David Hey: In Memoriam

Sad to hear of the death of David Hey aged 77. He was the pre-eminent exponent of the linking of family history practice to the development of local and social history, most especially in his writings associated with his native South Yorkshire.

I first became acquainted with his work while studying part time for MA in Local History at the University of York under Jim Sharpe and Ted Royle from 1999-2003. His edition of The History of Myddle was one of the texts, full of named individuals of varying ranks and their potted histories. This was history with a very human face. I had enrolled on the course already thinking of the importance of family history research as a tool in exploring local and social history, in which I was encouraged by my tutors and then inspired by David Hey’s work.

Christopher Dyer in his obituary (The Guardian, 23 March 2016) comments that David Hey ‘was unusual among professional historians in responding to a development that colleagues tended to regard with indifference or even disdain’. This arrogance towards ‘amateur’ and family historians has fortunately abated to a large degree in the past 20 years, though it remains entrenched in most quarters. David Hey worked assiduously as a lecturer, writer and in his involvement with various popular history associations such as the Local Population Studies Society (LPSS) and the British Association for Local History (BALH) to dissipate this erroneous attitude. As a result, his voice was no longer solitary and he leaves behind a legacy of grateful students and colleagues.

My bookshelves hold a half dozen of his books and I would happily add further volumes. As well as the oft reprinted Oxford Companion to Local and Family History perhaps the most generally useful of his works is Family Names and Family History (2000) which updated everything that went before on the study of English surnames and remains (alongside work by and with his friend and colleague George Redmonds) the best demolisher of myths on the subject.

Of equal interest to me, with a surname that evolved in South Yorkshire, are all those volumes exploring the history of the area. One of my favourites is Packmen, Carriers and Packhorse Roads (2001) which gave me many clues as to how my ancestors may have crossed into Yorkshire from Cheshire and Staffordshire in late medieval times. Another inspiration is The Fiery Blades of Hallamshire (1991) with its evocation of the Sheffield area through my favourite period of history (1660-1740) and which draws on his own influences from Leicester University’s ground-breaking department on Local History. There are histories of Sheffield, wider Hallamshire and his native district of Penistone.

I will not be alone in mourning his loss, whether it be the enthusiastic amateur researchers he helped in Ecclesfield many years ago, or his more recent friends and associates. I will particularly remember the all too rare occasions when I met and spoke with him for his natural generosity of spirit. I will continue to treasure the legacy of his published work and hope that my small contribution adds to the momentum he set going. Thanks, David!


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