Historian who championed Norfolk’s rural workers dies

Farm workers planting potatoes at Hockwold in 1953. Picture: Archant Library

Farm workers planting potatoes at Hockwold in 1953. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

A historian who championed and wrote about the history Norfolk's rural farm workers has died.

Social historian Alun Howkins who has died aged 70. Picture: University of Sussex

Social historian Alun Howkins who has died aged 70. Picture: University of Sussex - Credit: University of Sussex

Professor Alun Howkins, the author of a study of rural radicalism in Norfolk called Poor Labouring Men, died on July 12 aged 70.

Mr Howkins, who lived in Winfarthing, had been professor emeritus in social history at the University of Sussex, and wrote other influential works on the history of the rural poor including Reshaping Rural England: A Social History and The Death of Rural England: A Social History of the Countryside.

His frequent television work included the major BBC series Fruitful Earth, which he wrote and edited, on how the struggle for food has shaped modern society, as well as contributions to series such as Edwardian Farm and Mud, Sweat and Tractors: The Story of Agriculture.

Books by Alun Howkins, incoluding his study of rural radicalism in Norfolk called Poor Labouring Men

Books by Alun Howkins, incoluding his study of rural radicalism in Norfolk called Poor Labouring Men - Credit: Archant

On his retirement from Sussex in 2010 he moved to Norfolk – which he called 'God's heartland'. He became honorary professor in the school of history at the University of East Anglia.


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In recent years he wrote and gave talks about the Burston Strike School and helped to mark the re-opening of the redeveloped Diss Corn Hall with a talk reflecting its 150 year history.

He also wrote an entry for Wymondham resident Edwin Gooch, former president of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Alun Howkins wrote about and gave talks on the Burston Strike School. Picture: Archant Library

Alun Howkins wrote about and gave talks on the Burston Strike School. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant

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Dr Katrina Navickas, of the Social History Society, said: 'Alun will be best remembered for three qualities: a brilliant historian of rural England and the labour movement; a colleague who always went out of his way to support fellow historians and students; and finally an expert in folk song and lore who kept vital traditions alive.

'His ability to connect the past with the present was without measure, and folk culture was his medium. So he could remind us that the 'past is a different country; they do things differently there', while simultaneously illustrating the important continuities of poverty, class and power.'

A funeral service will be held at Burston Strike School at 12pm on August 14. Instead of flowers his family would welcome donations to Priscilla Bacon Lodge.

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