Obituary: Christopher Sturman

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The Independent Online
Christopher John Sturman, local historian: born Louth, Lincolnshire 4 September 1950; died Colchester, Essex 3 November 1977.

The Lincolnshire scholar Christopher Sturman was one of the last Romantics, born a generation out of his time. His natural habitat was the world of John Piper, John Betjeman and Geoffrey Grigson - all strong influences upon him and all imbued as he was with a sense of place, the glamour of landscape and locality. An Easter sepulchre in Nottinghamshire, a round churchyard in Norfolk, the lonely skies over Spurn Point - all became infused with his own imagination, became emblems of a sort of embattled Englishness.

Editor of the Journal of the Society of Lincolnshire History and Archaeology since 1988, and co-editor (and founder) of Lincolnshire Past and Present since 1990, he was active in many areas of Lincolnshire life, his publications ranging from work on the formation of the salt-marshes to the introduction of the daguerreotype into Lincolnshire, and including a book on the poetry of the Tennyson family. During the last stages of his illness he was still dictating material for a forthcoming study of the 19th-century painter William Brown and his great Panorama of Louth, the painting which hangs in the Council Chamber at Louth.

Sturman was born in Louth in 1950 to a Norfolk father and a Lincolnshire mother; his sense of rootedness was, perhaps, paradoxically sharpened by a typical RAF childhood, spent variously in Singapore, at Winthorpe, near Newark, at Swanton Morley, Norfolk, and at Leconfield, near Beverley in East Yorkshire. At 11 he was sent to board at Alfred, Lord Tennyson's old school, the King Edward VI School in Louth, where his intellectual curiosity was already much in evidence; he had, he used to say, a "flypaper mind" - one to which facts adhered effortlessly. In Louth he fell under the spell of Lincolnshire's salt-marsh landscape and, after a degree in Geography, at Christ's College, Cambridge, he began doctoral research at Queen Mary College, London, into the evolution of landscape.

During this period, Sturman also worked in the Lincolnshire Records office and it was here that material was available to whet his omnivorous appetite in other ways. He began a survey of the development of sunbathing on the Lincolnshire coast. This led him back to Tennyson, who spent childhood holidays at Mablethorpe, and to that vast Lincoln treasurehouse, the Tennyson D'Eyncourt letters. In the Bodleian Library he discovered the diaries of John Rashdell, friend of Tennyson, who became the subject of his 1982 Brackenbury Memorial Lecture to the Tennyson Society.

Book-collecting (bibliophilia verging on bibliomania) became a lifelong passion. He read widely, particularly topographical poetry, and became an authority on minor Lincolnshire verse and on the regional novel in Lincolnshire. He always preferred byways to highways, in literature as in travelling, and was much inspired by W.G. Hoskins' Lost Villages of England. His most prized discovery (in an Uppingham bookshop) was an edition of Tennyson's Poems Chiefly Lyrical inscribed in the poet's own cramped hand.

From the mid-1980s, there was a flood of publications - on matters musical (Thomas Haxby and organ music, with J.C. Pillans), medical (Edward Tennyson and the Victorian treatment of madness), architectural (19th-century building in Louth), climatological ("the drought summer of 1826" in Lincolnshire Life), historical (Wolley Jolland, the "Louth hermit"), topographical (the medieval manor at Belleau) and geographical (salt-making on the Lindsey marshland) - as well as articles on the Tennyson circle, many published in the Tennyson Research Bulletin.

In 1992 he edited Some Historians of Lincolnshire, contributing two articles himself, and in 1993 published, with me, a book called Poems by Two Brothers, on the poetry of the Tennyson family. When the book came out we, like the Tennyson brothers, drove down to Mablethorpe to "share our triumph with the winds and the waves".

Sturman enjoyed a successful teaching career at Woodbridge school, then as Head of Geography at Thetford Grammar, at St Felix School, Southwold, at St Mary's School, Colchester and, until his death, at Colchester Sixth Form College. In 1988 he became editor of the Journal of the Society of Lincolnshire History and Archaeology; he was a natural editor - thorough, scrupulous, demanding the highest standards from himself and others, paying unremitting attention to detail, but never losing his sense of larger aims.

His purpose in editing, as in all his writing, was to show the role of the local historian within the larger patterns of historical, geographical and literary theory. In this he anticipated the trajectory of current scholarship, which seeks to anchor writers in period and place rather than thinking of them simply as "for all time".

Chris Sturman's passion for academic research never flagged for an instant during his illness. On the morning of his death he was eagerly awaiting the post which was to bring new information on the 19th-century Boston printer and book collector Robert Roberts, for his next book, to be called Landscape and Friendship. The two nouns suggest the twin poles of his existence.

He has been buried in saltmarsh country, in North Somercotes churchyard, in Lincolnshire. His own long-planned epitaph to be placed there is from an unpublished canto of Ezra Pound:

A blown husk that is finished,

but the light sings eternal.

A pale flare over marshes

where the salt-hay whispers to tide's

change.

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