Obituary: Irene Scouloudi

Randolph Vigne
Thursday 06 August 1992 23:02 BST

Irene Scouloudi, historian, editor, benefactress, born Manchester 2 April 1907, Hon Secretary and General Editor of the Huguenot Society 1951-87, Hon Editor Journal of the British Archaeological Association 1951-74, Hon Fellow Institute of Historical Research 1988, died London 31 July 1992.

IN THE NEW (1991) English edition of his book on the Huguenots in England the French historian Bernard Cottret expresses his debt to the 'Huguenot Society of London and its honorary secretary, Miss Irene Scouloudi, who devoted her whole life to the subject'. He must be corrected on three points: the society has been 'of Great Britain and Ireland' since 1986, Miss Scouloudi retired as honorary secretary (and general editor) in 1988 and she devoted more than half her life to the subject, having joined the society in 1936. But Cottret was doubtless speaking figuratively on the last point and it was well made.

The greatness of Irene Scouloudi's contribution was not just in the addition she made to the sum of knowledge and understanding of the 'strangers' - for her interest went far beyond the French Protestant refugees to this country from the 16th century onwards. Her work, while presidents and council members came and went, as chief executive of the Huguenot Society for 37 years, was also in the preserving and developing of the theme of the refugees, indeed of all the 'strangers' and their relationship with this their host country. At a conference held at the Royal Society in 1985, the year in which the tercentenary of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes was commemorated, a fellow historian introduced Irene Scouloudi's own paper by saying 'For most of us Irene Scouloudi is the Huguenot Society.' Her subject then was 'The Stranger Community in the Metropolis, 1548-1640' and it was published in the book of the conference which she edited for Macmillan in 1987 under the title Huguenots in Britain and their French Background, 1550-1800.

It was her last published work, succeeding her survey of Returns of Strangers in the Metropolis, 1593-1639: a study of an active minority (1985), in which, said Cottret, 'the legal definition of strangers has been splendidly documented'. The conference was for the Huguenot Society and for all students of the Huguenot phenomenon, the book was the centenary volume of the Huguenot Society, which underscores the point that she worked not in isolation, never as a tiller of her own field of research, producing a crop which fed only her reputation and career. Rather did she study and write about the strangers as a historian in a community of other historians, antiquarians, students and those inspired by piety towards forebears and exemplars, always striving to develop and enrich the subject as a whole, not simply her own output.

She was the youngest daughter of Frank Scouloudi, a French citizen of Greek ancestry. After a successful business career, Frank Scouloudi took British nationality and settled with his family in Pembridge Gardens, west London, where Irene was taught at home until, after two years at Notting Hill and Ealing High School, she went on to read history at the LSE, graduating with a BSc (Econ) in 1931. She presented a thesis for her MSc (Econ) on 'Alien Immigration into and Communities in London, 1558-1640' in 1936, and the same year she joined the Huguenot Society, reading to it her first paper, on this subject, in 1937.

She worked at the Guildhall Library during the war and from the Librarian came her strict bibliographical training as well as her readiness in emergencies: the library was partly destroyed in the Blitz and she worked hard at the recovery and re-classification of the badly damaged stock. In the early post-war years she was research assistant to Professor WN Medlicott on volumes I and II of The Economic Blockade in the 'History of the Second World War' series. He demanded a high standard of presentation of his material (and thanked her for it in his Preface). The multitude whom she herself later edited were the beneficiaries of that standard. Was it from Medlicott that she inherited her loathing of 'waffle', her oft-used term of scorn for poor scholarship?

Subsequent research into London history and topography - her Panoramic Views of London, 1660-6 was highly praised in the TLS - married well with the history of the stranger communities. Another early interest was medical history and she produced in 1941 one of the first studies of the Huguenot Sir Theodore de Mayerne, physician to the early Stuart kings, which was acknowledged many years later by Lord Dacre of Glanton as a pioneer work. She wrote much else for the Huguenot Society Proceedings but will be best remembered by scholars for the book she wrote in 1971 with her great friend Mrs AP Hands, French Protestants Relieved through the Threadneedle Street Church, 1681-7, which, despite its esoteric title, is a model study of the earliest relief distribution to refugees. Her Returns of Strangers already mentioned completed her published work, though she was busy on a history of the Huguenot Library, in University College London, until illness called a halt.

She will be remembered for these works but also by countless individuals who were members of the Huguenot Society or attended its meetings, especially from 1951 when she became Hon Secretary and General Editor. The society was at a low ebb after the war and she played a major part in reviving it, giving her services unstintingly until retirement. She encouraged, often 'discovered', many students of Huguenot history in all its aspects, demanded the highest standards from them and from the members, who often came for the company and dinner and had to listen to papers that were sometimes of very specialised interest. Courteous, modest and lady-like in the once-permissible best sense, she carried with her into the 1980s an air of her Edwardian childhood, as she did in her unchanging year's actitivies: the Huguenot Society (and editing the Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 1951-74), with attendance at meetings of learned societies on the lookout for speakers and writers, gave way in June to months at her beloved Austrian lake resort, Krumpendorf, then a tour of Italian galleries with a friend or two, and visits to Devon for the bathing. It was a Forsterian world, travel and civilised pleasure with an unseen background of grinding scholarly toil as manuscripts and proofs followed her round Europe and the West Country.

In later years her Fellowship of the Royal Historical Society and her interest in the Institute of Historical Research (of which she became an Honorary Fellow in 1988) were other happy preoccupations, as had been her council membership of both the London Topographical Society and British Archaeological Association. She spoke little at their meetings but was respected for both her work and her munificence. In 1962 she endowed a charitable trust, known as the Twenty-Seven Foundation, which gives to a wide range of national charities. It also funds Research Fellowships at the Institute of Historical Research and makes grants for historical research and publications.

Now that Irene Scouloudi is no more, the continued existence of her trust will perpetuate for the benefit of posterity the keen historical interests and generous charitable activities of the founder.

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