Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Dermot Grubb

1920 – 1996

He was born into a Quaker family in Dublin and educated at the Downs School.  He registered as a conscientious objector at the start of the war in 1939 and served in Friends Relief Service in London, helping people through the blitz. He was then seconded to one of the first Citizens’ Advice Bureaux. He was influenced by Duncan Fairn, a Quaker and a Prison Commissioner to join the Prison Service, a career in which Quaker principles could be practised. After much heart searching, for capital punishment had not yet been abolished, he joined in 1953 and served in six establishments over the next 27 years.

His first appointment was as a housemaster in Huntercombe Borstal where he was strongly influenced by its eccentric but vividly humane governor, Sir Almeric Rich. Rich’s influence was pervasive and compassionate. For instance, when a lad was on punishment duty Rich would often be there with him.

He moved to Wakefield where he was the first tutor on an assistant governors’ staff course, before transferring to Wandsworth Prison where he worked as an assistant governor for seven years. Within the forbidding walls of H and K wings Dermot experimented with debates, work for outside charities, and outsider participation. These experiments stopped shortly after his appointment as governor of Oxford Prison in 1967, but are still remembered.

Whilst at Oxford, Dermot developed close links with the criminological research and teaching being developed in the university. Small groups of undergraduates were invited in for discussion sessions with equivalent groups of prisoners. The description of Dermot’s effect on students by Sarah McCabe who worked at the department was remarkable. She said

‘As they watched him deal with prisoners and their families they realised he was a paragon amongst prison governors, a dedicated, thoughtful, sympathetic manager of men, who practised virtue and showed how that practice was possible for others.

In 1973 Oxford gave Dermot the unusual honour of awarding him a Masters degree for his services to the university.

From 1973 to 76 he was governor of Bedford Prison, the gaol that held John Bunyan, and during his time there he established contacts with the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge and helped with student training.

From 1976 to 1980 Dermot was the governor of Horfield Prison, Bristol where he is best remembered for his managerial style. Under his governorship Horfield was a safe and relaxed place to work in and those who watched him at work commented on his combination of great strength and gentleness and of his concern for the welfare of the prisoners as well as his training of the staff.

Local Friends were pleased when Dermot decided to stay in Bristol after retirement in 1980.  The last sixteen years of his life showed a flowering of all sorts of activities. As well as being a representative on Meeting for Sufferings he served on the group which helped with the revision of Quaker Faith and Practice (in Britain - the key reference book for British Friends).

He developed the local Branch of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency (ISTD) and continued to be active at national level with arranging conferences and seminars. Tim Newell, later to be a Quaker prison governor himself, was also involved. Dermot also served on the Penal Affairs Committee and supported many Quaker chaplains and prison visitors in their work.

He was noted as a quiet man in most settings but when he did have something to say it was generally something wise and usually very radical, but never in a confrontational way. It was Dermot’s ability to put his own views fearlessly but always in a way that allowed other people their views too which everyone admired. He was unsparing in his helpfulness to those in his charge and an example for good to his colleagues.

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