In this blog our current Director, Dr Stephen Roberts and Editor of the Commons 1422-1504 project, Dr Linda Clark pay tribute to Valerie Cromwell, Director of the History of Parliament Trust between 1991 and 2001. It is with sadness that we relay the news of Valerie’s passing last week to our readers.
We were saddened to hear of the death on 7 March of Valerie Cromwell, Director of the History between 1991 and 2001. Valerie came to the History in 1991 from the University of Sussex, where she had been a long-established faculty member, leaving there as a Reader in History in the School of English and American Studies. Her academic specialisms were nineteenth-century
British politics, and in particular the areas of British foreign policy and parliamentary history. She was appointed as General Editor of the History of Parliament, but very quickly persuaded the Trustees to change the title to Director, in line with the changing nature of the post. Under her supervision as Director, a number of reforms were brought to fruition which significantly changed not only the governance of the History but also working practices there.
The funding of the History passed from the direct control of the Treasury to the House of Commons Commission, and towards the end of her time as Director, to the House of Lords Commission as well. Secondly, Valerie brought to bear at the History an interest in computer analysis of historical data. She pioneered the use of computers and IT, unknown at the History before her arrival, and quickly secured their use as an essential tool. It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact of this change on staff working practices, which before that time had consisted entirely of typing from hand-written notes on index cards and A5 notepads. The first-fruits of this development were the appearance of the History’s first ever non-print publication – a CD-ROM of the content of all 23 previously published volumes, which provided the means for that material, 16,200 pages and 13 million words, to be searched at the click of a mouse. The History’s first website was also constructed during this period.
Another key development was the improvement in the working environment of staff. In 1992, in the early days of Valerie’s directorship, the History moved to premises at Woburn Square. These were the first offices not shared with another organization, and better-appointed accommodation than any that had previously been home to the project.
During Valerie’s time as Director, the volumes on the Commons 1386-1421 and 1690-1715 were published, and for the first time a project on the Lords was commissioned, on the promise of funding from that House. This duly came to fruition in 2016, as the House of Lords 1660-1715 volumes. Valerie was a stalwart supporter of the International Commission for the History of Representative Institutions (ICHPRI), serving as secretary-general and vice-president. She was active in convening the History’s seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, where she was a Senior Fellow. She was a member of the editorial advisory board of the journal Parliamentary History for 25 years, from its inception in 1982 until 2007. She was High Sheriff of the County and City of Bristol in 2004-5.
Valerie’s death occurred in the week marking International Women’s Day, and her achievements should be noted among those of people of her gender who have made a mark in recent years. The first woman to be appointed executive head of the History of Parliament, she deserves recognition not only for vastly improving the working conditions of the staff, but also for meeting the challenges of the new technology of the 1990s. She took a personal interest in the welfare of the staff of the History, and appreciated the value of social events such as social gatherings at Speaker’s House and elsewhere in sustaining team spirit. By establishing friendships in the separate worlds of academia and the palace of Westminster, she helped to erode the barriers between them.
In her life outside her professional work, Valerie enjoyed a long and happy marriage to the distinguished mathematician and vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, Sir John Kingman. We extend our sincere condolences to Sir John and their two children.