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Christopher May 1943-2014

Kew Fete 2012 -  RLHS + C's cards 031 wkg copy

Christopher May at this year’s Kew Fayre

We are very sorry to announce the death, on Tuesday 11 November, of our Chairman, Christopher May.

This sad news came as a shock, even to those who knew he had been battling with a virulent form of leukaemia since February. In the week before he died he turned down further invasive treatment that could offer him a few more weeks of life. He died at home, as he wanted, with his family around him and his affairs in order.

There will be a full obituary of Chris in next year’s journal, giving due attention to his great contribution to Richmond local history. The following tribute is based on the address at his funeral given by his close friend and fellow historian David Blomfield.

“Chris died on Armistice Day. It is an easy date to remember, and fits him better than many might think. Chris was never required to serve in the forces, but he was a warrior who fought stubbornly for every cause he espoused.

“He was born  in 1943. He came from a family of doctors. At the age of seven he was packed off as a boarder to a private preparatory school. He then went to Haileybury. In spite of – perhaps because of – this privileged education, he developed decidedly left-wing ideals. Chris was not interested in party politics, but throughout his life he battled against injustices of every kind. Perhaps it was significant that when he was appointed head boy at Haileybury the appointment lasted only a few weeks. He simply refused to carry out any beatings.

“In 1962 he went to Peterhouse College, Cambridge, where he studied Anthropology. He then, with a MSc in Politics at the LSE, began a bewildering and possibly record-breaking series of post-graduate studies.

“In 1971 he married Manjeet Gill, from a Sikh family that had survived the Japanese occupation of Malaya in WW2. With Manjeet in Kew he brought up her two sons Anil and Ravi, both of whom are now doctors – in the May family tradition.

“Meanwhile, Chris, being Chris, just went on studying. There was an MA from Cambridge, followed by another from Birkbeck. This was in Second Language Learning and Teaching, and the key to his future career. He was then at Holland Park Comprehensive where he fought – and won – a battle with his employers over the teaching of the children of the Vietnamese Boat People. This in turn led to his appointment in 1989 to the staff of the European School in Italy, where he would spend the next 17 years teaching students, nearly all of whom used English as a second language. Chris himself would become bilingual in both the Italian language and its culture.

“By now he had completed yet another MA. This was in Early Modern History, which reflected a new interest that he had acquired in the local history of Richmond. By 1986 he had joined Richmond Local History Society’s committee and had already contributed articles to the journal. When he returned from Italy he was welcomed with sighs of relief and the posts of journal editor and chair of the Society.

“For the Society Chris published under the wry, self-deprecating, nom de plume of Edward Casaubon. Casaubon was famous in George Elliot’s Middlemarch for his inability to publish his research, but Chris was to contradict this image: he sometimes came perilously close to missing deadlines, because he was for ever finding fascinating facts that demanded his further attention. His articles and talks were always polished, witty and wise. There was always too a touch of humour, even of mischief.

“Chris will be fondly remembered by Richmond historians for the brilliance of his talks, the breadth of the articles he wrote for our local history journal Richmond History and the encouragement he offered over many years to other contributors, but he will also be remembered by a wider public. With the publication in 2009 of Kew at War, his unique research on the US cartographers and the Italian ‘co-operators’ who camped in Kew in World War II commanded the attention of a transatlantic and a European-wide audience. It put Richmond’s local history on the worldwide map, just where Chris knew that it belonged.”

Our next talk is on Monday 8 December

St Elizabeth's 2Stephen Orr will talk about THE VINEYARD: AN ONLINE HISTORY. This will be followed by our seasonal Party.

The Vineyard in Richmond has two churches, three sets of almshouses, seven other listed buildings and a listed telephone box, not to mention a varied group of interesting houses. Yet in 1700 there was just Michel’s Almshouses and Clarence House – both newly built.

Stephen Orr’s website – The Vineyard, Richmond: An Online History for residents, their families and friends – aims to document the drastic change from fields to town and to illustrate the advantages of the internet over the traditional book in telling that story.

Stephen Orr will also look at some of the residents in the road between 1841 and 1911. The Vineyard is especially interesting because it was developed piecemeal as the result of having many individual landowners and residents, whereas most of the other roads on Richmond Hill were mainly designed at the behest of a single developer.

The talk, which will be at Duke Street Church in Richmond TW9 1DH, starts at 8pm, with coffee available from 7.30. The talk is free to members. Visitors are welcome: admission £2.

Richmond Park and its role in the First World War: a free exhibition

The Hearsum Collection at Pembroke Lodge has a free exhibition about Richmond Park and its important role in the First World War.

Military Band edited

The Second Battalion Artists’ Rifles leaving Richmond Park for a route march, headed by their band, 1914

Richmond Poor Relief Indexes go online

Over 103,000 names of people applying for poor relief in Richmond Poor Law Union between 1870 and 1912 are now searchable, free of charge, on Surrey History Centre’s website at http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/recreation-heritage-and-culture/archives-and-history/archives-and-history-research-guides/poor-law-records/richmond-poor-law-union-application-and-report-books