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’.