Obituary:Professor Glanville Jones

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Glanville Jones spent the whole of his academic career at Leeds University, where he was first appointed as an Assistant Lecturer in 1949. An accomplished and dedicated teacher, with a wide range of interests, he made a distinguished contribution to the development of historical geography at his university and much further afield. His scholarship was recognised by his appointment as Professor of Historical Geography in 1974.

Throughout these years of unremitting activity his research work was concentrated mainly, though not exclusively, on his native Wales. He was born at Felindre, in the parish of Llangyfelach, Glamorgan, where his forebears had lived for generations. After war service, commissioned in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, he completed his degree in Geography at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. The school had a strong tradition in historical geography, and Jones was drawn to the study of medieval rural settlement. His choice was greatly influenced, too, by the inspiring presence of T. Jones Pierce, Professor of Medieval Welsh History, who supervised his postgraduate study of the defensive measures adopted by the 13th-century princes of Gwynedd in their conflicts with the English crown.

Traditional historical interpretation had portrayed medieval Welsh society as a largely free society given to what remained, even in the period of the medieval princes, a semi- nomadic pastoral economy. Glanville Jones, first broaching his ideas in a seminal paper on Anglesey in 1955, argued that Welsh society had contained, from a very early period, a much more substantial bond (unfree) population than had hitherto been imagined. He later developed his conception of a "multiple estate" which consisted of a network of demesne lands whose agrarian and pastoral resources were systematically exploited for the sustenance of the royal dynasties. In recent months he was greatly excited by the archaeological surveys which, at long last, are beginning to reveal traces of the elusive princely courts, such as that uncovered at Rhosyr in Anglesey, which had been the foci of the economic organisation that he had done so much to illuminate.

Apart from the bond settlements, he was convinced that free kindreds, too, had long been engaged in stable agrarian activity, and by his meticulous study of the documentary sources, patient work upon the law texts, and his intimate knowledge of landscape, he was able to elucidate, much more clearly than ever before, the field systems and settlement patterns which emerged from Welsh methods of land exploitation and inheritance. His work initiated a fundamental reconsideration of the respective rolls of tillage and stock-raising in a medieval economy.

Glanville Jones's work on early and medieval Wales obviously had implications, which he himself explored, not only for border areas that had been subject to Anglo-Saxon settlement, but for wide areas of central England and especially its northern regions. Leeds was itself at the centre of a land with a distinctive British inheritance, and important associations with early Welsh poetry. His contributions to the debate on cultural continuities remain highly invigorating papers. Well versed in the documentary sources, the legal literature and the poetry - for he had a complete fluency in the Welsh language - he brought a remarkable armoury to bear upon the study of the landscapes he knew so well and loved so deeply.

Jones was a scholar whose unstinting loyalty and dedication placed him under immense physical strain. At Leeds he bore his full share in administrative responsibility, and he is particularly remembered for his greatly caring chairmanship, during the stressful Eighties, of the committee responsible for the colleges under the aegis of the university. He maintained, too, a constant allegiance to the University of Wales. He was an assiduous external examiner for many years, and served on innumerable appointing committees.

Loyalty was matched by extraordinary courage as he withstood deteriorating health with exemplary resolve. He retired from his Chair in 1989, finding new energy to complete a sequence of studies on which he had set his mind. An extended version of a paper he delivered, much against the medical odds, at the International Congress of Celtic Studies at Edinburgh in 1995, which is still to appear, is testimony to his great fortitude. That he was able to do so owed much to the joy and fulfilment which he found in his family. A devoted and generous husband and father, he cherished the love and support of his wife, Pam, and the strong and affectionate bond with his two able children in whose professional success he took great pride.

J. B. Smith

Glanville Rees Jeffreys Jones, historical geographer: born Felindre, Glamorgan 12 December 1923; Reader in Historical Geography, Leeds University 1969-74, Professor of Historical Geography 1974-89; married 1949 Margaret Stevens (marriage dissolved 1958), 1959 Pamela Winship (one son, one daughter); died Leeds 23 July 1996.