Roger Fieldhouse obituary

Other lives: Historian of modern British adult education

My friend and former colleague Roger Fieldhouse, who has died aged 79 after a short illness, contributed significantly to two academic fields: local history; and the history and philosophy of modern British adult education.

Roger was appointed tutor/organiser for the WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) in North Yorkshire in the mid-1960s, and developed a lifelong love of the area. He worked with local people to explore the history of their own communities. His book A History of Swaledale and Richmond (1978) was scholarly and authoritative. He worked closely with several colourful Dales characters, who became family friends; and with Joan Maynard, the indefatigable advocate of agricultural workers, who later became a prominent leftwing Labour MP.

In 1970, Roger was appointed to the department of adult education and extramural studies at the University of Leeds: later, he became responsible, as head of department, for all the liberal adult education work of the school of continuing education. Roger was committed to a “social purpose” perspective on adult education: “a democratic, dialectical and non-utilitarian approach”, as he put it. He aimed to provide “individuals with the knowledge which they can use collectively to change society if they so wish”, with a particular focus upon enabling working-class students to “challenge the inequalities and injustices of society in order to bring about radical social change”.

Among his many publications, A History of Modern British Adult Education (1996) remains the standard text; he wrote a definitive history of the British anti-apartheid movement (2005); and he and I co-edited EP Thompson and English Radicalism (2013).

Roger was born in East Sheen, south-west London, the second of four sons of Ernest Fieldhouse, a commercial traveller, and his wife, Phyllis (nee Scott). After Wellington school, Roger studied modern history at Reading University, 1960-63; later, studying part-time, he was awarded a PhD (on the ideology of English adult education) by Leeds University.

During his time at Leeds, Roger and his wife, Gill (nee Taylor), enjoyed a busy family life in Harrogate, bringing up their four children - Catherine, William, Edward and Victoria. They later divorced.

In 1986, Roger was appointed to the chair of continuing education at the University of Exeter, a post that he occupied until his retirement in 1996. He enjoyed village life in Devon and came to know Devon and Cornwall well. But he also travelled internationally – to Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, with his partner of more than 30 years, Roseanne Benn.

Roger, an English Romantic at heart, loved the English countryside. He was a member for 40 years of a group of friends who met for walking weekends in the Lake District; he was an enthusiast for English pubs and cricket; and we enjoyed for many years joint family holidays on the Welsh coast. He had, above all, a lifelong love of the Yorkshire Dales.

Roger was a kind and generous man, much loved, valued and respected by family, friends, colleagues and students.

He is survived by Roseanne, whom he married in 2015, three stepdaughters and six step-grandchildren; and by the four children, and 11 grandchildren, from his marriage to Gill.

Dick Taylor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Mark Ormrod obituary
Other lives: Expert in Britain’s long history of immigration who helped to change the school curriculum

Sarah Rees Jones

16, Aug, 2020 @11:53 AM

Article image
Paul Hyams obituary
Other lives: Expert in medieval history who taught for long spells at Oxford and then Cornell University in the US

Elaine Hyams

21, Feb, 2023 @5:30 PM

Article image
Peter Sawyer obituary
Influential scholar of the Vikings who challenged the standard view of them as invaders and destroyers

Ian Wood

26, Jul, 2018 @4:16 PM

Article image
Malcolm Chase obituary
Social historian who was a leading authority on the Chartists

Simon Hall and Rohan McWilliam

23, Mar, 2020 @2:58 PM

Article image
Roger Magraw obituary
Other lives: Historian and author whose professional life was centred on the University of Warwick’s history department

Susan Hall

10, Dec, 2014 @6:28 PM

Article image
Liam Smith obituary
Other lives: Historian and biographer of Napoleon III, and informal adviser to the Bonaparte family

Robert Gildea

19, Sep, 2017 @3:52 PM

Article image
Stephen Humphrey obituary
Other lives: Distinguished and popular London historian

Len Reilly

20, Feb, 2017 @5:24 PM

Article image
Peter Kidson obituary
Other lives: Outstanding historian of medieval architecture

Nicola Coldstream

11, Mar, 2019 @5:35 PM

Article image
Neville Masterman obituary
Other lives: Translator at Bletchley Park during the second world war and later an academic historian

Richard Pepper

06, Mar, 2019 @5:18 PM

Article image
Richard Sharpe obituary
Other lives: Historian who threw light on the holy men and scholars of the Middle Ages

Nigel Ramsay

05, May, 2020 @4:23 PM