On 12th February, 2018, Andrew Saint* wrote in The Independent:
“When Francis Sheppard, who has died aged 96, applied to be the first general editor of the Survey of London, his interviewers at the London county council asked him if he could pledge to publish a new volume in the series once a year. Rashly he said yes.
That was mission impossible, he soon discovered. And only weeks into the job, his wife, Pamela, died in childbirth, leaving him with two small children. Yet between 1954 and his retirement in 1983 Sheppard produced no fewer than 16 volumes of the Survey of London.
In the process he transformed what had been a sporadic and selective record of London’s historic buildings, area by area, into a model of urban topographical writing, rich in content, authoritative, gracefully composed, beautifully illustrated, and still an unequalled resource for anyone interested in London’s history and architecture. No city in the world can boast an equivalent to the Survey of London series, which is now well past its 50th volume. It owes its modern form and reputation to Sheppard, who may be fairly claimed to be London’s greatest topographical writer since John Stow, the Elizabethan historian.
That Sheppard’s name is not better known is due to his modesty. Disliking fuss, he was content to be a tiny cog in the municipal machine that was the London county council, later the Greater London council, so long as he was allowed to get on with the job, aided by a small team of loyal subordinates. Yet he was not without ambition or drive.
Some mornings he would bound up the stairs of County Hall (pictured above), not waiting for the lift, bolt like a rabbit into his office and nestle between a fan of papers, hardly emerging before the next draft chapter had been completed for the typist in his beetling longhand. On others he might be found head deep in some record office or private archive, making the pinpoint-accurate notes from which his texts were composed…”.
*While General Editor of the Survey of London, Andrew Saint was co-author of the volumes on Battersea, Woolwich and South East Marylebone.