Obituary | Hilary Nightingale, 1930-2022 - Museums Association

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Obituary | Hilary Nightingale, 1930-2022

The former editor of Museums Journal had a prodigious intellect
Tony Butler
MA staff in 1955 – Hilary Nightingale (then Jones) is far left and Michael Nightingale is second left
MA staff in 1955 – Hilary Nightingale (then Jones) is far left and Michael Nightingale is second left

A former editor of Museums Journal, Hilary Nightingale (née Jones), died at the end of January, aged 91.

Hilary was born in Swansea in 1930. Her father died before her third birthday. Her widowed mother Doris raised her alone while working as a schoolteacher. This was at a time when, second world war aside, female teachers were required to stop work when they married.

In 1949 Hilary secured a state scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford, to read English literature. She achieved a first, one of only five in her year group of 300 English literature students.

That she did not go on to apply this prodigious intellect in academia or another cerebral profession was not unusual in an age when marriage and child-bearing were still seen as ends in themselves. But she always made it clear that her Somerville tutors had done nothing to encourage her and were far more comfortable with those who came from similar backgrounds to themselves.

After Oxford she went to work for the Museums Association (MA), editing its journal. Back copies from that era do not credit her endeavours, but in 1955 she was listed as assistant editor. She had presumably been doing it all long before she got a mention on the back cover.

By this time, she had met Michael Nightingale, precocious secretary of the association (and nominal editor of the Museums Journal), while he was in the act of going through all the rubbish bins in the street looking for some mislaid papers.


During this period the MA helped establish the Regional Museum Service to give expert advice and assistance to small regional museums. Michael also persuaded the Treasury to grant-aid the Walker Art Gallery's purchase of Rubens's Holy Family, thus opening a new era in which government money could be sought by regional museums.

Prior to its move to offices in the Adam-designed 33 Fitzroy Street in the late 1950s, the association's address is listed as the "Meteorological Buildings" in Exhibition Road. This is now the Dyson School of Design on the corner of Exhibition Road and Imperial College Road, which were occupied after the first world war by the Science Museum.

Later in life Hilary recalled that when she left her office, she would walk through the galleries of the Science Museum in the dark but with all the models still whirring away.

After a year working in Italy, Hilary returned to England and married Michael in 1956. They settled in Wormshill in Kent, where she brought up five children and managed 350 sheep on the family farm.

After all her children had flown the nest in the 1980s, she trained as a conservation bookbinder at the London College of Printing. It is tempting to ponder what else she might have done if she was setting out today.

Hilary was a dearly loved mother to five children and ten grandchildren, and to me, a cherished ‘mum-in-law’.

Tony Butler is the executive director of Derby Museums

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