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Emeritus Professor Peter H J H Gosden, MA, PhD, FRHistS, FRSA

Colleagues wiil be very sorry to learn of the death, on 15 September 2012, of Emeritus Professor Peter Gosden, former Professor of the History of Education.

Peter Gosden was a leading educational historian, publishing extensively on the local and national development of the education service in England and Wales.  His abiding interest in the history of educational administration first found published expression in The development of educational administration in England and Wales (1966).  Some of the questions which arose out of this work then prompted him to undertake research into the contributions of the teachers’ associations to the growth of the profession and to policy making.  His findings were set out in The evolution of a profession: a study of the contribution of teachers’ associations to the development of school teaching as a professional occupation (1972). His associated interest in curriculum studies was expressed in a book on the teaching of history, which appeared in 1968. In the following year, he edited an anthology of contemporary accounts of learning and teaching in England between 1800 and 1950.

The esteem in which Peter Gosden’s scholarship had come to be held by the end of the 1960s was shown in the invitation he received from the Social Science Research Council in 1969 to produce a definitive history of education in the Second World War. This was to stand in place of the volume planned by the Cabinet Office in the 1940s as part of the official History of the Second World War, which in the event had never been completed. The selection of Peter Gosden by the SSRC followed an exhaustive trawl to identify the most suitable researcher to undertake what the Council itself acknowledged to be a formidable task. He went on to spend a large part of the next four years working at the then Department of Education and Science on the relevant records.  Education in the Second World War: a study in policy and administration was published in 1976.  In addition to numerous articles in journals including the British Journal of Educational Studies, he wrote or co-authored a number of other books covering topics including the history of the education system from 1944 to the early 1980s and the history of the West Riding Education Authority. Written jointly with his former research student, Paul Sharp, the latter volume charted the fortunes of a local education authority which, in the course of its existence from its inception in 1889 to its disappearance in the local government reorganisation of 1974, pioneered many important educational developments. In 1975, together with Arthur Taylor, Peter Gosden co-edited Studies in the History of a University, to commemorate the centenary of the University of Leeds. It was also to him that the Department of Education and Science turned in 1989 when it wished to mark the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Committee of the Privy Council for Education – effectively the first executive organ of state for education –
with a suitable lecture.

Born in 1927, Peter Gosden was a pupil at Midhurst Grammar School in Sussex. In 1945, he was awarded an Open Exhibition to read History at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Graduating in 1948, he completed a PGCE, also at Cambridge, before spending his two years of National Service as an Education Officer in the RAF.  He then taught in suburban London for nine years, initially as Assistant Master at the County Grammar School, Greenford, and from 1955 to 1960 as Head of the Departments of History and Religious Knowledge at St Nicholas Grammar School, Northwood. He greatly impressed the headmasters of both schools with his qualities as a teacher, including his rapport with his pupils, the ideas and advice he unassumingly but effectively contributed, and his capacity –which endured throughout his career – for remaining invariably calm and unflustered, whatever the provocation. Despite the demands of his teaching post, Peter Gosden enrolled, in 1955, as a part-time research student at Birkbeck College, London. He undertook research on Friendly Societies in England during the nineteenth century, under the supervision of the distinguished historian, E J Hobsbawn, who held a very high opinion of his student’s intellect and industry; he later observed that he had never come across a research student who managed his time to better effect. Awarded his PhD in 1959, Peter Gosden turned his thesis into a book The Friendly Societies in England, 1815-1875 (1961).  Later in his career, he also published Self-Help: Voluntary Associations in Nineteenth-century Britain (1973).

In 1960, Peter Gosden moved from the secondary sector into higher education, with his appointment as a Lecturer in the then Department of Education at Leeds. From the outset, he established himself as a very good teacher, a gifted researcher and a lucid and effective voice in departmental affairs.  Through his prowess in his chosen field, Leeds became a major centre for the study of educational policy and administration. Many research students were attracted by his reputation as a stimulating supervisor with an unflinching insistence on the highest of standards.  Further to encourage interest and research in the history of education, he and his colleague, Dr W B Stephens, established the Journal of Educational Administration and History in 1968.  This soon came to be highly regarded by practitioners both in this country and overseas. As joint Curator for many years of the Museum of the History of Education he took a leading part in reorganising and building up the Museum’s collections.  Promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1967 and to Reader in Educational Administration and History in 1971, Peter Gosden was appointed to a Chair in the History of Education in 1979.  He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1968, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1990.

Peter Gosden’s contributions to departmental and University affairs were legion.  Highly knowledgeable and authoritative, endowed with boundless good sense, crisply efficient yet unfailingly humane, he was an automatic choice for a wide variety of offices.  He was chosen to be the first Chairman of the School of Education, when, in 1976, the Department of Education and the Institute of Education, with their very different traditions, were combined. He held office until 1980. Some years later, he wrote, with characteristic composure and generosity of spirit, that, thanks to the goodwill of his colleagues, no great difficulties had been experienced in bringing together and running the new School. He served with distinction as Pro-Vice-Chancellor from 1985 to 1987, his judgement and advice being highly prized by the then Vice-Chancellor, Sir Edward Parkes. On completion of his term as Pro-Vice-Chancellor, he was immediately appointed to be Chairman of the School of Education once more, serving in this capacity until 1991.  Few have been so deeply embedded in the government and administration of the University and many indeed were the boards, committees and groups of which he was a member.  His was a highly influential and respected voice on the Senate for twenty-four years, and at different times he sat on all its major committees, often as chairman. He was also a member of both the Council and the Court, and, from 1970 to 1987, of the Finance Committee. He was President of the AUT Leeds Local Association from 1970 to 1972.

Despite the press of his extensive University commitments, Peter Gosden was a conspicuous presence in a wide range of external organisations, including other higher education institutions, the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) and the Joint Matriculation Board (JMB). He was a member of the governing body of the then College of Ripon and York St John for more than two decades and also served for many years on the governing body of UCET, of which he later became Academic Secretary. Chairman of the JMB from 1988 to 1992, he took a leading part in piloting to a successful conclusion the complex negotiations to effect its transition to the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board.

Peter Gosden retired from his Chair in 1992, at the same time as his wife, Sheila, herself a distinguished and long-serving member of the School of Education.  In retirement, Peter maintained a close connection with the University both socially and as Honorary University Archivist, a role he had originally taken on in 1989 and which he retained until 2000. He became President of the History of Education Society in 1993.  In 1995, his peers honoured his scholarly achievements with a FestschriftStudies in the History of Education: Essays presented to Peter Gosden, which was edited by his long-standing friend and colleague in the School, Edgar Jenkins.

Peter is survived by Sheila.

The funeral service will be held at 12.00 noon on Tuesday 2nd October 2012 at St Giles Church, Leeds Road/Church Hill, Bramhope, LS16, with refreshments afterwards in the Church Hall.  There are to be family flowers only but donations to Wheatfields Hospice would be gratefully received.

In memory of Peter, the flag will be flown at half-mast on the Parkinson Building on the day of the funeral.