Alan Everitt: An Appreciation

Having been one of his earliest undergraduate students, I would like to offer this appreciation of Professor Alan Everitt FBA who died on 8 December 2008. He was the third Hatton Professor of Local History at the University of Leicester (1968–82)

As second year Leicester undergraduates in 1966 we were naturally apprehensive about meeting the tutor who would (with Geoffrey Martin) lead our special option studies into the English Town 1640–1727. We knew that he had recently been appointed a university lecturer in the Department of English Local History, having previously been Senior Research Fellow in Urban History, and we also knew that we would be meeting someone with a formidable research record because his formative and highly acclaimed The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion 1640–60 had recently been published. What we found was an extremely shy, private and uncoordinated man, who was for his part clearly himself apprehensive about teaching undergraduates. However we very quickly came to recognise the thorough-going nature of his research and of his understanding of English provincial towns in the seventeenth century. He was meticulous in his preparation and his expectations of us were very high indeed: to the degree that he set research-based assignments on a regular basis. What was even more remarkable was that he shared his current research with us. My instincts are that our group relationship with him was sealed was a bus expedition which he led from Leicester to Northampton. On that day of active field observation he both interpreted for us the topography of the centre of Northampton, in a way which is still clear for me over forty years later, and also took us to the Northamptonshire archives in Delapre Abbey to sample Northampton probate inventories, which were clearly part of his continuing research, because he subsequently gave us transcripts which he had prepared, and to which I still occasionally refer. In his own very private way, he was very interested in our progress and determined that we should succeed well.

Two years later he became Head of Department and Professor and I studied the wider reaches of local history on the MA course under his leadership. His pastoral care was very supportive. When I was deliberating over what field of research to choose, my inclinations were very strongly to complement his research into Kent and explore the parallel experience of Surrey, but I was summoned to see him urgently one day because he had discovered somehow that a similar piece of research was about to be undertaken at Oxford and he wanted me to be sure that I would be working in a field which was uniquely mine, and so I came to study the economic and social importance of the English inn in a case study of Croydon in Surrey. This professionally and academically turned out to be very shrewd advice, although I am not sure that the research that he predicted ever did quite materialise as expected. Although Richard McKinley was my supervisor, Alan kept a very close interest in my research, sometimes inviting me to a very good supper to make sure he knew how my research was progressing.

His fieldwork style was very different from that of Hoskins. Like many I enjoyed the exhilaration of fieldwork with the latter but the intensity of fieldwork with Alan again reflected his meticulous nature. Whatever else may be said by comparison, it would be doubtful whether the Leicestershire and Rutland Police were ever alerted by a member of the public when Hoskins was on fieldwork. However this did happen in 1968 when, with Alan and another postgraduate student, we were exploring the burgage plots of Uppingham and trying to assess whether some of the adjoining buildings contained original timber-framing on the interior. A member of the public reported us as potential ‘peeping toms’, such was the thoroughness of our investigation!

What can I say in summary? Re-reading The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion 1640-60, in its introduction Alan Everitt indicated that the interpretation was based on, and derived from, his Ph.D research but that it had been significantly been re-visited in the light of research elsewhere. That is how I shall remember him, a scholar intent on seeking the most robust interpretation of the materials currently available but ready to review his findings if circumstances changed. This is what made him such an exceptional urban historian, scholar and teacher.

Trevor James

10 April 2009

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