Geoffrey Martin

ICHT member (UK), 1981-1991

ICHT Honorary Member, 1991-2007

Essex 1928 – Lake District 2007


Our  honorary  member,  Geoffrey   Martin,  died  in  December  2007.  Born  in  1928,  he  was  one  of  a  group  of  historians,  several  of  them  associated  with  the  University of Leicester, who between the 1950s and the 1970s contributed to the revival  of  a  scholarly  interest  in  English  urban  history.  His  particular  focus  and  area  of  expertise  concerned  the  development  of  systems  of  record  keeping  in  English  towns  during  the  thirteenth  and  fourteenth  centuries.  He  also  edited  editions  of  royal  charters  to  English  towns  and  was  an  assiduous  bibliographer.

An  Essex  man,  educated  at  Colchester,  his  most  productive  engagement  as  a  scholar  was  with  that  region  of  England,  and  in  retirement  he  was  Research  Professor  at  the  University  of  Essex.  He  contributed  important  studies  of  the  records  and  governance  of  the  town  of  Ipswich  and  a  series  of  studies  of  Colchester,  including  his  first  published  work,  a  history  of  Colchester  Grammar  School,  which  appeared  in  1947.  He  wrote  about  many  aspects  of  Essex,  including  its  experience  during  the  Second  World  War,  and  that  informed  a  continuing  interest  in  modern  warfare.  He  also  had  a  keen  eye  for  the  visual  representation  of  urban  landscape  and  for  the  significance  or  topography,  reflected in several publications. He also contributed a significant assessment of the  role  of  road  transport  in  medieval  England.  Many  of  these  studies  were  informed by an acute and original sense of what different types of sources could reveal to historians.

His  archival  scholarship  and  his  successful  career  at  the  University  of  Leicester,  which  he  joined  in  1952  and  where  was  professor  of  history  between  1973  and  1982, led to his tenure of the office of Keeper of the Public Records (the English national  archive)  between  1982  and  1988.  During  his  watch,  Domesday  Book,  the great survey of England undertaken in 1086 for William the Conqueror, was rebound  and  then  republished  in  facsimile,  text  and  translation.  He  made  many  contributions  to  the  publications  on  this  monumental  record  –  itself  a  major  source  for  the  early  history  of  European  towns  –  which  were  stimulated  by  its  ninth centenary. Subsequently, he was an active editor of texts and co-edited a history of his Oxford college, Merton.

He was a kind and entertaining companion, whose sense of the ironic generated a  flood  of  aphorisms  that  often  illuminated,  but  occasionally  undermined,  the  paths  he  was  mapping  out.  Personal  memories  will  include  one  of  him  at  the  Public Record Office, with Domesday Book on his desk, and another of the way in which,  in  an  essay  on  our  sense  of  the  landscape  and  identity  of  towns,  he  illustrated a poster proclaiming Oxford as ‘The Home of Pressed Steel’.

Derek Keene