Prof Hassell Smith: Founder of UEA’s Centre for East Anglian Studies and noted historian

Celebrating the publication of the hundredth monograph at Norwich Castle, speakers(l to r) Adrian Ol

Celebrating the publication of the hundredth monograph at Norwich Castle, speakers(l to r) Adrian Olivier, Dr Peter Wade Martins and Prof Hassell Smith the the first and latest monographs in the series.Photo Simon Finlay.copy Sharon Page.

Prof Hassell Smith, who has died aged 87, was the founder of the University of East Anglia's Centre for East Anglian studies.

Ted Teat, 73, with fond memories of each of his 52 tractors he is to sell at Hingham.<copy - Mike Po

Ted Teat, 73, with fond memories of each of his 52 tractors he is to sell at Hingham. <copy - Mike Pollitt> 1 of 7 - Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers

His drive, enthusiasm and meticulous research made a major contribution to detailed understanding of the history of his beloved county.

He was general editor of the hugely-important and 'mammoth undertaking' of a Norfolk family saga, which involved studying around 2,200 published pages of material about Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey. The project, which was led by Prof Hassell Smith, involved research on three continents to study the documents where the archives had been dissipated. It gave an insight into the late Tudor and Jacobean area when Norwich was England's second city.

Born in King's Lynn, Alfred Hassell Smith dropped his initial Christian name and later added his middle name to his surname. He went to the town's King Edward VII Grammar School and then spent four years in the Royal Navy, which he detested, including the latter part of the second world war serving in HMS Liverpool stationed in Malta.

He read history at University College London and then received a doctorate with a thesis on 16th century local government in Norfolk.


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Later, he was to spend more than 50 years of his academic career, which continued after his formal retirement in 1992, studying the papers of Sir Nathaniel Bacon, who lived between 1547 and 1622.

In 1957, he joined the former Woolverstone Hall School, near Ipswich, (now Ipsiwch High SChool for Girls) which had been acquired by London County Council, to educate boys from the East End and also sons of ex-servicemen.

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He taught history, sailing and pig-keeping until five years later he moved to Homerton College, Cambridge.

Having proposed to the UEA in 1966 that it should have a Centre of East Anglian studies, he was the obvious choice to became lecturer in English history.

It was to 'encourage and co-ordinate the academic study of all aspects of East Anglian life, past and present'.

The following year it was founded and rapidly started to win academic recognition, partly on the back of £40,000 of funding from the Leverhulme Trust for work into the county's industrial heritage.

A bibliography of Norfolk History was compiled from the scholarly library of more than 1,000 volumes, which had been given to the centre by one of Norfolk's great men of letters, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer.

He had also given the Felbrigg Hall estate to the National Trust.

Prof Hassell Smith also chaired for several years the Bishop's Committee of Books and Documents, the Norfolk Record Society, the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, and other Norfolk and Suffolk museums and societies.

He played a central role in discovery of the city's Dragon Hall, the history of the Great Hospital, and was an editor of Norwich Cathedral Church, City and Diocese 1066 to 1996.

In 1987, an appeal was launched on the centre's 20th anniversary to create a £200,000 endowment fund, which would safeguard future research projects.

Academics had also started to look at the county's rich heritage of farm buildings and barns and others encouraged the creation of the East Anglia film archive.

Other projects included support for research into the early pre-conquest economic history of the city. He developed a fortnightly research seminar, started by people in the university engaged in the study of East Anglian topics, to which people in the region working on similar projects were invited.

Although he had moved to Bristol to live with his daughter, Norfolk and Norwich remained his life.

He leaves a daughter, Jenny, and three grandchildren, Eleanor, Matthew and Alice.

A family funeral has been held. A memorial service will be held at Norwich Cathedral on Friday, November 1, 3pm.

Michael Pollitt

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