(Author’s note: this is work in progress, a ‘?’ indicates gaps or questions. Please send any comments, corrections, or additions to: Mike Cowlishaw (mfc@speleotrove.com).)

Photograph of Wallace Breem

Wallace Breem—some biographical notes

Wallace Breem (1926–1990) was a British librarian and author, the Librarian and Keeper of Manuscripts of the Inner Temple Library at his death in 1990, but perhaps most widely known for his historical novels, including the classic Eagle in the Snow (1970).

Wallace Wilfred Swinburne Breem was born on the 13th May 1926, and was educated at Westminster School. At the age of 18, he entered the Indian Army’s Officers Training School, and in 1945 was commisioned as a Lieutenant in the Corps of Guides (The Guides Cavalry, 10th Queen Victoria’s Own Frontier Force), an elite detachment of the Indian Army. On partition, in 1947, the regiment became part of the Pakistani Army, which ended Breem’s chosen career in India.

After returning to England, Breem held a variety of jobs which included labourer in a tannery, assistant to a veterinary surgeon, and rent-collector in the East End of London. He eventually joined the library staff of the Inner Temple in London in 1950. This began a long and distinguished career at that institution; he was appointed Sub-Librarian in 1956, Librarian in 1963, and Keeper of the Manuscripts in 1972 (?).

Breem was a founder member of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL). He carried out most of the work of the Ad Hoc committee that formulated the Association in 1968–1969, including the drafting of the Association’s aims, objects, rules, and regulations. He was its first Secretary and Treasurer (1969–1976), and later held the offices of Chairman (1976–1980), Vice-President (1980–1988), and President (1988–1990). He chaired its Publications Committee for eleven years (1980–1990).

Breem died on 12th March 1990; the address at his funeral service was given by Alex Noel-Todd on 21st March 1990. He is fondly remembered by his colleages as a raconteur and a man of great character and integrity.

In 1990, BIALL inaugurated the Wallace Breem award in his memory. This is sponsored jointly by the Inner Temple and BIALL and is designed to recognise especially good contributions to law librarianship, or provide financial assistance for special research or other projects at doctorate level or above. The Award has been made biennially since 1992.

Breem’s non-fiction works

Breem made many notable contributions to works of scholarship, including the Manual of Law Librarianship, the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, and various papers, reports, notes, and Standards.

His history of the Inner Temple library, A Sketch of the Inner Temple Library, has recently been updated and illustrated.

He edited, with Sally Phillips, the Bibliography of Commonwealth Law Reports (Mansell 1991), and contributed a number of articles to newsletters, including The obligations of a Law Librarian (1972, and also in Reader in Law Librarianship, B. D. Reams, Jr. (Ed.), pp116-120. Englewood, CO, Information Handling Services, 1976).

Breem’s Novels

Eagle in the Snow (0575004010 Gollancz 1970 326pp, Putnam 1970, 0722118538 Sphere 1971), republished 2002, 2003, 2004.
This classic work has been described as the most powerful work of English historical fiction. It is set on Hadrian’s Wall and around Mainz (Moguntiacum), and dramatizes the events leading up to the Germanic crossing of the frozen Rhine at the end of 406CE. (Review.)
The main character, Maximus, together with Quintus and many other details from the book, inspired the opening sequence of the film Gladiator, which won five Academy Awards in 2001.

The Legate’s Daughter (0575017872 Gollancz 1974 288pp, 0099110105 Arrow Books 1975), republished 2004.
A political and historical mystery, set in Rome in 24–23BCE.

The Leopard and the Cliff (0575025166 Gollancz 1978 288pp, 0417051301 Magnum Books 1980).
A military adventure, set in India during the Afghan war of 1919.