Morgan, H Nigel B
Christopher Robinson, a contemporary of Nigel at both Hurst and Cambridge, writes:
Nigel Morgan died suddenly on 27 August 2006 whilst on holiday in Croatia. He was married twice: his first wife, Annette, died in 1977. He married Barbara in1980. She survives him as do his children Edward, Ben, Guy and Anna. His oldest son, Joseph, died of cancer, aged 39, in November 2005.
He came to Hurst on the science side of the school but with disappointing A levels in 1954 – due largely to his commitments that summer to the Cricket 1st XI and the School Shakespearian Society in the role of Romeo in performances celebrating the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Society – he stayed on an extra year and switched to History and English in which he then did sufficiently well to win a place at Corpus Christie College, Cambridge to read History. This provided the basis and motivation for his future career in which he ultimately achieved considerable distinction and which earned him the following ‘Other Lives Obituary’ in the Guardian (reproduced here with its permission).
“Nigel Morgan became a leading authority on social housing in Victorian England thanks to an unusual decision as a young man. He turned his back on London and fell in love with Preston, Lancashire.
He had been close in the early 1960s to the actor Eleanor Bron, and was one of the group involved in planning the launch of Private Eye. He enjoyed describing in later life, self-mockingly, how he had told the famous founders – Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton, Christopher Booker and company – that the idea would never take off. But he also wanted something more “real” than guying the establishment, and he found it in an advertisement for a job teaching history at Preston Grammar School.
Morgan’s decision to go north was partly rooted in a sense of the shallow side of undergraduate Cambridge, which he came to after flying Vampire jets during national service with the RAF (1955-57). Vampires were made in Preston by English Electric, and their history began to absorb him as part of the story of the town and its hinterland.
He had, of course, one very famous predecessor. Charles Dickens pounced on Preston for Hard Times. The book, with its descriptions of social division and a smoke-blackened, brick town “of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage”, made the place briefly infamous as Coketown, home of Mr Gradgrind.
Morgan loved the book but went into the same story in far greater detail. His books, such as Vanished Dwellings, about handloom weavers, and its successor, Deadly Dwellings, which described the grim effects of industrial growth, were humane and widely read.
For five decades Morgan also photographed the fabric of his adopted town. He was a familiar figure with his camera, first as the grammar school teacher, then as senior history lecturer at St Martin’s College, Lancaster, and finally back at the University of Central Lancashire, in Preston, where he taught part-time.
His expertise earned him a post with the English Heritage re-survey of listed buildings, initially in Lancashire but then further afield in Manchester, Leeds, Surrey and Cornwall. He was interested to be back in the south, where he was born in Kent, the son of an RAF administrator, and went to school, before reading history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.”
Alan Crosby, a close Lancashire colleague, writes that Nigel’s influence upon Lancashire’s built heritage and its future was profound. He believes him to have been an outstanding historian specialising in architectural history, the author of a series of superb works on the housing history of Preston. They are now the definitive word on the subject and give a quite exceptional insight into the relationship between housing, architecture and townscape on the one hand and society, economy and family life on the other. He writes that Nigel “was also a wonderful character – witty, humorous, idiosyncratic, maybe a touch eccentric, a great speaker, a rich fund of knowledge and stories, a really distinctive personality of the best sort.”
For my part I had only recently re-established contact with Nigel and was working with him on a Profile for the OJ web site which was awaiting his final approval at the time of his death. This process had been delayed by the recent death of Joseph which had, clearly and understandably, affected him very much. With the family’s consent the Profile has now also been published on the web site [click here] as, in my view, it gives, in his own inimitable fashion, such a good picture of the Nigel known to me and, much more recently, to many others.
We offer our heartfelt sympathies to Barbara and the family on their sad loss.