Professor Christopher Elrington: Historian who devoted his career to the 'Victoria County History'





Christopher Elrington devoted the whole of his professional life as a historian to the Victoria County History, that magnificent encyclopaedic work attempting to provide fully researched and properly referenced historical accounts of all the counties of England and their more than 10,000 individual parishes. Some 250 large red volumes of the VCH have appeared since the endeavour began in 1899. Elrington had an increasingly influential hand in all the volumes that have appeared in the last 50 years.

He was General Editor of the whole enterprise from 1977 until 1994, having been Deputy Editor from 1968, and before that County Editor for Gloucestershire from 1960 to 1968, and originally assistant to the General Editor from 1954 to 1960. His first contributions were published exactly 50 years ago in 1959 – he compiled the index to the excellent economic history volume IV of the VCH Wiltshire, and in the same year he wrote three succinct articles about aspects of the University of Cambridge in the VCH Cambridgeshire, volume III.

The VCH, originally a private enterprise, had been based at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London since 1933, entrenched in the old-fashioned if "modern" Senate House since the Ministry of Information faded away at the end of the War. Elrington brought a breath of fresh air when he arrived in 1954, combining, as he did, a twinkling irreverence with a scholarly commitment and a gift for encapsulating complex matters in a simple elegant phrase...

... In view of Elrington's distinction, the University of London in 1992 conferred upon him the title of professor (though he never taught in any formal sense); after his retirement in 1994 he became an Emeritus professor, a style which suited him admirably.

Elrington, for all his sympathetic writing about parishes and medieval thought and practices, was a sensible and intelligent atheistic rationalist. Confronted by the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, he chose to die quietly and all too quickly at home, sadly a few months before his 80th birthday. He left his body for medical research. His places – the meetings in Wiltshire, the teas at the Institute of Historical Research, the laughter in Lloyd Baker Street, WC1 – will no longer for many be quite the same.


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