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Professor W G Hoskins CBE - historian

Page updated on 2nd May 2011

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Professor William George Hoskins was born on 22nd May 1908 at 54 (now 26-28) St David's Hill, Exeter. Hoskins' great grandfather, William Dommett Hoskins, opened a bakery in Rack Street in the 1830's, before moving to Smythen Street. His grandfather, also William George Hoskins moved the bakery from Smythen Street to St Davids Hill in 1892. His father, another William George, later took over the business as a master baker, and married Alice Beatrice Hoskins (nee Dymond).

He first went to nursery school in Hoopern Street, followed by the Episcopal School, Mount Dinham which he attended during the First World War. The young Hoskins won a scholarship at the age of ten for Heles School, before attending the University College of the South West, now Exeter University. In 1933 Hoskins married Frances (Jane) Jackson and had one daughter and one son.

Hoskins academic career at the University Collge of Leicester between 1931-41 and 1946-51, as a Lecturer in Economics, but from 1948 he was a Reader in English Local History at Leicester. Hoskins became a Reader in Economic History at Oxford from 1951 until 1965 before returning to Leicester on the Advisory Committee on Building of Special Architectural Interest until 1964. From 1964 until 1968 he was the Hatton Professor (Emeritus) of English History at Leicester.

His book Devon, a volume that included a gazetteer of all 430 parishes of the county, along with chapters covering the history of the county and its towns, was published in 1954. Some consider it to be the finest modern county history; several of the photos for Devon where taken by F L Attenborough, vice Chancellor of Leicester, and father of David and Richard.

He significantly expanded our knowledge of the Devon landscape, especially Dartmoor. As a historian, lecturer, author and broadcaster he brought to the public his love of his native Devon environment, its history and problems.

His book 'The Making of the English Landscape' from 1955 was a best seller and explained the shape and nature of England's landscape. He also wrote 'Devon and Its People and Industry', and 'Trade and People in Exeter 1688-1800'. W G Hoskins also made two TV series for the BBC, the first in 1972 based on 'The Making of the English Landscape' and the second in 1976, called The Landscape of England.

His book 'Two Thousand Years in Exeter' is the most comprehensive study of his native city available, and was republished in 2006, with an update by local author Hazel Harvey.

Hoskins was president of the Dartmoor Preservation Association between 1962 and 1976. In 1960, Professor Hoskins was instrumental in forming the Exeter Group, later to become the Exeter Civic Society, dedicated to preserving the historic city and promoting new and sensitive facilities. He was the first chairman of the Society. The Civic Society is still active, working to preserve the best of Exeter's ancient fabric. Intensely suspicious of politicians, Hoskins was elected onto the City Council in order that a voice be raised against some of the proposed redevelopment schemes that were in the planning stage. His campaigning saved the Higher Market from the bulldozers and forced a rethink on a proposed extension of the inner by-pass across Bull Meadow. He was awarded the CBE in 1971 for services to Local History.

In an article from 1978 in the Observer Magazine, Ena Kendall wrote "He drinks his favourite claret at his local inn, the White Hart, with chaps he went to school with. Despite his scholarly output, there is nothing of the dry, ivory-towered academic about him. A stranger could take him for a farmer who has just had an unexpectedly fat cheque from tha Milk Board - rubicund, jolly, with a thatch of snowy hair and eyes that crinkle when he laughs, which is often."

The Sunday Times included Hoskins in their 1991 1,000 Makers of the 20th Century. He died on 11th January 1992 at Cullompton, and his ashes were scattered in the meadows of Brampford Speke. The house of his birth displays a blue plaque unveiled by the Civic Society in October 2003 which bears the inscription:

W.G. HOSKINS CBE FBA Dlitt 1908-1992

(This is my love, my native land)

I am grateful to Angel Marks for the photo of the young Professor Hoskins and for the additional material in this biography.

Professor W G HoskinsProfessor W G Hoskins. Professor W G Hoskins at St Davids HillHoskins outside his home at St Davids Hill circa 1930.26-28 St Davids HillHoskins' birthplace.

On 22 June 2008, a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples was rung at St David's Church. It was a hundred years to the day, when Hoskins' father, rang the tenor bell to a peal in this method at St David's for the first time, and a month after Hoskins' birth.

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