Obituary: John Aveling

Click to follow
The Independent Online
John Cedric Hugh Aveling, historian and priest, born Grantham 11 June 1917, married 1968 Aileen Kerby (one son), died Bracknell 1 February 1993.

JOHN AVELING was a pioneer in the study of post-Reformation English Catholicism, and a leading authority in the field.

Born in Grantham in 1917, he attended the King's School, Grantham, and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he read History, gaining a double First with distinction in both parts. Rather than pursue an academic career, he went to Lincoln Theological College. After ordination to the priesthood he served as a curate at All Souls, Leeds, from 1940 to 1945. He tried his vocation with the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in Yorkshire.

In 1946 he was received into the Roman Catholic church and in the same year entered the noviceship as a Benedictine monk at Ampleforth Abbey, Yorkshire, taking the name of Hugh. He lived as a monk of the community for 20 years and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. As well as teaching church history to the student monks, he formed part of a formidable team of history teachers in the school, alongside his monastic colleagues William Price (Headmaster 1954-64), Basil (later Cardinal) Hume and Edward Corbould and the laymasters Thomas Charles-Edwards, Tony Davidson, Stefan Dammann and Brian Richardson. He was head of History from 1954 to 1966. This remarkable team produced outstanding results both at A Level and with university entrance and scholarship examinations and contributed greatly to the school's academic renown. For some years he was also parish priest of Kirby Moorside nearby.

Alongside his monastic duties, Aveling worked on a series of writings that were to make a major contribution to, perhaps indeed to revolutionise, the study of English Catholicism after the Reformation. Post Reformation Catholicism in East Yorkshire 1558-1790 appeared in 1960, followed by similar studies on the West Riding (1963), the North Riding (1966) and the city of York (1970). These detailed local studies did much to put the study of post-Reformation English Catholicism on a scholarly basis as well as to show that the subject is integral to the nation's history, not just a fringe issue. Thereby he served other 'recusant' and minority causes. His writing was rich in texture, with fine portrayals of character and situation: history as art. In 1976 he published a general survey, The Handle and the Axe: the Catholic recusants in England from Reformation to emancipation. Many other publications appeared, inside and outside his speciality.

In 1966 he left Ampleforth Abbey, following a crisis of conscience. He returned briefly to the Anglican ministry and was later received back into the Roman Catholic communion as a layman. He married in 1968. From 1971 he taught at Garth Hill comprehensive school in Bracknell and he was head of History there. On retirement he continued to teach history part-time, with notable success, at a number of institutions including Bracknell College, Wellington School and the extramural department of Reading University.

John Aveling was a man of great integrity and sensitivity. His career represents a remarkable personal and religious pilgrimage. He was shy but came to life both in private conversation and when speaking in public whether as a teacher or as a preacher. He gave delight with his wry, almost impish sense of humour. He could be severe and intimidating but this was due in part to his shyness and to his passion for the truth. Many were his friends; even more numerous were those who respected him.

(Photograph omitted)