A noted local historian
The great achievement of Trevor Fawcett, who died on July 21, was to open up the fascinating detail of life in 18th century Bath through his writings on a whole range of subjects. His meticulous research and his eminently readable articles and books have been the inspiration for so many other historians both amateur and professional over the past 30 years. Trevor showed us that the stories of everyday people and events in Georgian Bath are there to be found in archival sources if only we take the time to look.
In 1986 he was the inspiration behind the History of Bath Research Group and its guiding secretary for many years. He believed that the word ‘research’ in its name signified genuine interest in forwarding research rather than mere attendance at meetings and talks. Trevor had arrived in Bath in 1984 at the age of 50 having taken early retirement from the library of the University of East Anglia. The first chairman of the HBRG, Brenda Buchanan, drew an apt parallel with Edmund Rack who two hundred years earlier had arrived in Bath, also from Norfolk, and within two years had founded the Bath and West Agricultural Society and become its secretary.
In the first year the HBRG grew to some 80-100 more-or-less active members and proved a lively forum for the sharing of ideas and the promotion of local research. The time was ripe: there was a new archivist, Colin Johnston, at the Bath Record Office, the Bath Archaeological Trust was sponsoring a new biennial journal called Bath History and sympathetic staff in the Reference Library were keen to promote local research. But there is no doubt that it was Trevor’s assiduous nurturing that established the Group’s role in the city and encouraged its development.
Trevor recognised that in Bath local history is conducted largely by non-professionals and he was ever ready to give help where needed. He was well aware of the pitfalls in local history, especially of antiquarianism or the failure to appreciate the wider context and was able to advise how to avoid them. Trevor was convinced that the world wide influence of the conduct of social life in Bath in the 18th century should be understood.
In his own research he always tried to open up new territory and encourage others to use the archival riches on their doorstep. He was scrupulous in maintaining the high standard he set himself in carrying out his own research and always so generous in sharing the fruits of his own wide scholarship with anyone seeking his help, while at the same time always so modest about his own achievements. His output in articles and books was prodigious and ranged widely over the life and activities of 18th century Bath. It was not surprising that he was invited to edit Bath History in 1990 and he also edited the following two volumes in 1992 and 1994.
He always organised his time carefully. He hated waste of all kinds, time, effort, materials, but especially time. Life was structured and carefully organised. The evening meal was always at 6.00pm so he could start work at his desk at 7.00pm (often to 11.00 or midnight) unless there was an evening engagement. Weekends were always free for family pursuits.
Life had begun in Leeds: Trevor was born in 1934, the only child of Irene and Joseph Fawcett, a wholesale florist in Leeds Market. Childhood was affected by war-time rationing, nights in an air-raid shelter, nearby bombs. He was a ‘cassocked and surpliced treble’ in the church choir until his voice broke. Then Leeds Grammar School after the war and from 1952 -1955 he studied Portuguese, French and Geography at Leeds University while still living at home. So National Service was first time away and he spent two years on an intensive course to become a Russian interpreter. Being undecided about his future, he led a number of Ramblers trips in Europe (on one at Positano he met his future wife, Mary) and discovered the joys of planning visits by public transport which continued throughout his life.
In the autumn of 1958 he decided to qualify as a librarian through postgraduate course in London and later became Fellow of the Library Association. His first post in 1960 was at Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology (later De Montfort University) and – significant for the future – was converted to the fascination of the 18th century by Norman Scarfe at an Adult Education Centre. In 1962, after marriage, he worked for three years at the University of Southampton Library, responsible for cataloguing, and began researching in the local history library. It was there that he discovered the riches of newspapers for the historian, which formed such a significant source for him in Bath.
In 1963 came the move to the new University of East Anglia where he was in charge of cataloguing and also responsible for visual arts and music. There was plenty of government funding and he built up an exciting collection of books on art and music, and wrote widely on art librarianship in the Art Library Journal. He proposed an organisation to bring art librarians together and this became ARLIS. Today it flourishes across UK and Ireland and has spawned associations around the world.
Trevor continued to write articles on aspects of art librarianship and more widely on the history of art. His first book The Rise of English Provincial Art: Artists, Patrons and Institutions outside London 1800-1850 was published 1974. He became deeply absorbed in Norwich’s rich past, especially the 18th century, and numerous articles appeared. Over the UEA years he enabled many students and staff in their own research and studies and these friendships continued after the move to Bath. Trevor’s energy was unstoppable! It was a happy family time too with their sons Adrian and Jon, and Trevor was a hands-on father, and a good DIY man.
In 1984 the end of liberal funding of universities meant that Trevor’s opportunities for building the art and music section of the Library were over. He also felt that he had established a sound cataloguing system for the arts in the library. There was the chance for early retirement (at 50) which he decided to take and after 19 years in Norwich a new location seemed right. The move to Bath was to prove fertile ground for the next 30 years of research.
Trevor’s life falls into three parts, geographical and chronological: Leeds and growing up; Norwich and librarianship; Bath and early retirement but continuing research. Naturally there were developments through a long life but the same Trevor emerges, and each part has passed on or strengthened something of the central core. Being an only child gave him self-reliance and his linguistic abilities led him into European travel; building up an art and music collections developed his creative and organisational skills and historical research increased its hold; finally full-time research in Bath increased his published output and the kindness with which he enabled others to follow in his footsteps.
Trevor had many other interests which Mary shared: art, chamber music, environmental matters, natural history (monitoring butterflies on Bannerdown) and much else. He was asked by Stephen Bird who interviewed him in 2011, of what was he most proud and what did he count as his greatest achievement. He replied ‘I don’t know about “achievement” but undoubtedly my family – including my two sons and three grandchildren.’
Compiled by Mary Ede with contributions from: