Obituary: Eric Stone

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Eric Stone, medieval historian: born Pontycymer, Glamorgan 7 February 1924; assistant lecturer and lecturer in medieval history, Manchester University 1948-54; Fellow and tutor, Keble College, Oxford 1955-91, Senior Tutor 1965-75, Sub-Warden 1987-91, Emeritus Fellow 1991-93; married 1950 Ella Buchan (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1971 Eleanor Shaw (one son, one daughter); died Oxford 14 August 1993.

ERIC STONE was for 35 years a Fellow of Keble College, Oxford. If any one person can be described as the architect of modern Keble, it is he.

A product of the Welsh valleys in the period before the war, Stone won a demyship at Magdalen College from Neath Intermediate School for Boys. After a year in residence he was called up in 1942 and eventually commissioned in the RAC. On his return to Oxford he was a pupil of KB McFarlane, by whom he was greatly influenced. A DPhil thesis on the estate of Norwich Cathedral Priory was widely acclaimed but, unfortunately, never published, though it formed the basis for an important article in the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society in 1962, which is generally held to have given the study of medieval manorial accounting a quite new direction.

Stone started his teaching career at Manchester under Professor RC Cheney, by whom again he was much influenced. In 1955 he took up a fellowship at Keble, where he remained for the rest of his working life in spite of tempting invitations to move elsewhere. He soon became a leading figure in college affairs. With a group of other 'young Turks', he laid plans to reform the college, and when he was appointed senior tutor and tutor for admissions in 1965 he had his chance: supported by Adrian Darby, who did outstanding work as bursar, and other sympathetic colleagues, he brought the academic standards of the college to a new level, increased the spread of subjects taught and widened the intake of both senior and junior members. . As if this were not enough, he was heavily, sometimes controversially, involved in the affairs of the Oxford Institute of Education, and played a large part in the foundation of the sub-faculty of archaeology.

On the scholarly side Stone kept fully abreast of his subject and was a conscientious and highly popular tutor, but, apart from an edition of some Oxfordshire Hundred Rolls for the Oxfordshire Record Society in 1968, and the article already referred to, he published nothing but a few articles. Yet his colleagues regarded him as an authority in his field and he was an influential member of the History Faculty Board. No doubt the multiplicity of his other commitments partly accounts for his lack of publications, and also, he was inclined to think, the Oxford collegiate system, which prevented the constant contact with fellow historians he had found stimulating in Manchester. It is also true that he was a perfectionist; his very able mind was of an analytical rather than a synthetic bent and he had a healthy, but perhaps exaggerated, distrust of generalisations. He could sometimes see complexities where others failed to see them and, especially in later life, he occasionally found difficulty in coming to decisions even on practical matters.

Personally he was an amiable and considerate man who made no enemies and many friends, and he was generous almost to a fault to those who approached him for help or advice of any kind. Yet there was a certain teasing inscrutability about him and it was possible to detect some inner reserve and perhaps uncertainty. He was a controlled man and real intimacy was a privilege granted to very few. Characteristically, he faced the illness of his final months with exemplary courage and lack of self-pity.

In 1950 he married Ella Buchan, by whom he had two children. In early days at Keble he was too deeply involved in the college to be much at home, but after his first marriage was dissolved he spent a lot of time with his second wife Eleanor and his two younger children.