David Blomfield 1934-2016
An announcement by Robert Smith, followed by a profile by Harriet Grace
We are very sorry to tell you that our President, Dr David Blomfield, has died after a short but very severe illness. David, the Society’s chairman for ten years and a former editor of our journal, Richmond History, spent his 82nd birthday at home, surrounded by his extended family. He died the next day, Tuesday 12 July.
David was a distinguished local historian, whose books Kew Past, The Story of Kew and (with the late Christopher May) Kew at War 1939-1945, broke new ground in recording what had happened in Kew in its recent past as well as in previous centuries. By telling it in a compelling manner, he made the fascinating story of Kew accessible to everyone and encouraged its residents and visitors alike to take an active interest in their own local history.
David’s area of interest and expertise was not confined to Kew. Only three months ago, he gave a very well researched and received talk at our meeting on 11 April on the history of Richmond’s Star and Garter Home. You can listen to his talk on our Soundcloud page. None of us knew then that he was ill and he himself was not sure of the extent of his illness. And we did not know that this would be his last public appearance at the Society, apart from a brief visit to our stall at the Richmond May Fair.
David was editor of our journal, Richmond History, from 1994 until 2001 and chaired the Society for ten years from 2003 to 2013. After stepping down as Chairman, David – who was elected President at the 2015 Annual General Meeting – continued to be a very active member of the Society’s committee and, with Len Chave, spearheaded our publications programme. When Chris May, his successor as Chairman and Editor of Richmond History, passed away suddenly in November 2014, David rolled up his sleeves and resumed, temporarily, the role of journal editor. David continued to take a keen interest in our publications work, even in the latter stages of his illness when, at great effort, he made the time to hand over the Society’s affairs with considerable thought and thoroughness.
My colleagues and I on the Society’s committee are very shocked by this turn of events, coming so soon after the Society has also lost John Cloake, Chris May and Norman Radley. We will miss David’s wise counsel and his encouragement to all of us in our roles. But we recognise how indebted we all are to David for the outstanding contribution he has made to the Society’s success and for the exemplary leadership he has demonstrated, as chairman, as president and as publisher. We now feel empowered to carry on with the Society’s work on a path that he has set and to develop his vision still further.
Our immediate thoughts are with David’s wife Caroline, and with his children James, Melanie and Rupert and their families to whom we convey the Society’s sincere condolences.
Chairman, Richmond Local History Society
13 July 2016
David Blomfield: a profile
Written by Harriet Grace in 2009 and published in issue 25 (November 2009) of The Link, the magazine of the Kew parishes of St Luke’s and the Barn. Reproduced with permission
I first met David Blomfield when I was eleven and he was a charming, very good-looking undergraduate at Oxford. He was a friend of my sister and my parents were giving a dance. I was too young to attend but at lunch on the day I was placed next to him, and what I remember is that he talked to me and listened. When he could have ignored me, he made me feel special. If I had known, and understood what it meant, that he’d got an exhibition to read Classics (Mods and Greats) at Hertford College, and that before that he’d done his National Service for two years in the early fifties, most of it in Germany in a barracks next to Belsen, I would have been too shy to open my mouth. Now over fifty years later he’s still as good-looking and I can see that his quiet, caring generosity has underpinned all that he has done.
The youngest of three brothers and the son of an army officer, David was the only one go to Oxford. After Oxford he joined the Reader’s Digest as Editor for the Condensed Books series and had a successful career at the Digest for nearly thirty years. It was there he met Caroline. They married, moved to Kew in 1965 and soon became involved in the community, church and local government.
David says that it was the education of their three children at Queen’s that made him realise the importance of representation and involvement at a local level. Kew had a community and he wanted to invest in it. He fought to change the rules at Queen’s School to permit parental governors, and subsequently became a governor of Queen’s, Darrell Infant and Junior, Gainsborough Secondary School and Windham Nursery school. In the late 1960s he and Caroline helped Pat Lewis set up the Barn Nursery School in the new church hall, and for four years Caroline ran a satellite nursery in Gloucester Road. Education led to local politics. He’d always been a Liberal supporter, but what interested him was a smaller population – the “politics of the parish pump” – where it was possible to identify with the people and the problems, and do something about it. He was a councillor from 1971 to 1978, and from 1979 to 1986, and during this period the council had more powers than at present, which made it important and rewarding work.
At the end of the 1980s David left the Reader’s Digest and became a freelance editor, and Caroline opened Kew Bookshop. David was church warden at the Barn during Tim Beaumont’s time and when Nick Darby took over, David chaired the committee responsible for converting the west end of the Barn Church, an operation which required a sensitive architect and a willing congregation. The work was completed in 2002 and has meant that the church is now used by the community every day of the week. He has also been responsible for chairing the building of the Orange Tree Theatre and the conversion of St Luke’s House, plus numerous other community projects, which led, in 2000, to the award of an MBE.
Throughout all these activities runs David’s passion for local history. When Kew Bookshop opened in 1989 it needed a book about Kew’s local history so Caroline challenged David and since then he has written three books: Story of Kew, Kew Past, and very recently Kew At War. He completed a PhD in 2007, his thesis being on the Boatmen on the Kew stretch of the Thames.
A church-goer all his life David talks about a “pilgrimage of faith” where he is always exploring. A truly modest, clever and deep-thinking man, he has been supported throughout by Caroline. They have lived, worked and contributed to life in Kew for over forty years. Without exaggeration they have changed its landscape for the better.
The two Chairmen
This video is rather special as it includes two of our former Chairmen, the late David Blomfield and the late Norman Radley. As far as we know it was never broadcast. Did you take part in the “Richmond Protest” and do you recall which year it was? We think it may have been 1975.