Obituary: Peter Jackson ; Man of Parts Who Put Together the Largest Collection in Private Hands of Maps and Prints Relating to London

By Silvester-Carr, Denise | The Independent (London, England), May 7, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Peter Jackson ; Man of Parts Who Put Together the Largest Collection in Private Hands of Maps and Prints Relating to London


Silvester-Carr, Denise, The Independent (London, England)


WHENEVER PRINTS or maps of old London have been borrowed for exhibitions, television programmes or books, the name of Peter Jackson has invariably featured in the list of credits. Many seeking information about the capital's past sought his help because, apart from an encyclopaedic knowledge of London's history and topography, he owned what is thought to be the largest collection in private hands of material relating to London.

Jackson was a man of many talents - antiquarian, artist, author, bookbinder, broadcaster, sculptor - but his passion was London. For more than 50 years he was a magpie pecking away in antiquarian bookshops and salerooms. Prints, maps, drawings, books, ceramics, medals, playbills and ephemera associated with London were bought, catalogued and put in files or carefully mounted and stored in cabinets in his large house in west London.

Peter Jackson first came into the public eye in 1949 when he began drawing historical cartoons for the London Evening News. The Brighton-born artist had then recently left Willesden School of Art and heard that the newspaper wanted a weekly series on London, similar to Ripley's "Believe it or Not" cartoons in the Sunday Express. He sent off a few drawings with descriptive paragraphs and was subsequently invited for a meeting. Ideas were floated and the historical strips began. They lasted on and off until the paper closed in 1980. "London is Stranger Than Fiction" gave way to "The London Explorer" and "Somewhere to Go". They were all later published in book form by Associated Newspapers, and are now collectors' items.

His evocative "Saul of Tarsus", which appeared in the first issues of the Eagle comic, reflected Jackson's deeply held religious beliefs - he was a Sunday School teacher for many years - and was the first of many historical strips produced for the back page, though for Alfred Harmsworth's Answers magazine he returned to London themes with serials such as "Jack the Jailbreaker", a cartoon biography of Jack Sheppard, the early 18th- century robber from Stepney.

Accumulating information for the cartoons inspired Jackson and set him off on the lifelong trawl that netted his incomparable collection. The quest led to second-hand bookshops. "In those days," he said, "prints were stacked in boxes outside on the pavement marked `Everything for sixpence', and I ransacked them for ones I liked." He became well-known in the salerooms and often an auctioneer would knock down a difficult lot to him, calling out before anyone else could make a bid, "Thirty bob, Mr Jackson - all right?" The greatest excitement was getting home and discovering what was in the boxes and portfolios. One early coup was his purchase, for less than pounds 10, of Franz Hogenberg's rare 1569 engraving of the Royal Exchange, the earliest topographical engraving produced in England.

Very little escaped Jackson's attention or collection. Curators from national museums would cast covetous eyes at the 25,000 prints when they enquired about missing links in their holdings.

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