Skip to main content

Obituary - Elizabeth Melling

Page number

KAS.2017.Obituary - Elizabeth Melling.Archaeologia Cantiana.138:337.



elizabeth melling, b.a.

Elizabeth Melling died in June 2016 at the age of 89. She was a Northerner having been born in Wigan. Elizabeth obtained a b.a. in history at Durham University in 1949 and in the following year a Diploma in Archives Administration at Liverpool University before joining the Kent Archives Office (KAO) of the Kent County Council as a junior archivist. She became Assistant County Archivist in 1966. She stayed with the archive service until her retirement, through ill-health, in 1980. Her 30-year career allowed her to develop a profound knowledge of the County’s records collections and the local history of Kent generally. Few researchers visiting the KAO could not benefit from her depth of experience and her painstaking help with inquiries.

Her lectures throughout Kent did much to promote a wider interest in and appreciation of the value of documentary sources while her early work as the archivist responsible for contact with schools secured the excellent reputation of the Office in the education field. But it was her authorship of the Kentish Sources series of books which remains the most important aspect of her pioneering work in spreading knowledge of records. Using selected documents from the KAO, this series shows the contribution that the study of original manuscript sources as can make to all aspects of the study of history. A common theme is how local developments can sometimes have considerable influence at the national level. The first volume, Some Roads and Bridges appeared in 1959 with five succeeding volumes covering Kent and the Civil war, Aspects of Agriculture and Industry, The Poor Law, Some Kentish Houses and Crime and Punishment. As the books were specifically designed for the general reader, each contains a useful introduction to the subject. Kentish Sources ended in 1969 with many people wishing it could have been extended.

Elizabeth then turned to a major study, History of the Kent County Council, published in 1975 as a monument to the old KCC, so radically reorganised in the 1974 Reform of Local Government.

While her career was based in Kent, her standing in her profession nationally is attested by her election to the Council of the Society of Archivists, becoming its Vice-Chairman in 1976-77.

Elizabeth joined the KAS in 1953 and thus became one of its most senior members. She was elected to Council in 1976 and served as a Vice President from 1984-2006. Her expertise was, of course, particularly highly valued by the Publications Committee of the Society on which she served for 20 years including as its Secretary from 1999-2003. In 1983 the Society had published Studies in Modern Kentish History presented to Felix Hull and Elizabeth Melling on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Kent Archives Office.

Although dedicated to her professional work she was also an enthusiastic member of local societies where she was always ready with acute observations. She was particularly interested in art and musical appreciation both locally, nationally and internationally having a special interest in the Italian scene. Her personal library illustrated the width of her interests. Not the least of these was a fond attachment to her Lancashire background.

paul oldham and margaret lawrence