Papers of and about Alfred Fairbank

Scope and Content

Collection of letters, photographs and publications relating to Alfred Fairbank (1895-1982) and his work.

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 now ref. AJF/1 and 2 were arranged and listed by the Crafts Study Centre in the late 1980s/early 1990s as part of the calligraphy 'archive', with the reference code '6/'. They were renumbered as separate collections, with the new reference code 'AJF' by Greta Bertram in 2021, and newly-accessioned material has since been added to the collection. 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, 1965-1970, and 1 from AF to Rev. C.M. Lamb, 1969
  • AJF/2 Memorabilia given by AF's son, John Fairbank, including his Catalogue of the work of AF
  • AJF/3 'Augustino's Birds: a calligraphic frieze', reproductions of pages in the 1568 handwriting manual by Augustino da Siena, re-published in 1975 with a foreword by Alfred Fairbank, and 2 letters and a card from AF to Ida Henstock
  • AJF/4 Photograph of a Society of Scribes and Illuminators meeting at Cleves [?1935]

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, and edited by Shirley Dixon, Archivist, June 2022.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.


It is likely that further Fairbank-related material will be offered to the CSC. Material of interest will be added to this collection.

Related Material