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Professor Nicholas Brooks > A Week at Vindolanda  > Who Do I Think I Am?  > The Myth of Roman Britain > Alex Agar >  

It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Nicholas Brooks from pancreatic cancer at the age of 73. Nicholas was particularly important to us regarding the Sashes (Sceaftesege) investigations, providing advice and support. In about 2008 I researched all available evidence and concluded that the then perceived wisdom was not correct. I published my conclusions which were dismissed by certain notable experts. Nicholas told me to keep going and not to get distracted by criticism as it was likely I was right; these conclusions have since been widely accepted, even by those who were giving me a hard time. Nick gave me the confidence to carry on.


Nicholas published over 120 papers relating to the Anglo-Saxons. Of relevance and assistance to us were:


Alfredian government: the West Saxon inheritance

Anglo-Saxon Charters in Anglo-Saxon Myths

The development of military obligations in eight and ninth century England

Excavations at Wallingford 1965-1996

The Unidentified Forts of the Burghal Hidage


The last two were particularly important. His excavations at Wallingford revealed an early, simple phase to the defences; this excavation was repeated and extended in 2010 by Leicester University which confirmed Nicholas’ date of 878. This in association with excavations at Cricklade by Jeremy Haslam gave us an insight into what Sceaftesege may have looked like. In his “Unidentified Forts” Nicholas proposed the concept of an “Emergency Fort Period” 878/9. This concept suggested groups of fortifications in response to particular threats, of relevance to us being Cricklade, Oxford, Wallingford and Cookham.


Last year Nicholas provided valuable advice to our attempts to locate Sceaftesege, including “consider practical construction issues and need for good access”. These amongst other matters are basic to our current strategy. Nicholas also gave me a promise that when we revealed anything of potential he would inspect (free of charge) so as to give us the benefit of his expertise and would arrange for his students to assist with excavating. An aspect of most Burghal Hidage investigations is the administration that enabled such a complex system of defence. He made suggestions on this from his research into Burhwork obligations. Nicholas provided us with valuable background, advice, support and occasional comfort for which I will be forever in his debt; he will be greatly missed. So let us try to complete what he started in memory of a great man.


SOME MATTERS OF HIS LIFE (from various obituaries)


Born in Virginia Water, Surrey, Nicholas was the son of W D W Brooks, a consultant physician at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, London, and Phyllis (nee Juler), a physician's daughter and talented pianist and figure-skater. The third of their four children, he was educated at Winchester College, and graduated in history from Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1961.


Attended boys' public school, Winchester College, where the brilliant Senior History Master, Harold Walker taught and became fascinated by Kent's historic landscape while staying at the family's holiday cottage, which lay on the continuation of the Roman-built Watling Street, south of Canterbury.


Studied history at Magdalen College, Oxford and was a keen oarsman, representing the College at international regattas in Copenhagen and Oslo before graduating in 1961. While working on his DPhil, at the age of 23 in 1964, was appointed to his first academic post, at the University of St Andrews, where he met and married Chlöe Willis and stayed until the age of 44 in 1985.

In 1978, when Nicholas became general editor of the series Studies in the Early History of Britain (later, Studies in Early Medieval Britain), he gave a memorable paper to the Royal Historical Society on King Alfred mobilising his people against Viking attacks. Thirty volumes of studies were published under his guidance, and four under his personal editorship or co-editorship: Latin and the Vernacular Languages in Early Medieval Britain (1982), St Oswald of Worcester (1996), St Wulfstan and his World (2005) and Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald (2009). These publications were important in establishing an approach to Anglo-Saxon England that understood it in the context of the whole of the British Isles and contacts with continental Europe.


In 1985, Nicholas was appointed to the chair of Medieval History at Birmingham University. There, history prospered under his wise and supportive headship, as did the faculty of arts during his stint as dean. He was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1989. After his retirement in 2004, a group including several of his former students, now academics themselves, produced a Festschrift: Myth, Rulership, Church and Charters (2008), testimony to Nicholas's personal warmth and kindness as well as to his academic distinction.


There are two stories of Nicholas's retirement, both true. One is that he spent more time with Chlöe and the family, that he continued to enjoy gardening and walking, that he and Chlöe found new enjoyment in choral singing, and that he spent more time on bridge playing than bridge archaeology. The other is that the Canterbury charters were published, as were several substantial papers, including two of his most original on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, that he continued to supervise research students, that he presided as he had since 1991 over the British Academy's Anglo-Saxon charters project, and that he continued to sit on the fabric advisory committees of two great cathedrals, Canterbury and Worcester.


King Alfred left his memory in good works; Nicholas Brooks followed suit.