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Emeritus Professor Maurice Beresford

Maurice Beresford

Members of the University will be very sorry to learn of the death, on 15 December, of Emeritus Professor Maurice Beresford, FBA, former Professor of Economic History.

John Chartres, a long-standing friend and colleague, has contributed the following obituary:

"Graduating with firsts in both parts of the Historical Tripos at Cambridge, Maurice served the wartime years as Warden of an adult centre at Rugby, before joining the University in April 1948 as Lecturer. Promoted to a Readership in 1955, he became Leeds first professor of his subject in 1959. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1985, the year of his retirement. He was also awarded honorary degrees by several universities, most recently by Leeds itself at the time of the Centenary celebrations in 2004.

Maurice was a historian of enormous energy and originality, whose work was characterized, as he described in his inaugural lecture, by consuming interest in time and place. An undergraduate term paper on the parkland of his home town, Sutton Coldfield, led to his first publications and fused a lifetimes interest in the interactions of landscape and historical documents. This developed through early work on parliamentary enclosure; linking field surveys to documents to prove corduroy patterns in grassland as evidence of medieval ploughing; and most strikingly, in the study of the deserted medieval village, where again field remains, aerial photographs, sample digging, and classic documentary techniques led to The Lost Villages of England (1954), his most famous book. This began a forty-year archaeological study of the East Riding deserted village of Wharram Percy, co-directed with the late John Hurst, which proved surprisingly rich in showing the complexity and longevity of settlement on the site, and richness of its material culture.

Subsequent work also united the visual with the documentary, in History on the Ground (1957); Medieval England: an aerial survey (Cambridge, 1958 ) with J K S St Joseph; and New Towns of the Middle Ages (1967), a comparative study of England, Wales and Gascony this major monograph developed Maurices long-standing interests in medieval boroughs. By the later 1960s his interests had become more modern, and for much of the remainder of his life he focused on the urban, above all the history of Leeds during industrialization, with East End, West End: The Face of Leeds During Urbanisation 1684-1842 (Leeds, 1988) being its most notable product. Recognition of his position in modern urban history came in his appointment to a professorial fellowship at Strathclyde University in retirement. Original, stimulating and very wide ranging in his scholarship, he also drew huge crowds to public lectures, such as his lunchtime series on the campus, published as Walks Round Red Brick (1980). The visual and the narrative remained key elements of his approach to the past, attracting a wider public, but sometimes puzzling his professional peers. A wide range of scholars collaborated with him, and he received two festschrifts, in 1989 (shared with John Hurst) and 2000.

The scholar was only part of Maurices life. He carried heavy teaching loads, actively promoted the democratization of departmental constitutions, and then took the first rotation as Chairman of his School, returning twice more to the role, on the last occasion to solve a crisis. He chaired the joint board of three of the faculties and was a memorable and fiercely independent debater at Senate. But his life was not confined within the campus: he served on the National Consumer Council until its abolition; he was a member of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England) and of his subject committee of the then SSRC; and was active in Parole Board work. Lifelong interests in delinquency led him also to educational work in Wakefield Prison, and to links with the Eastmoor approved school. He loved music, especially the opera, literature (his first intended academic discipline), gossip, his series of dogs, and good food."

Published: 20 December 2005