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Photograph of Ralph Hyde

​Ralph Hyde

Ralph Hyde (25 March 1939–5 June 2015)

Ralph Hyde, Keeper of Prints, Drawings and Maps at Guildhall Library from 1977 to 1999, died on 5 June 2015. Jeremy Smith, who worked with Ralph at Guildhall Library, writes about his enthusiasm for London history and advocacy of the importance of graphic materials, particularly the relatively neglected aspects of the subject, most notably the history of birds-eye and panoramic views.

After beginning his career at Marylebone Library under Ann Saunders, Ralph Hyde moved to Guildhall Library as assistant to James Howgego, Keeper of Prints and Pictures.  Working at first in the splendidly impressive Victorian library in Basinghall Street, he moved in 1972 to the new premises in the Guildhall West Wing in Aldermanbury (where the printed book collection remains), and in 1977 he became Keeper.

He was very much the all-round librarian giving his customary energetic attention to cataloguing, enquiry services, conservation, acquisitions and display. But his greatest enthusiasm was for the collection itself and he was a passionate spokesman for the importance of graphic materials in the study of London history. This bore fruit in his many books and exhibitions and in the high profile that he generated for the Guildhall collection.

Particularly during the period in which Barbican Art Gallery was part of the same department with Guildhall Library and Art Gallery, he worked closely with curators to produce exhibitions relating to topographical and other graphic collections.

His 1975 catalogue of Victorian printed maps of London and his introductory notes for most of the important London map facsimile publications remain standard texts in weekly, if not daily, use at Guildhall Library and London Metropolitan Archives. But his very particular contribution to the study of London history and the history of image making was directed towards relatively neglected aspects of the subject, most notably the history of birds-eye and panoramic views, but also architectural perspective drawings and images used in various forms of early printed ephemera. He helped open new avenues of research in these fields.

His publications include key works on panoramas, on the many extraordinary perspective drawings and plans made in preparation for building projects which never materialised (this jointly with Felix Barker), stationers’ almanacks,  engraved letter heads, peep shows and London ward maps.

Through these publications and exhibitions his reputation as an expert on London history, maps, images and panoramas became international. His helpfulness to scholars, curators and students was legendary, and he encouraged a strong commitment to public service in his staff.

After retirement from the City of London his programme of research and publication was unabated. As recently as March 2015 his ‘Paper Peep Shows: the Jonathan and Jacqueline Gestetner Collection’, was published by The Antique Collectors Club breaking much new ground. He continued his long standing involvement with the London Topographical Society and as a member of the editorial boards of the journal Print Quarterly - the September 2015 edition of which contains no less than three reviews which emerged from his efficient and librarian-tidy study in Blackheath only weeks before his untimely death.

06 October 2015
Last Modified:
27 September 2018