Professor Robert Ashton: Historian of early modern England

 

Bob Ashton, as he was universally known, was the founding professor of English History at the University of East Anglia when it opened in 1963. It fell to academics of his generation to do something unique in English higher education – to shape the form university education would take during the one period in its history when the British State has been willing to spend money on universities.

As an economic historian, Ashton needed no convincing of the value of interdisciplinarity, and placed, as he was, at the head of a school of English studies, he saw great value in collaboration with scholars from literature, art history and philosophy. As Dean of English studies from 1964-67, Ashton had a formative influence on the style and curriculum of the new university; it was under his direction that American studies was added to the mix.

A striking, even commanding figure, one of the few who looked entirely at home in academic robes, Bob was a charismatic man who played a great role in recruiting staff for the new school, including later luminaries such as Malcolm Bradbury, Chris Bigsby, Lorna Sage, Paul Kennedy and Jon Cook. His eye for talent was acute, and he often saw much further than appointment boards elsewhere.

Born in 1924, Ashton was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford, and after serving in the RAF during the war went to University College, Southampton where, after taking a First in history, he went on to the London School of Economics. A pupil of RH Tawney, Ashton began life as an economic historian of the reign of James I, and wrote pioneering works on the court and the money market from his berth at the University of Nottingham, which he joined in 1952.

In 1962 he won a visiting chair at the University of California, Berkeley, and it was while there that he received the offer of a chair at the new University to be founded in Norwich. He was interviewed for the post in the convivial surroundings of the Travellers' Club in New York.

Ashton was a man with a wide hinterland. A great wine connoisseur, he founded the SCR wine cellar, and presided over it with great skill for the whole of its life, and as anyone fortunate enough to dine with him found out, he was extremely generous with his own cellar. He set up home in Brundall, in the Manor House in which Robert (Lord) Blake had been born, something which helped give him one of his most valued friendships, and where his wife, Peggy, would make visitors most welcome. She was the perfect wife for Bob, her sharp wit and hearty pragmatism complementing his high-octane approach to life. They were the most devoted couple, and it is no cliché to say that he never recovered from her death.

Bob was a devout member of the Church of England, and served as church warden at Braydeston Church for more than 30 years, where he successfully fought to keep his beloved Book of Common Prayer in constant use; to hear Bob read from it or from the King James Bible was realise why both books found their place into our language.

Ashton retired in 1987, but remained active as a scholar (publishing the last of his six books in 1994) and as a lecturer with the Historical Association, to whose Norfolk and Norwich branch he gave his last public lectures in 2002.

John Charmley

Robert Ashton, historian: born 21 July 1924; married 1946 Margaret Alice Sedgwick (died 2009; two daughters); died 9 February 2013.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc