Obituary: Barbara Dodwell

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BARBARA DODWELL was a medieval historian, editor and archivist of great distinction.

Her lifelong passion for the study of the past and its muniments owed much to the influence of her father, who served as Curator of the Madras Record Office before returning to England to the Chair of Indian History at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London University. It was to Bedford College in the same university that Barbara Dodwell went in 1931. But it was the medieval past which caught her attention. Her MA thesis on "The Sokemen of the Southern Danelaw", submitted in 1936, was awarded the first mark of distinction given by the university for 10 years.

After a number of years tending her mother, she was appointed to a lectureship at Exeter University before moving to Reading in 1946 where she remained until her retirement in 1977, being promoted to Reader in 1962 and acting as Director of the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies from 1974 to 1977. She played an important part in developing Reading's reputation in the medieval field.

Dodwell was a much-loved and much-respected teacher. As Professor Sir James Holt recollects, "She was a fine lecturer with a voice which could shift from the soft and delicate to the emphatic and ironic as her mood and the subject-matter required." She knew how to be firm yet also encouraging with those in her charge, being prepared to spend much time guiding and helping students to fulfil their potential. She inculcated in others her own high standards of argument and exposition, an attention to detail, and a genuine love of the period.

Dodwell was brisk and business-like in the discharge of administrative duties, and observed the sometimes heated discussions of the changes brought about by the expansion of the department in the 1960s with an amused glint in her eye. She was also generous in the time and assistance she gave, especially to younger colleagues. Even as she prepared to depart for retirement, she guided me through the perils of teaching medieval social and economic history, and passed on useful materials as well as insights gathered over a long and committed career of academic service.

Norwich, where she was long the Honorary Archivist to the cathedral and its chapter, particularly reaped the benefit of her dedication. Nobody has known the archive as well as she did nor tended it with such care and intelligence. Historians of the future will be in her debt for her work with these records, as they will also for her own published research. Her strength lay in the precise and painstaking study of record materials.

This attention to detail will ensure that her contribution to medieval scholarship lives on for many generations to come, for her editions for the Pipe Roll Society of the Feet of Fines for Norfolk and Suffolk (1953, 1958) and The Charters of Norwich Cathedral Priory (1974, 1985) are masterpieces of their type. Moreover, she brought to publication several other volumes of the Pipe Roll Society during her period as Joint General Editor.

Her studies of the free peasantry of East Anglia helped us to understand the peculiarities of an area which was so central to the prosperity of medieval England. She also produced a number of important pieces on the history of the cathedral priory of Norwich, as well as giving much-needed attention to the history of medieval Reading.

Barbara Dodwell was one of those eternally energetic and young- minded people who never really retire. She was an indefatigable traveller as well as a knowledgeable gardener. Family was important to her; she was a splendid sister and aunt, with a tribe of nieces and nephews whom she greatly enjoyed. As a vibrant conversationalist and a perennial optimist, she was always a pleasure to meet. She was a sensitive and reliable friend, as well as, I am told, a demanding partner (and formidable opponent) at the bridge table.

Barbara Dodwell, historian and archivist: born 17 April 1912; Reader in History, Reading University 1962-77, Director, Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies 1974-77; died Norwich 15 February 1999.