Alan Greening (1930 - 2015), A Tribute

Alan Thomson

Alan Greening was born in Swindon in 1930, the son of a railwayman. He later joined the railways himself, working on the administrative side. Then in about 1976 he came to live in Hertford where he was employed in the traffic management section for HCC Highways at Goldings. He worked there till his retirement in 1995.

Alan was always interested in local history and while living in Swindon had been a stalwart of the WEA and a regular attender of weekend courses. He soon started attending courses at Theobalds and in so doing met up with other interested persons from the Hertford locality. From there he became involved in the Hertford branch of the WEA and was soon elected to the chairmanship. Having organised a short course on the history of Hertford, he canvassed the class members to see if there might be support for the formation of a local history group. His effort eventually led to the founding of the Hertford & Ware Local History Society in June 1979. Alan served for many years as its Secretary and later as Chairman. He was responsible for editing the early editions of the Society’s Newsletter, which was subsequently transformed into the Journal. He also played a key role in the founding of the Hereford Oral History Group.

Alan was particularly interested in the history of Hertford during the 17th century. Alan Thomson writes:

Alan was particularly interested in the freemen of the borough and was adept at finding the interesting stories and amusing anecdotes in between the more humdrum detail of the borough and quarter sessions records, which added a lighter touch to the Newsletter. His work on the freemen was extensive and he found out a lot of detail about individual mayors and burgesses that ran the borough. Having taught himself to read 17th century handwriting, he contributed a series of articles to the journal, such as Poor Relief in Stuart Hertford, based on one of his many talks to the Society and the evidence from the Hearth Tax returns of the 1660s from the National Archives as well as the local records from HALS. In 1991 he wrote a chapter in Hertfordshire in History, a volume of papers presented to Lionel Munby. In this he explored, through statistical analysis, all the freemen between 1640 and I 715 and showed how the corporation was governed, how freedom of the borough worked and the political manipulation of freedom. This made an important contribution to our understanding of the machinations of local politicians in a period of great upheaval.

Another interest was in roads. He regularly walked from Hertford to Ware, and in 2003 wrote an article on Turnpikes in East Hertfordshire between the 17th and 19th centuries. Delving into the local sources he wrote on Much Ado about Tippling, the story of a major pub crawl in 1638, and The Draper’s Tale, an in depth study of the life of William Gardiner, a prominent mayor of Hertford before the Restoration. He continued to write articles for the Journal with such snappy titles as Keeping the Judges Happy, and Location, Location, Location. His last article for the journal in 2010 returned to his main interest in the freemen with an article, Purging the Corporation, the impact of the Restoration on the freemen and burgesses.

He was always generous with his knowledge, and one always learnt a lot on car journeys to meetings and to the annual HALH Symposium. His knowledge was based on deep research and he was above all an enthusiast. He helped many gain an interest in local history through his genial personality and detailed stories. He will be sorely missed by members of the Society and a wider audience.

This page was added on 22/04/2022.

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