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Obituary: Jean Mortimer

We are sorry to have to let colleagues know that Mrs Jean Mortimer (ne Bennet) died on 7 February.

Miss Bennet was appointed Assistant Librarian in the Brotherton Library in November 1940 and was promoted to Sub-Librarian in October 1946. She resigned some months later but maintained a close association with the Library, rejoining the staff briefly (as Mrs Jean Mortimer) for three months in 1957, during an interregnum between the resignation of one member of staff and the arrival of a permanent successor.

Mrs Mortimer was married to Mr Russell Mortimer, former Senior Sub-Librarian in the Brotherton Library, who died in 2004.

Chris Sheppard and Oliver Pickering have contributed the following recollection of Mrs Mortimer:

Jean Mortimer was an active historian for much of her life, publishing important work on Dean Anthony Higgin, the seventeenth-century founder of Ripon Cathedral Library, and on the history of the Quaker movement in Leeds. In this field her most substantial contribution was an edition of Leeds' Friends Minute Book, 1692 to 1712, prepared with her husband and fellow historian, Russell Mortimer, and published by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society in 1980. She had joined the Society of Friends in 1973, and served local Quakers as Clerk of both Roundhay Meeting (the Mortimers' local meeting) and Leeds Monthly Meeting as a whole. Jean Mortimer was also a prominent member of the Thoresby Society (the Leeds local history society), of which she was a Vice-President and the author of several of its publications; and of the long-established Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, of which she was the first - and remains the only - female President. Jean Mortimer is best remembered in the world of scholarship for her discovery of a previously unrecorded book printed by William Caxton, the father of printing in England. In 1952, engaged in re-cataloguing books in Ripon Cathedral Library, which was in disarray after the Second World War, Jean came upon a ragged, late fifteenth-century composite volume which contained a distinct mysterious item bound with three clearly-identified others. Undeterred by an eighty-year-old label on the front cover saying 'Please do not touch this book', Jean began to investigate. By ingenious comparative study of the type used to print the unidentified item, with the help of colleagues whom she would modestly acknowledge, she established that it came from Caxton's press in about 1480. No other copy of the book by the Italian humanist Laurentius Gulielmus Traversagni is known to have survived. The Ripon copy was given to the Cathedral Library in about 1620 and was then forgotten, escaping the notice even of the legendary bibliographer Thomas Frognall Dibdin when he visited Ripon in 1815 specifically to search for Caxtons. Jean was more observant. In 1960 the Caxton was acquired for Leeds University Library, with the generous assistance of Lord Brotherton's niece-in-law Mrs D.U.McGrigor Phillips, and it remains the Library's most celebrated unique printed book, in part a memorial to Jean Mortimer. The funeral of Jean Mortimer is to be held at Lawnswood Cemetery and Crematorium, at 1.40 pm, on Tuesday, 19 February 2008, when the flag will be flown at half-mast in Mrs Mortimer's memory.

Published: 15 February 2008