Amy Joyce Godber, M.A.
Joyce Godber was born on 24 June 1906 in Kempston, Bedfordshire, and brought up in nearby Willington, the only daughter among six sons. They were a very able and hardworking brood; three of her brothers achieved prominence in public life and others, including Joyce made their mark at local rather than national level. She went to Bedford High School and then in 1925, after a short stay in Germany, won a senior scholarship to St Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she specialized in German history. Her brief period as a teacher was unhappy and so, like many ambitious young women of her time, she took a secretarial course, paid for from her savings, and in 1933 went to work for five years at the Oxford University Press. In 1938 she became assistant secretary at the Institute of Historical Research, an appointment which awakened her interest in local history, particularly that of her native county. She joined the Bedfordshire Record Office in 1942 as temporary acting clerk of the records and from the outset worked tirelessly to build up as complete a coverage as possible of the area’s sources. With rare foresight, she persuaded all the long established solicitors in the county to deposit the contents of their strongrooms in the Record Office, rather than consign them to wartime paper salvage. Some solicitors had clients in several counties and the late Joan Wake of Northamptonshire often joined Godber in her sorties to strongrooms. It was not unusual for Godber to collect sacks of documents and take them to the office on the bus. She began work on completing an edition of The Cartulary of Bushmead Priory, near Bedford, begun by Dr G. H. Fowler who had died in 1940. When the edition was published by the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society in 1945, Godber was elected general editor of the society’s publications in succession to Dr Fowler and, a year later, she was given the title of county archivist, the first such appointment in Bedfordshire. The record office was housed in cramped and inconvenient quarters in the Shire Hall, with one room on each of the three floors, but Godber made the most of the limited storage space, introduced a new parish card index and helped arrange the family muniments of the various county landowners including the Whitbread, Grey and Russell families. In 1951 she agreed to administer the sixteenth-century Moot Hall at Elstow, Bunyan’s birthplace, after restoration by the county council to celebrate the Festival of Britain, on condition that a second assistant was appointed to her tiny staff at the Record Office. Each year a special exhibition on a seventeenth-century theme was produced at Elstow, with an explanatory booklet and catalogue and a prestigous opening by a prominent scholar. While in office she published a Guide to the holdings in 1957, a Guide to the Russell Estate Collections (1966), The Cartulary of Newnham Priory, (2 volumes, 1963-4), The Oakley Hunt (a collection of documents, 1965) and, of wider appeal, The Marchioness Grey of Wrest Park, a life of Jemima Campbell, 1722-97 (1968). She was a council member of the British Records Association, and a founder member of the Society of Local Archivists which developed into the present Society of Archivists, of which she was often a vice-chairman. Godber’s most notable publication, History of Bedfordshire, though written during her last two years at the Record Office, was published in 1969, the year after her retirement. It covers in detail eight centuries from the Norman Conquest to the foundation of county councils in 1888, is superbly illustrated and still in print. A condensed version, A History of Bedford, appeared in 1978. It was a disappointment that Godber was not able to move into the purpose-designed premises at the new County Hall which was opened in 1969. She had spent much time and effort planning the new office and was highly satisfied with the result. All in all, she left the Bedfordshire Record Office in far better shape than she found it. Her long retirement brought many compensations, far removed from the taxing world of calendaring, cataloguing and indexing. She lived in a seventeenth-century cottage in Willington with a delightful garden, which she tended; she enjoyed her needlework, her membership of the Willington branch of the Womens Institute, which she established, and the companionship of members of the Society of the Friends, which she had joined after the war. When families from the Indian sub-continent settled in Bedord she taught English to housebound Muslim women and organized Christian aid Week collections both in Bedford and the county. She continued to write and publish though in a more relaxed vein and when, after a serious illness, she moved to a retirement home in 1983, for several years she organized the residents to do good works. Sadly, life became a burden and she died, aged ninety-three, on 20 December 1999.