Miss E. J. Davis Bequest

The bookplate ‘Presented to the IHR by Miss E. J. Davis Bequest’ appears in fifty-odd volumes that came to the Library through one of the Institute’s most devoted workers, Eliza Jeffries Davis (1875–1943). From a well-to-do farming family in Worcestershire, and a London graduate in 1897, she worked first as a schoolteacher in Bedford (1898–1904) and then as a teacher-training college lecturer and vice-principal in London (1904–12), all the while making her first forays into historical research, notably (with her sister Joyce) on the late medieval ecclesiastical history and parish records of London for the Victoria County History, at that time unconnected with the University (VCH London, I, 1909).

Miss Jeffries Davis turned decisively to History with an MA in 1913, her thesis on Lollardy in London, joining the staff of University College in 1914, initially as a research assistant. At UCL she was appointed Lecturer on the Sources of English History in 1919, and Reader in the History and Records of London in 1922, retiring in 1940. Throughout her time there she was a tireless and effective assistant to Professor A. F. Pollard in a series of new enterprises in History, at and beyond the college. Besides her work for the IHR, she was involved in the Historical Association, co-founded by Pollard in 1906, (notably as editor of History 1922–34) and in many other historical and related societies and official bodies. All the while she was teaching at University College and supervising graduate students at the IHR, maintaining a steady output of publications on London history, notably for the present context a history of the University of London’s Bloomsbury site (London Topographical Record, 17, 1936).

She came to be associated especially with the IHR, ‘Miss Davis’s Institute’, as a senior figure joked. EJD (but known as such only to her closest colleagues) served as the IHR’s first librarian (1921–3), laying foundations for the collection in its draughty make-do temporary huts. She was on the Institute Committee from the beginning, and ran one of the first tranche of seminars, on the History of London. For a year in 1939–40 she served as Acting Secretary and Librarian when Guy Parsloe was seconded to the Ministry of Information, keeping the place ticking over even while access was restricted by the Ministry’s occupation of most of Senate House.

At her death she gave the Institute first choice of her books after her family. The fact that relatively few came to the library, in 1946, should probably be put down to its London collection being already well stocked because she had been responsible for it. Her gift nonetheless allowed gaps to be filled on a variety of London topics, notably the histories of City churches and other ecclesiastical matters. 

The books and pamphlets in question show all the signs of a historian’s working library: battered covers, rebindings, odd cuttings and letters pasted in, margins annotated and title-pages dedicated. 

Endearingly, they derive from all the phases her career as a historian, from a Christmas present of 1912 from her sisters (The English Church in the Sixteenth Century), to a gift of 1935 to ‘Miss Eliza Jeffries Davis from her fellow-Fellows’ at UCL, Elsie Hitchcock and Professor R. W. Chambers (The Lyfe of Sir Thomas Moore, Knighte, written by William Roper, ed. E. V. Hitchcock, Early English Text Society original series 197). There is even a ‘spare copy (has two already) discarded by Univ. Coll. Library’ . . . characteristically she added the commendation ‘good bibliographies’ (London Botanic Gardens). It is cheering to find still in the IHR Library such reminders of one of the pioneering women historians who gave so much more to the Institute than a few dozen books.

By Chris Lewis (IHR/KCL)