Patricia Crampton, RIP.

Julia Eccleshare’s Guardian obit for the translator Patricia Crampton makes an interesting companion piece to my recent post on Leon Dostert, since both were involved with the Nuremberg trial:

Patricia Crampton, who has died aged 90, was an award-winning translator with an exceptional talent for making some of the best of European children’s literature come alive for English readers. Describing herself and the role of her work as “a performing rather than a creative artist”, she was also a vigorous campaigner for greater recognition for translators – specifically, their right to receive a share of Public Lending Right (PLR) money when books they had translated were borrowed from public libraries.

Having been born in India, she was fluent in Hindi as well as English, and later rapidly picked up nine European languages: French, which she learnt as a child, German and Russian, which she studied as a student, and Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Norwegian and Dutch, all of which she taught herself as her professional life developed.

She translated more than 200 books for children and 50 for adults, and was widely acclaimed in both fields for the exceptional quality of her work. […]

Her career began far from children’s books – as a translator at the Nuremberg trials in 1947. Daughter of Vera (nee Kells) and Leslie Cardew-Wood, Patricia was born in Bombay, where her father, an engineer, installed refrigeration units. […] The family settled in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, in 1930, when Patricia was five. She began learning French and translated poetry as a hobby.

At 16 she won a place to read modern languages at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, where she principally studied French and German, with Russian as a subsidiary. She was always keen to use her languages as a translator, but at the time translation was viewed as a cottage industry, which meant she received little encouragement in that direction, even from her college principal, who once asked her: “Is there such a profession?”

On graduating in 1946, she hoped to travel to Germany and France, but her father was unwilling to let her go. Instead she went to Sweden, where she taught English and fell in love with the Swedish language. She returned to London in 1947, landing the job at Nuremberg. […]

Crampton spent two years in Nuremberg before returning to London, where she worked as a translator for several international companies and for Nato, until a chance meeting led her to the publisher Jonathan Cape, who asked if she could translate Danish. Although she had never done so before, she was sure she could. And so began a lifetime of literary translations for adults and children.

Thanks, Trevor!


  1. Although she had never done so before, she was sure she could. And so began a lifetime of literary translations for adults and children.

    This reminds me of my favorite quote from Kató Lomb: “Those who know nothing must advance vigorously.” A great attitude to live by, especially for languages!

  2. Probably easier for European than non-European languages, but surely translation is a ‘transferrable skill’.

  3. Well, if you have previously “fallen in love with the Zwedish language” then Danish text in particular isn’t much of a hop, skip or jump, and I testify to this from personal experiences which I myself have personally had.

  4. Stephen C. Carlson says

    Same here. Danish text is surprisingly doable after learning some Swedish. Danish speech, on the other hand, well that’s another thing entirely.

  5. In 2008, the literary journal Swedish Book Review published Patricia Crampton’s own account of her long, illustrious, and varied career. A scan of the article is available here as a pdf:


  1. […] Hat remembers the life of linguist Patricia […]

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