Obituary: Hilda Grieve

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The Independent Online
Hilda Elizabeth Poole Grieve, archivist and historian: born Upper Froyle, Hampshire 4 September 1913; Senior Assistant Archivist, Essex Record Office 1939-66; BEM 1946; died Chelmsford 1 November 1993.

HILDA GRIEVE will be remembered as an archivist and historian far beyond the confines of her adopted county of Essex. As archivist in the pioneering days of the Essex Record Office under FG Emmison, she produced Examples of English Handwriting (1949-50), the first inexpensive book designed 'to provide students of local archives with a selection of handwritings, with transcripts and translations, as exercises in reading'. As historian, her main works were The Great Tide (1959), an account of the 1953 floods written for the Essex County Council, and The Sleepers and the Shadows (1988), the first history of Chelmsford based on original sources.

Of Scottish descent, Grieve was educated at Queen Margaret's School, Scarborough, and Westfield College, London, where she was College Scholar and took a First in History. She then taught at Mistley Place preparatory school, where she produced a memorable historical pageant. She returned to Westfield with a research studentship in 1937, leaving before her thesis was written to take up the post of Senior Assistant Archivist in the newly opened Essex Record Office. She was seconded to Civil Defence during the Second World War.

In charge of the Essex Record Office's Students' Room until 1966, Grieve enhanced the office's growing reputation for its services to the public. Generations of students at all levels studying original documents have cause to remember her with gratitude and affection; some have become archivists in turn, including the present Keeper of the Public Records, others university lecturers. Her knowledge of ecclesiastical records enabled her to introduce researchers to the elucidation of the tortuous scripts and complex procedures of the records of archdeacons' courts, sources subsequently exploited to great effect by social historians.

She played a full part in the record office's series of exhibitions and accompanying picture booklets, notably Ornament and Decoration in Essex Records (with Frederick Roberts, 1950) and Introduction to Ingatestone Hall (1954) - having personally scrubbed the floors of one wing of the house leased from Lord Petre by the record office as its exhibition centre. Her skills as a historian, honed by her wartime experience, were given full rein when the Essex County Council seconded her to write The Great Tide. Characteristically, she not only carried out the necessary documentary research, correspondence and interviews, but also undertook fieldwork, taking the form of gregarious, and sometimes hilarious, Sunday walks, by 'Hilda's circus', in all weathers along the sea walls.

The final years of her working life, 1966-73, were spent as Deputy Editor of the Victoria County History of Essex, where her skills in research and topography made an important contribution to a long and difficult volume covering metropolitan Essex (VCH Essex vi).

Retirement freed Grieve to take up the challenge to write the history of her adopted town, a project originating in a request to contribute a brief historical introduction to the report of the Chelmsford Planning Survey (1945), as a result of which she became convinced that the historian JH Round might have been wrong in his opinion that there 'was very little about which to write'. The first volume, covering the period to 1608, appeared in 1988 (The Sleepers and the Shadows). Despite an operation for cancer two years ago, she was able to complete a second, continuing the story up to Chelmsford's becoming a borough in 1888. This volume will be published by the Essex Record Office.

Hilda Grieve combined brilliance of intellect with kindness and sensitivity. She had a wide circle of friends of all ages, each of whom found her responsive to their own current enthusiasm. Her own interests included music, travel, ranging from Hadrian's Wall to the Great Wall of China, and watching athletics and cricket at the county ground. Her love of gardening was evidenced, not only in the delightful walled garden of her Chelmsford home, but also in her account of the horticultural activities of the eighth Lord Petre, Transatlantic Gardening Friendship (1981). For her, also, friendship was sweet.

(Photograph omitted)