THE AUTHOR John West (06-01-1926 to 02-04-2013)
My fascination with ancient documents began with a History lesson at Radstock Council School in 1935. It was told by a vigorous young teacher, Ronald (later Sir Ronald, N.U.T.) Gould. Inspired by his chronicle of King Alfred the Great’s conflict with “the destroying host” I forged a writ in the King’s own hand. From Athelney it summoned his faithful thegns to join him on the field of Wedmore. Carefully singed paper and smudged black crayon added authenticity and when I sealed it in a Fry’s cocoa tin I was careful to remove the printed label. Taking it to the derelict “Haunted House” down the lane, I hid it under exposed floor joists and later called my fellow member of the Coombend Gang, John Wilcox with excited cries, to witness my first documentary discovery. His Saxon response was terse: “Thee’s put ee thur.”
Later, University study taught more caution from Stubb’s Select Charters, Bland, Brown and Tawney and the Chronicle of Ordericus Vitalis. The happiest days of my teaching career were spent working with College of Education students in record offices and on desrted village sites. In Worcestershire Record Office my own research into the medieval Forest of Feckenham was enhanced by the serendipity of archives. First, was the discovery of the Vicar of Moreton Underhill and two of his parishioners who were brought before the Justices of Assize for stalking deer “under an engine in the shape of a horse”. Then, straying from the research curriculum I found the letters of a homesick 15-year old boy written in 1692. These were the beginning of the route to the Maritime Museum at Greenwich and the story of A Captain in the Navy of Queen Anne. (Longman 1970)
My first book, in 1962, was Village Records which is still in print. Composed on an Olivetti typewriter without benefit of internet, this endeavoured to offer students of local history a basic guide to the wide range of archives which document the past of any English village like Chaddesley Corbett. The author’s greatest pride lies in the book’s Foreword by Professor W.G. Hoskins CBE, “a West Countryman of yeoman stock who became England’s most influential history teacher.”
This site, my latest work, marks the last lesson of all, that of "Archives Then and Now." The inspiration offered by Sir Ronald Gould was matched by the Symposium organized by the archivists of Northumberland Record Office in 2008.
My CV now includes B.A. First Class Hons. History (Bristol 1951); Post Graduate Certificate in Education with Distinction in the Practice of Teaching. (Bristol 1952); M.A. History The Medieval Forest of Feckenham (Birmingham 1964); Ph.D Education Children’s Awareness of the Past (Keele 1981): The Norton Medlicott Medal (For Services to History ); Historical Association, Chairman Dr. John Fines 1995
Last, and certainly least: Certificate in RSA Computer Literacy and Information Technology Stage 1 (OCR 2000) Too little and (almost) too late !
My father said to me, when I was 8 (possibly anticipating John Wilcox’s cogent criticism): “John, never trust a scholar who has more than one University and more than one publisher.” Thank goodness he had never heard of websites.