Papers of and about Alfred Fairbank

Scope and Content

The papers of and about Alfred Fairbank consists of letters from AF to Sir Theodore McEvoy 1965-1972; a letter from AF to Rev. Cecil Lamb 1969; and material given by his son relating to his work, including a catalogue of his work and memorial articles written after his death.

Administrative / Biographical History

Alfred John Fairbank, CBE was born on 12 July 1895. He worked as a civil servant at the Admiralty in London and Bath for more than thirty years, developing his calligraphic interests viewing manuscripts at the V&A. He took part-time classes at the Central School of Art and Design, studying under Graily Hewitt. He was a founding member of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators in 1921, serving variously as President, Honorary Secretary and Treasurer.

Fairbank worked closely with illuminator Louise Powell over a 13 year period that included his manuscript book Ecclesiasticus (1926-9), commissioned by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. At the instance of Stanley Morison, he designed in 1928 the elegant compact typeface known as 'Narrow Bembo'.

He was closely associated with Edward Johnston and worked on a phonetic alphabet with Robert Bridges. He was a leading advocate of handwriting reform, and evolved a simple modern Italic, which was adopted in numerous schools. His Dryad Writing Cards, Handwriting Cards and Beacon Writing Books are now classics. In cooperation with manufacturer George Hughes, he devised the first italic pen nib. In the 1950s he studied palaeography and wrote many influential books, founding the Society for Italic Handwriting in 1952,. On retiring from the Admiralty in 1955, Fairbank moved to the south coast where he worked as a lecturer and advisor at Brighton College of Art until 1966. He died on 14 March 1982.


The papers were arranged/listed by the Crafts Study Centre in the late 1980s/early 1990s and were given the reference code '6/'. They were renumbered with the new reference code 'AJF' by Greta Bertram in 2021. Undated letters were numbered in the order in which they were received at the CSC.

  • AJF/1-25 Letters from AF to Sir Theodore McEvoy
  • AJF/26 Letter from AF to Rev. C.M. Lamb
  • AJF/27 Catalogue of the work of AF
  • AJF/28 AF Thanksgiving Order of Service, 6 May 1982
  • AJF/29 Article, 'Alfred Fairbank's Opus' by Ruari McLean and reproductions of AF's writing
  • AJF/30 AF In memoriam edition of the Journal of the Society of Italic Handwriting, No.107, Summer 1982
  • AJF/31 Invitation card to mark the publication of 'Calligraphy and Palaeography: Essays presented to Alfred Fairbank on his 70th birthday' 1965

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.

Other Finding Aids

A handlist is available on request.

Archivist's Note

This entry was compiled by Greta Bertram, Curator, March 2021.

Conditions Governing Use

Written permission must be sought before any archival material is published.

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.


None expected.

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