‘Hello, Ian up there, it’s Ian down here.’
That reference to up (me in Yorkshire) and down (him in Kent) was our standard greeting, exchanged many times over the last thirty years. Ian’s voice, ever enthusiastic, always seeming on the brink of laughter, told you much about the man.
I first met Ian about 30 years ago when I ran a CPD session in Kent for SHP. Other visits followed as Ian moved from being head of department to advisory teacher to being Kent’s History adviser. Sometime in the late 80s we struck up a rapport because I invited Ian to write a book on The Roman Empire for a KS3 series I edited for the first National Curriculum in 1991 – it still stands up as a good book (one of the first to feature enquiry questions). More importantly it gave Ian regular opportunities to point out to me that if he’d accepted the invitation from Heinemann to write for them instead of for me, he and Liz would have been able to retire 20 years earlier. The Heinemann book – not a patch on ours – came out first, was sold at a daft price and sold in shedloads. But, we agreed, we had created a much better book and never mind the sales.
Ian then wrote more material for John Murray and was one of the early contributors and originators of The National Archive’s Learning Curve website. For those of us involved with SHP however it will always be Ian’s role as an SHP Fellow that we’ll remember first. He was a regular contributor to the annual conferences from the beginning in 1989, providing workshops every year and once a Saturday evening session when he loaded up his car with every conceivable example of archaeological evidence he could lay his hands on and simply enthused to us all for well over an hour about archaeology which had been his first degree. And then there was the Guinness in the bar afterwards! The success of the SHP Conference has not just been in the quality of its workshops and plenaries but in the atmosphere, the sense of community, and Ian’s role in creating that sense of community was and long continued to be central to the conference’s success.
When Chris Culpin took over as SHP Director in 1996 and set up the advisory ‘Fellows’ group Ian was a natural choice. From then on, for a dozen years, eight of us met up on a Friday evening in the less than glamorous surroundings of the Yeadon Stoops Travel Inn ‘restaurant’ and caught up with each other’s news. The business meeting followed the next day but we’d created the atmosphere on Friday evenings – some of the happiest hours I’ve spent and the beginning of lasting ties for us all.
Ian’s part in the creation of that happiness was central. He gave us warmth, humour, spontaneity, good fellowship – he had an immensely generous spirit, always eager to push others forward, to sing the praises of others. He himself was a great communicator, conveying his enthusiasm and knowledge with ease, variety, humour, clarity, but for someone who may have appeared to outsiders to be full ‘only’ of boisterous bonhomie he had a deep vein of humility – nothing gave him more pleasure than seeing those he respected being successful.
Teachers who use this website, Thinkinghistory, are in Ian’s debt as it was a conversation with him that led to me setting up this site. Back in 2002 I was being badgered by the College of HE where I worked to apply for a Higher Education teaching award. At first I didn’t see the point as I didn’t envisage staying in HE much longer but a conversation with Ian changed my mind. He turned my thoughts to using the funding that came with the award to support trainee-teachers rather than focussing on something to do with teaching on the history degree course. And so the idea of building the application around ‘active learning’ and creating a website was born – and Thinkinghistory then gave me a new lease of professional life, I think by far the most valuable part of the work that I’ve done.
And while I built on Thinkinghistory Ian got on with his ‘bits and pieces’. Much on at the moment? ‘Oh, you know, the usual bits and pieces.’ The bits and pieces in any given week usually involved something like two or three visits to history departments, ‘the troops’, in Kent, running an inset day for primary teachers, too many hours bashing his head against the brick wall of council stupidity that was Kent’s specialism, an evening talk to a local history society on the archaeology of the area, chasing uo a chapter for the History of Kent from a recalcitrant academic, a hard pounding game of basketball at a seriously good standard well into his late 50s and, of course, time for Liz, Jack and Clare. Amidst all this Ian found the time to be a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, played a key part in the development of the multi-volume History of Kent published by the academic publishers, Boydell and Brewer, and was in recent years, President of the Kent Archaeological Society, one of the foremost county archaeological societies in the country. He also built up a vast store of resources for use by Kent history teachers from archaeological artefacts to historical journals. He believed that teachers should stay in touch with the latest publications and students should be shown and handle the evidence on which history is based.
Much of that activity was punctuated by Ian taking out his sketch pad or pack of postcards and working up a quick cartoon with snappy caption. Many’s the SHP meeting recorded more effectively by Ian’s running cartoon commentary than by my minutes – it was a happy gift that gave him and us great pleasure. I have no more treasured memento of my years in history teaching than the ‘biography’ Ian drew and captioned to mark my leaving SHP a few years ago.
Amongst my trips to see Ian and Liz one visit stands out. About twelve years ago I spent a couple of days with them during the period when my wife, Pat, was having chemotherapy – one of the good weeks obviously when Pat packed me off to recharge my batteries. Ian took a couple of days off and we tramped the battlefield at Hastings, selected a spot from which to assault Bodiam castle, decided where we’d have deployed King John’s fat pigs at Rochester castle and went out of our way to find the tomb of Richard III’s supposed illegitimate son. At one point we pulled up in a small town so Ian could give me a brief lecture on the varieties of Kentish roof tiles – boy, did he know his stuff. And then, when I slumped off to bed, Ian headed for his study to do all the work he’d put aside to give me the break I needed.
I have no idea how to finish this. I think I just want to finish with two things. Firstly that the courage and sense of partnership shown by Ian and Liz since Ian was diagnosed with a brain tumour in June has been truly remarkable. And secondly that Ian’s great depths of generosity, energy, passion and joy in sharing his enthusiasms will always stay with me. His company has been a rare and happy pleasure.
From Ian up here to Ian down there,
I feel there’s many other experiences shared and details I could have added. I do hope others will take the opportunities to add your appreciation of Ian by using the Comment column.