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Insights into Duff, Butler and Hollond

As a young Fellow at Trinity in the 1970s, Professor Boyd Hilton knew Brian Lowe’s Tutor, Sir James Ramsay Montagu Butler, and one of his Supervisors, Professor Patrick Duff. He reflects on their achievements and personalities, drawing on his memories and his research for a new history of the College.

Professor Patrick Duff
Professor Patrick Duff

The father of Patrick Duff was James Duff, a classicist and tutor, who gave his name to what is now called ‘Duff’s Garden’ between the Fellows’ Garden and the Burrell Field’s development.  He wrote literally every day to his two elder sons while they fought at the front in Flanders (and elsewhere) during the 1914-18 War (and beyond). He sent these letters out in batches of four, and had to search around for things to say.

As College historian I wish he had written more about Trinity High Table and controversies arising, such as Bertrand Russell’s notorious ejection in 1916 (when James Duff was on the Council), but what he mainly wrote about – and no doubt he judged rightly that it would be more interesting to his sons in their dugouts – was the progress of his chrysanthemums, the collapse of his new-fangled central heating system, and the everyday doings of his two youngest children, Patrick and Hester.

Patrick Duff emerges from his father’s fond letters as lively, outgoing, inquiring, and capable.  However, there was little trace of the lively child of the letters by the time I got to know him 60 years later. He had become deeply conservative and dry, rarely venturing outside Cambridge except to take part in the Lake Hunt, of which he was the Master. Indeed he was an archetypal bachelor Fellow, and very attached to his spinster sister Hester (who, like him, seems to have been a much livelier child than she ever was as an adult).

His expertise was in Roman Law, of which he became a Professor and he was for many years an exceptionally conscientious Tutor who never forgot a face or a pedigree. Moreover, even those who found his personality unexciting conceded that he had been a very judicious and effective Vice-Master.

I also knew Jim Butler. He was the eldest of Monty Butler’s three sons by his second marriage, and was born in what was then a bedroom of the Master’s Lodge and is now part of the Combination Room.

Sir James Ramsay Montagu Butler
Sir James Ramsay Montagu Butler

Jim was a seriously distinguished historian. One could argue that his 1912 book on the Great Reform Act, though ‘Whiggish’ in approach and long ago superseded in terms of archival research, nevertheless pioneered the ‘modern’ study of British politics. He was later the editorial mastermind of the multi-volumed ‘Official History of the Second World War’.

Like the Duff boys and his own brothers, he fought in the First World War; had he not done so he would almost certainly have become private secretary to George V, a post for which he was being groomed. It gives an indication of just how eligible this former head boy of Harrow and current young Fellow of Trinity was considered to be. Jim Butler was MP for Cambridge University in the 1920s.

Like Patrick Duff, Jim Butler became Vice-Master. He invited my wife and me to lunch in the A Great Court rooms now occupied by Ian McDonald. He was charm itself, and plied us with alcohol even though he was teetotal.  Apparently he was equally generous in his entertainments as Vice-Master. He was also a Christian Scientist (got from his mother) and probably died unnecessarily by refusing to be treated medically following a straightforward ‘fall’. He had shown the same stoic fatalism while fighting in the First World War.

Harry Hollond
Harry Hollond

Harry Hollond, who died too soon for me to know, was an immensely important Fellow, not just because he did a lot of the obvious jobs – Junior Bursar certainly, Senior Dean – but because of his representations to the Royal (Asquith) Commission on Oxford and Cambridge (1919-22) followed by his work as Secretary to the University of Cambridge Commissioners in 1924, which shaped the future of the University.

His was the most important hand in drafting new University Statues as well as new Statutes for Trinity, and he was subsequently asked to advise on the same by many other colleges. In this way he became a central figure in the wider University, and seems to have been much liked.

He taught conscientiously, I think, but published very little. In his written application for the Rouse Ball Professorship in 1943 he conceded the fact that he had been unproductive, and gave as a reason, not just the public service alluded to above, but the fact that for thirty years he had found that more than half an hour’s academic work at a time tended to give him brain fag – despite which admission he got the Chair. Autre temps autres moeurs.

Like Duff and Butler he was resident in College, but he was not a bachelor, being married to a glamorous American Marjorie Hollond who is noted in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for her work as an economist in academia and the civil service.

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