Obituary: Charles Crawley

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The Independent Online
Charles William Crawley, historian, born London 1 April 1899, Fellow Trinity Hall Cambridge 1924-66 (Emeritus 1966), Senior Tutor 1940-58, Vice-Master 1950-66, Honorary Fellow 1971-92, University Lecturer in History 1931-66, books include The Question of Greek Independence 1821-1833 1930, New Cambridge Modern History volume ix (editor) 1965, Trinity Hall: the history of a Cambridge college 1350-1975 1975, married 1930 Kathleen Leahy (died 1982; four sons, one daughter), died London 6 October 1992.

CHARLES CRAWLEY was, for almost 20 years, Senior Tutor (acting or actual) of Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He became a legend among many generations of Hall men without having any of the easy passports to legend; he wasn't eccentric or witty or glamorous or Machiavellian. But he certainly was greatly loved. Anyone who had dealings with him came to feel the strength of his personal interest - shrewd, comprehensive and (above all) interested and kind.

And those bland words fall shamefully short. The youngest of three Hall brothers contracted a serious cranial illness that made it impossible for him to live in college. Crawley rang up the family, offering to have him in his own home. There the young man spent the last months of his life - with intervals in hospital but able, when fit, to live as an undergraduate. His doctor-sister says that Crawley knew just when the time had come for another period in hospital, and that no doctor could have judged better.

Charles and a much-loved sister were brought up by aunts. His parents had died in a sailing accident when he was too young to understand. He was left very much on his own when his sister died while he was still a scholar at Winchester College, where he became Prefect of Hall. After 15 months in the Army at the tail-end of the First World War, he came up to Trinity College as a scholar. Post-war regulations allowed him to take Classics Part I in five terms, and then in one year he took History Part II - getting First Classes, of course.

He chose the Greek War of Independence as the topic of his research, trying unsuccessfully for a Prize Fellowship at Trinity. Within two years he was, in 1923, offered a Staff Fellowship at Trinity Hall. He persuaded the college to defer the appointment for a year, which he spent studying archives at Munich and Vienna and in Greece, and fitting in romantic-sounding journeys through the Balkans.

It would probably surprise many who knew him as the balanced, scholarly tutor of Trinity Hall to hear his account of those journeys; or to hear that he had learned to fly and held a pilot's licence; or that he had visited a doctor friend in South Africa and lent a hand by giving inoculations himself; or that, during the General Strike in 1926, he was Acting Harbour Master at Hull. For a man with that zest for taking things on, it must have been a hard decision to stay at Trinity Hall during the Second World War, helping to hold the place together and hearing from his friends about quite different experiences.

I knew him as a colleague at Trinity Hall, and served under him for many years as Assistant Tutor. And how he grew on me. He always had my respect, but under his steady support and friendship respect warmed into great affection. He was excellent company, with wide interests, a good talker and a good listener, occasional sharp in his comments but never malicious, and with flashes of dry humour. He had done some good historical work, but he found that although he could do an excellent job as Senior Tutor, he could not also make his mark as an historian. He was quite lacking in self-regard and has said things about his own contribution to the History Faculty that he would never have said about anyone else's. But he must have had great satisfaction from knowing how well he had steered the college through a long post-war period, and how highly he was regarded.

In addition to his work as Tutor, he contributed a fascinating monograph on the north range of the Front Court, and a richly documented history of Trinity Hall.

He and his wife Kitty were tirelessly hospitable, and many of us look back with great pleasure to Sunday lunches at 1 Madingley Road. Kitty, sadly for Charles, died many years before him after a period when she was a shadow of her former vivid self. They had a daughter and four sons and many grandchildren; so they enjoyed a family life such as he had not known as a child.

(Photograph omitted)