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Derek Keene obituary | History books


London across the 12 months 1300 was a serious European metropolis, with a inhabitants of 80,000-100,000, comparable with the good city centres of that point, Venice and Florence. In town centre have been streets equivalent to Cheapside, with buildings of three or 4 storeys full of individuals dwelling in cramped situations.

Many of them have been current migrants from the countryside, they usually created a full of life and productive society. On the bottom ground of the buildings have been outlets and stalls, a lot of them clustered in “selds” – small-scale arcades or malls, providing prospects a alternative of products.

The metropolis’s affect prolonged over the entire of the south-east of England, in order that farmers in south Oxfordshire planted the wheat that they knew was in demand by London customers and farmers in Northamptonshire despatched their sons to coach as apprentices to London merchants. This vivid image of the metropolis was revealed by Derek Keene, who has died aged 79 after affected by dementia.

A historian of medieval cities, Derek introduced collectively historical past, archaeology and geography to research areas and buildings, and present how individuals previously skilled life in cities.

Derek Keene established that medieval London was a serious European metropolis with a inhabitants much like these of Venice and Florence

His most necessary publication was a two-volume research of medieval Winchester (1985) however the challenge that generated most pleasure was his work within the Eighties and 90s on the townscape and society of medieval London.

Derek had been introduced up in London, and remembered its postwar ruins, however the historic buildings and streets have been being broken by business improvement on a a lot bigger scale than something brought on by wartime bombing. Excavations of the Roman, medieval and early fashionable constructions have been wanted earlier than harmful constructing work started, and these investigations have been organised by archaeologists on the Museum of London, whose work now has an impartial residence as MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology).

Derek noticed that these intensive excavations introduced a serious analysis alternative, however so did the archive of written data, which may make clear the fabric stays, but in addition may fill out the broader background of town. An inquiry into such a fancy and well-documented place couldn’t be tackled by one particular person, and in 1979 Derek utilized for funding to pay his personal wage and to make use of an assistant. The first of them was Vanessa Harding.

In the early 80s Keene and Harding focused on an in depth investigation of housing and folks in Cheapside. This led to a revision of London’s estimated inhabitants, and its rating with the good Italian cities. The ensuing imaginative analysis printed in such works as Cheapside Before the Great Fire (1985, with Harding) meant that Derek may persuade the Institute of Historical Research within the University of London to ascertain a centre for metropolitan historical past in 1987, and he was appointed its director.

A 16th-century map of London by Braun and Hogenberg.A Sixteenth-century map of London by Braun and Hogenberg.
Photograph: Alamy

“Metropolitan” was chosen slightly than “London” to mirror the good standing and affect of town, and to encourage comparisons to be made. The centre enabled a succession of themes to be explored, equivalent to suburbs and crafts. Its work on “feeding town”, printed in 1993 as A Medieval Capital and its Grain Supply, gained fame amongst historians of meals, farming and cities.

Derek was the son of Edith (nee Swanston), a nurse, and Charles Keene, a policeman who grew to become a planning officer. He was introduced up first in Holloway, north London, after which in Northolt, west London. From Ealing grammar college, in 1961 he went to Oriel College, Oxford. His diploma was in historical past, however he valued archaeology (having dug because the age of 10) and as a map fanatic he revered geography.

At Oxford he encountered the wide-ranging archaeological work being completed at Winchester, directed by Martin Biddle, and, as a postgraduate pupil and later salaried researcher Derek grew to become embedded within the Winchester challenge, excavating medieval artisans’ homes in Brook Street, whereas discovering the paperwork for a similar space. With full entry to town’s giant archive, he prolonged the scope of his analysis to cowl the entire of Winchester, which within the center ages was the 14th largest city in England, till his employment as assistant director of the Winchester challenge resulted in 1978.

The publication of the huge two-volume Survey of Medieval Winchester in 1985 was a landmark occasion in British city historical past. This guide detailed each function of the late medieval metropolis, together with all streets, homes and gardens, and recognized each identified property proprietor. The particulars have been pulled collectively in conclusions in regards to the inhabitants, authorities, society, economic system and faith.

Building houses in a medieval town: an illumination from a 15th-century French manuscript. Derek Keene studied the metropolis in different periods and countries.Building homes in a medieval city: an illumination from a Fifteenth-century French manuscript. Derek Keene studied the metropolis in several durations and international locations. Photograph: Granger Historical Picture Archive/Alamy

In 2001 Derek was appointed to the Leverhulme chair in comparative metropolitan historical past on the Institute of Historical Research, and was in a position till his retirement in 2008 to pursue the thought of the metropolis in several durations and international locations. He was nonetheless concerned in collaborations, notably when he introduced collectively a gaggle of students to put in writing the historical past of St Paul’s: The Cathedral Church of London 604-2004 (2004).

An instance of Derek’s capability to encourage got here from the teams of scholars and guests he led by the streets of the City of London in his time on the Institute of Historical Research. A favorite route took them from the river to Cheapside, the place he may present that the concrete workplace buildings and skyscrapers had not destroyed all hint of a as soon as full of life, vibrant and inhabited metropolis. The road plan was very previous, and Keene would present that Bread Street, for instance, had been deliberate in about AD890 below King Alfred.

In his spare time, Derek would take lengthy walks in wild elements of the world, together with the Rockies.

He married Suzanne Forbes, now an authority in museum research, in 1969, when she was managing the Winchester archaeological finds, and she or he then had the same position on the Museum of London.

She survives him, as do their daughter Frances, son, Thomas, and 4 grandchildren: Ruan, Bryn, Eryn and Eiros.

Derek Keene, historian, born 27 December 1942; died 17 April 2021