On the 19th March, Suffolk Local History Council held the first in a series of biennial conferences in honour of the late Peter Northeast, an amateur local historian who evidently had a massive influence on the accumulation and cataloguing of Suffolk historical data. His most solid achievement would appear to have been the transcribing and translating of 15,000 (!!) medieval wills. But, from what I gathered from hearing the tributes of his colleagues last Saturday in Blackbourne Hall, Elmswell, his more enduring gift to the study of local history is the encouragement he gave to students at all levels, from Primary school to Ph.D. He led by his example as an ultra-conscientious researcher whose aim was to unselfishly share everything he found. A fund has been established in his name to create and house an archive of documents gathered throughout his long life.
I wish I had known the man and not just his publications, useful as they have been to me personally. The glamorous sharks of the history world may partly be where they are today because of their voracious appetites for fame. But their world views have been informed by thousands of “Bob Norwiches” relentlessly plugging away, noting and editing obscure local records that form the basis of any broader analysis of our past. For all the Starkeys and Schamas, I know who speak to me best of our collective histories – the more democratic Keith Wrightson, Eamon Duffy and Michael Woods, whose studies of Terling, Morebath and Kibworth must be founded on their debt to local historians such as Peter Northeast of Rattlesden, Suffolk.