Sam Gamgee of Tooting and Sir Ernest Barker’s bicycling crime.

The Ward Library holds a collection of books by and about members of Peterhouse. We recently completed the online cataloguing of well over a hundred books and pamphlets by the historian, Professor Sir Ernest Barker. Many of these were  originally given to the library by his son, Nicolas Barker, in 1977.


Professor Sir Ernest Barker

Ernest Barker (23 September 1874 – 17 February 1960) was the first holder of the newly established Chair of Political Science at Cambridge and a Fellow of Peterhouse from 1927 to 1939. He was knighted in 1944 for having organised the collection of books to be sent as replacements to European libraries that had been devastated during the Second World War. He was an Honorary Fellow of Peterhouse until his death in 1960. Barker had wide international contacts and was honoured for his work by numerous governments and foreign universities.

Tucked into the books we found letters to Ernest Barker from various eminent contemporaries, mostly written during the 1930s and 1940s. The authors include British and Empire prime ministers (Stanley Baldwin, Clement Atlee, and Jan Christiaan Smuts), academics, publishers, and men of letters. The examples pictured below were written to Barker by Clement Attlee, British Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, and Sir Max Beerbohm, essayist and novelist .


Letter from Clement Attlee 18.10.1945


Letter from Max Beerbohm 19.11.1944

Another discovery was a letter from the Oxford professor,  J.R.R. Tolkien, written on 22nd March 1956. This was the day of Tolkien’s ruby wedding, and less than a year after the publication of the third and final volume of The Lord of the Rings (which Barker appears to have been reading). Of particular interest to admirers of Tolkien’s fiction are the references in the letter to “a proper hobbitual attention to food, drink (and speech)” at Tolkien’s celebration, and his having received a letter “from a real Sam Gamgee of Tooting”.


From J.R.R. Tolkien 22.03.1956

In addition to books, the collection contains a small, brown, leather case, marked with the initials R.N.G., with six boxes inside holding decorations awarded to Professor Barker in Berlin, Prague, Paris, Brussels, Oslo and Athens.  The Prague jeweller responsible for the Czech Order of the White Lion was, however, represented by two boxes. On opening the second, in place of a fine badge, we discovered a collection of Sir Ernest’s buttons, collar studs and cuff-links.


Medals and cuff-links.

Finally, deposited in place of honour amongst Barker’s various certificates, honours and awards, was a notice of the Petty Sessional Court, in Oxford, dated the 21st of October 1919, from Oswald Cole, Chief Constable. It records that on 17th October, on the Banbury Road, “the said Ernest Barker…  unlawfully did ride a Bicycle upon a certain highway there situate between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise, to wit at 11.20 o’clock at night of the same day, without having a rear lamp so constructed, and so lighted and kept lighted…” He was therefore commanded to appear before the Oxford Justices of the Peace on the 28th October “…to be further proceeded against according to the Law.” A final admonition followed: “Herein fail not at your peril.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: