Harold David London was born at Kimbolton, Manawatu, on 28 August 1906, the son of Catherine Waugh and her husband, Charles London, a sheepfarmer. Harold attended Valley Road School in Kimbolton (1913–20) and belonged to the local boy scouts. In 1921 he joined the Department of Lands and Survey in Wellington as a clerical cadet attached to the Discharged Soldiers’ branch. He remained a clerk with the department for the next 18 years.
In 1922 London helped form the Donbank Philatelic Society (forerunner of the Wellington Philatelic Society). This started a lifelong association with stamp collecting societies, during which he was awarded three honorary life memberships (including that of the American Air Mail Society). He won medals from Melbourne and London for his airmail stamps, and his collections of autographs and bookplates were highly regarded.
In Wellington he also became involved with sporting administration, particularly cycling. He was secretary of the Selwyn Amateur Athletic Club (1926–27), the Wellington Rowing Club (1927–28) and the Port Nicholson Amateur Road Cycling Club (1927–29). As foundation secretary of the latter he helped initiate the annual Palmerston North – Wellington road race. In 1930 he was appointed the first vice president of the New Zealand Union of Cyclists. He became one of six foundation members of the New Zealand Cycling Federation and served as secretary from 1932 to 1939. The controlling body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, recognised his services to the sport in a special letter of thanks on his retirement.
On 30 November 1929, at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Taranaki Street, Wellington, London married Gwendoline Sheila Taylor; they were to have two sons. The couple separated in the late 1940s, though they never divorced.
In 1930 London was transferred to the Christchurch office of the Department of Lands and Survey. He remained there for nine years before joining the Social Security Department’s Queenstown staff. There he became secretary of the Red Cross – Order of St John ambulance appeal and the local boy scouts’ association. He had been involved with the Territorial Force since leaving school and in 1939 was elected secretary of the Queenstown Territorial Association. In 1940 he helped form the Central Otago Home Guard and the following year was appointed adjutant at area headquarters. Two years later he was mobilised as a private and served at Paremata and then in the Trentham pay office.
By the time he was demobilised in 1945 London had moved to Napier and resumed working for the Social Security Department. In 1947 he was transferred to Whakatane to become district agent. In the course of his departmental activities he helped with the resettlement of ex-servicemen and was the local war pensions officer from 1947 to 1952. He was a member of the Bay of Plenty Provincial Patriotic Council and the Whakatane RSA.
In 1952 London became foundation secretary of the Whakatane and District Historical Society. He started writing, editing and printing the society’s journal, Historical Review , and was to continue as editor and printer for the rest of his life. Jack, as he was known in Whakatane, saw the need for a museum in the town and formed a sub-committee to plan its establishment. This raised funds for 13 years until the museum was opened in 1972. During this period he had started collecting books and historical material relating to the district. These formed the basis of the research library, named in London’s honour, which has gained a considerable reputation in New Zealand and overseas. He was also on the regional committee of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust for many years.
Although he retired from the Social Security Department in 1962, London worked as a temporary staff member for the Ministry of Works at Te Teko until 1971. He owned a house at Turangi, and after his retirement divided his time between here and Whakatane. In 1965 he was appointed a justice of the peace and in 1967 received a Jubilee Gold Medal from the mayor of Whakatane. In 1978 he was made an MBE for his services to local history. He died on 29 March 1980 at Palmerston North Hospital, survived by his wife and children. Despite being self-effacing and modest in character, London was prominent in a wide variety of social and sporting organisations, and is particularly remembered for his contribution to historical research in the eastern Bay of Plenty.