Munby Lionel

Lionel Munby

Born in Oxford, Lionel Munby developed an interest in social history and politics in the 1930s. After school in Oxford and Clifton college, Bristol, he entered Hertford College, Oxford, where in 1939 he graduated with a first in modern history. It was during this time that he joined the Communist Party.

With the war came military service, mainly in Italy. Initially, promotion eluded him, but he was eventually called in to his superior's office and told that it was silly that he was not being promoted just because he was a Communist. The offending pages of his service record were then burned. Promotion followed, and he finished the war as the adjutant of Milan.

In 1946 he was appointed to teach at the Cambridge University's board of extramural studies. He soon started to teach local history in Hertfordshire as well. From the start, he got students actively involved in their learning, an approach being taken up by other historians, many with Communist credentials, who looked at history from below, at the lives of ordinary people. Many Hertfordshire local history publications in the 1960s, 70s and 80s owe their inspiration and editing to Lionel. Some classes led to the founding of local history societies.


In the late 1950s, as Staff Tutor of the Extra Mural Board of Cambridge University, he guided the Hatfield Branch of the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) to research and produce a 12-part work, `Hatfield and its People’. It remains the most detailed history of Hatfield from its beginnings to the start of the new town in the 1950s.

He was on the committee of the Hertfordshire Association for Local History from 1955 to 1987, serving as chairman and president. He also provided the inspiration for the founding of the Hertfordshire Record Society and became its first secretary.

He was an active member of the Communist Party Historians' Group from its inception. For 20 years he was the editor of the Amateur Historian, later the Local Historian. The change of title was indicative of Lionel's thinking. Local historians were not professional or amateur – just local historians. He was also involved in the British Association for Local History, in later years as president.

Munby published a series of essays in 1971 as The Luddites and Other Essays. His book, The Hertfordshire Landscape (1977) is considered a classic, and many of his other works are indispensable items on any local historian's bookshelves.

Munby died in April 2009 aged 90.


Source: Guardian 23rd July 2009 and 12th August 2009



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