural History Manuscript Resources in the British Isles (1980, with Valerie Phillips and Anthony Harvey). The History of Natural History: an annotated bibliography (1994), revised in four volumes, will be published by the Linnean Society later this year. In 1990 came, with James White, Plant, Animal & Anatomical Illustration in Art & Science: a bibliographical guide from the 16th century to the present day. His exhibition catalogue Printmaking in the Service of Botany (1986) was followed by American Botanical Prints of Two Centuries (2003), for which he was awarded the medal of the American Historical Print Collectors Society in 2005 - in 1992, the Society for the History of Natural History had awarded him their Founder's Medal.

Gavin Bridson was the son of the BBC producer D.G. Bridson, and Vera Richardson, a fabric designer. After a disrupted and unhappy childhood - evacuation, with his twin sister, Hermione, was traumatic; his parents split up, and his mother converted to Roman Catholicism and moved to Braunton in Devon - Gavin was sent to Douai Abbey, a Benedictine foundation in Berkshire. There he nearly died of pneumonia and pleurisy, but apart from recollections of interminable chapel services and choir singing, school seems largely to have passed him by - he made no lasting friends, sat no public examinations, and left school at 16 to work in a television shop. He built his own radio and became a wireless ham.

Loving jazz, he began studying its history and buying records, eventually amassing a vast collection and an encyclopaedic knowledge. In later life, he never rested until he had researched every aspect of a subject, whether for work or a leisure pursuit. In 1954 he was called up for National Service in the Royal Hampshire Regiment, and saw active combat in Malaya (as it then was) as a drill sergeant in intelligence. This gave him a taste for detective work, which by a circuitous route, via the police, which he joined on being demobbed, eventually led him to bibliographical research.

He had envisaged being engaged in forensic work, but crime was low in Torquay and filling up a charge sheet by booking women parked on double-yellow lines not at all to his taste.

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