P.M. Soderberg and his books on Foreign Birds

A series of book on bird keeping I came across only decades of their publication was that by P.M. Soderberg in 1956. There were four volumes, all published by Cassell in the same year, under the generic title of Foreign Birds for Cage and Aviary: 1. Care and Management; 2. Waxbills, Weavers, Wydahs; 3. Finches; 4. Buntings, Cardinals, Lovebirds, Mannikins.


Neither I nor my friends who became interested in birds in the late 1950s had a copy nor did I ever see one in a bookshop, pet shop or library. I can only think they were in print for only a short period after publication. There are plenty of cheap copies available now through online booksellers like Abebooks and Alibris.

But who was P.M. Soderberg? He was certainly not a well-known author on birds, like Donald Risdon, for example. Cage Birds also published books at the time (Risdon’s Foreign Finches for Beginners was one of them) and I suspect Soderberg’s books got very little publicity. Google searches plus a little research in findmypast.co.uk soon came up with the answer.

Percy Measday Soderberg was born in Whitstable, Kent in 1901, the son of a schoolmaster and the grandson of a Swedish sea captain. He became the highly respected Headmaster of a preparatory school in Caterham where he was known, inevitably, to the boys as ‘Sod’. He died on 6 July 1969 in Brighton. For overseas readers, I should explain that a preparatory school prepared boys (hence ‘preparatory’ in the title) for the Common Entrance Examination of the Public Schools which are actually private and not funded by the public. So being head of a ‘prep’ school was a cut socially and educationally above being head of a publicly-funded primary school. A fuller account of his life can be found at:


He wrote other books as well as the ones on birds, on tropical fish, on butterflies and on cats (which he kept at the school). Several were published years after his death by Herbert R Axelrod’s TFH (Tropical Fish Hobbyist) empire. How this came about I do not know but anybody who has followed in the American press the story of Axelrod, his business practices, the accuracy of his publications, his conviction and gaol sentence, will be aware that the explanation will be far from straightforward.

The dustjacket says:

The author was brought up from childhood with a knowledge of and deep interest in the subject, his father, also, having been a foreign bird enthusiast. Since 1907 had his first pair of foreigners, he has rarely been without some of the delightful birds he describes. He has been, for some years, a frequent contributor from this country to America on birds and other animals and has broadcast on birds and other natural history subjects in BBC programmes. 

I have not been able to find anything on publications in the USA or on his BBC programmes. If anybody has further information, they can use the email link in the panel to the right.

The illustrator of Soderberg’s bird book was Sheila Dorrell. She illustrated other book in the 1950s but I have no other information on her. NOTE ADDED on 13 September 2015. See my post of this date for an update on Sheila Dorrell.

A plate by Sheila Dorrell

A plate by Sheila Dorrell

The illustrator (line drawings) of the first volume, Care and Management, was Paxton Chadwick, on whom there is a great deal of information: http://alasdairross.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/leiston-suffolks-little-moscow.html

Paxton Chadwick was born in Fallowfield, Manchester and educated at Manchester Art College. He settled in Leiston, Suffolk and had joined the Communist Party of Great Britain  (CPGB) by 1935. He was the first member of the party to be elected to Suffolk County Council. In the Second World War he was commissioned in the Royal Artillery and rose to Captain in an anti-aircraft regiment. After the war he did the nature drawings for Penguin books until his death. He died in London in 1961 and the funeral address was given by John Gollan, general secretary of CPGB. His file in MI5 would, I am sure, make interesting reading. His simple plant drawings in Soderberg’s book are excellent, and I show one below.


Drawing by Paxton Chadwick


One thought on “P.M. Soderberg and his books on Foreign Birds

  1. Pingback: Sheila Dorrell (née Greenhalgh, later Fisher): Illustrator of Soderberg’s Books on Foreign Birds | Reptiles, Amphibians and Birds: A Historical Perspective of their Care in Captivity

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