Gillian Baker: Handwriting expert, UEA academic and Norfolk golfer

Thousands of documents about a leading 16th century Norfolk landowning family were brought to life by a self-taught Norwich academic Gillian Baker, who has died aged 75.

She translated or deciphered letters, legal documents and manuscripts, which were published in three volumes by the Centre of East Anglian Studies, later part of the University of East Anglia.

A joint editor of 'The Papers of Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey,' which was first published in 1979, the 352 pages revealed details of family life from 1556.

She had joined the Centre in 1971, initially as a personal assistant to Dr (now Prof) Alfred Hassell Smith. Her ability to master the appallingly difficult, and often incomprehensible scripts turned her into a real expert in palaeography or old handwriting. And for a non-academic, who had never obtained a degree, she was accorded official recognition when the books were published. Charting the life of Nathaniel Bacon, who lived between 1546 and 1622, and was a JP in Norfolk for 50 years, the documents revealed details about life in the often turbulent Tudor and Jacobean years from many papers made available from the Marquess of Townshend's extensive archives in the muniments rooms at Raynham Hall.

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Gillian Baker was born on June 4, 1936 at Colchester into a well-known golfing family. She later shared in the family's success as recorded on the honours' boards at the club house.

After training as a personal assistant, she then spent four years' abroad – travelling to Canada, where she worked. At one stage she was a special correspondent for a local paper in Colchester, Ontario, writing features about her birthplace. She also visited the United States, worked in New Zealand and toured Australia before coming to Norwich.

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She enjoyed sport, especially golf, and became lady captain of Eaton Golf Club in 1996, and was also chairman of the green committee for three years. She played in the second Norfolk county team and served on the executive committee.

She worked for about 20 years at UEA before retiring. Living at Cringleford, she continued to play golf, tennis and bridge with her companion, Judith. They were volunteers for local charities and devoted at least day a week to work in shops.

She leaves a younger brother, Peter, a nephew Tim, and niece Rachel, who is getting married on Saturday in London, and great-nephew Jamie.

A funeral service will be held at Earlham Crematorium on Thursday, May 24 at 2.15pm and afterwards at Eaton Golf Club.

Michael Pollitt

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