Bob Wood and the Essex Branch of the Historical Association

Robert George Ernest Wood, (Bob), passed away peacefully at home on 9 March 2022 after a long debilitating illness aged 84 years. So it’s a good while since we saw him at our meetings, but once he was ever-present to us and at the front.

As your current Chairman, I owe Bob a great deal. As a history teacher at Chelmsford Technical High School in the 1970s I taught Stephen, one of his sons. That was fairly daunting on parents’ evenings, as Bob was also the County History Inspector. But he saw to it that as an off-comer to Essex I learned to give back to HA, as well as to take.

I had begun to attend Essex Branch HA Meetings in the old wainscotted and portrait-festooned Committee Room 1 in County Hall. I was there to pick the brains of speakers and Members, particularly other teachers who knew a good deal more about my adopted county. But Bob insisted I attend an HA Conference in my hometown of Carlisle on behalf of the Essex Branch and report back. Shrewd move on his part and with far-reaching consequences for me. It startled me to find that the national arm of the Historical Association had connections and some draw in so many places. I got in on one of their organised tours to the Bishop of Carlisle’s residence at Rose Castle. Though my family hales from the next village of Raughton Head, none of us had seen inside Rose Castle and I hankered after a sight of the legendary Chinese Wallpaper, (Bishops care for their surroundings!).

From then on, I was drawn deeper into HA business.

Bob Wood was based in Essex Record Office and was author, or co-author of many important publications. He was instrumental in arranging the 1981 anniversary conference in Essex of the Peasants’ Revolt in which our Branch had a major part, (hence the publication illustrated at the head of this piece). But his Seax Teaching Portfolios on Agriculture in Essex and Essex Railways were significant.

He was a diligent and highly-organised scholar. Sharing an office with him in later years I witnessed this at firsthand. His desk was cleared every day before leaving for home. And his ability to write perfect copy of notes or letters first time in longhand, with no spelling errors, good grammar and some style made my efforts pale in comparison. In those days of BC, before computing), our Schools Service, Secretary, Jean Bentley, also a Branch Member of course constantly preferred his copy for typing to mine.

Bob was a fully-rounded man, (tho’ lean in figure and a fast walker until he slipped on the ice and broke some bones). Keen on his family and a churchman, (he was a Lay-Reader in the Church of England and attended Synod in Essex), music was important to him. But his hobbies betrayed the same meticulous and careful approach: he collected British postal stamps from those little booklets available over the Post Office counter and tried to share with me the significance of the cylinder marks left by printing on the edges of the rolls of stamps. He was a good railway-modeller.

One of Bob’s significant scholarly habits led to his gradual removal from us in history-education. He had the fine habit of dating all communications when received, as well as reading them carefully. Soon he was one of the few County Inspectors who could track and make sense of the welter of confusing and chaotic documents sent out by different government departments. And the Essex Education Department found him too valuable to leave just to us in history and schools.

Bob is missed. I was fortunate enough to record his voice and memories for the ERO Sound Archive.

                                                                            ICM 12 April 2022