Obituary: Rex C Russell

Rex Russell EMN-150129-135323001
Rex Russell EMN-150129-135323001

With the death of Rex Russell, at the age of 98, Barton and Lincolnshire have lost a foremost scholar, local historian, adult educator and author whose classes, lectures, outings, books, articles and advice have opened the eyes of numberless students to the world around them.

Rex was born in Hackney Union Workhouse, London, where his father was Master and his mother Matron.

After leaving school, he developed his artistic and graphic skills working in London studios, skills which he would later use to produce his splendid historical maps and book illustrations.

In 1939, he married his first wife Eleanor - known to most people by her maiden surname Froude - who became an invaluable partner in his work and researches,

After serving in the Royal Navy between 1941 and 1946, Rex had a spell teaching in East Yorkshire primary schools before enrolling as a mature student to read history and education at Durham University.

After graduating, in 1951, he was appointed Workers’ Educational Association Tutor Organiser in North Lindsey and he, Froude, and their two children Kleta and Adrian took up residence at 11 Priestgate in Barton.

Initially he cycled to classes and stories are told of him arriving with icicles dangling from his beard.

In 1964, he was appointed Staff Tutor in Local History in the Hull University Extra-Mural Department, in which post he remained until his retirement in 1981.

During his 30 years as a local history tutor in North Lincolnshire his classes and his enthusiasm enthralled hundreds of students, many of whom were inspired to undertake their own researches into the history of their communities.

His students were never allowed to just sit and listen, but were encouraged to contribute to classes with their own knowledge, experience and researches.

His many outings formed an essential part of a student’s educational experience.

He was ever generous with his knowledge.

His own countless publications (many co-authored with Froude and/or his students) were meticulously researched and beautifully written and illustrated; they now grace bookshelves all over England.

He was one of the country’s foremost experts on the enclosure of England’s open-fields and he wrote extensively on the history of education and many aspects of village and rural town life, landscape, buildings and culture.

In 2010, his work was rewarded by the British Association for Local History, whose representative travelled to Nettleton to give Rex his own ‘personal achievement award’.

Rex and Froude spent hours and hours walking Lincolnshire’s ploughed field frequently collecting pottery which dated back to Roman and medieval times. These sherds provided local historians and archaeologists with a background knowledge of the origins of villages - many long deserted.

He was a founder member of Barton Civic Society, in which he held the post of Chairman and later President for many years.

Rex died at Nettleton Manor Care Home and, appropriately, at the Scunthorpe Crematorium Rex’s cardboard coffin was decorated with one of his own superb headstone drawings.

It might be said that Rex taught during the ‘Golden Age’ of Liberal Adult Education in this country and that following the continuing close of university adult education departments, including that at Hull University, there is a danger the Rex Russells of this world will be lost forever.

Obituary by Geoff Bryant, with help from Dick Hunter’s Guardian obituary of January 19, 2015.