Dr Hugh Prince, c. 1975

Source: Department of Geography, University College London. Reproduced with kind permission

Hugh Prince was the founding editor of Area, which replaced the Newsletter of the Institute of British Geographers in 1969. He joined the IBG in 1951 and was elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society two years later, having been an associate since 1949. He was a member of its Library and Maps Committee from 1971 to 1988. He was on the Committee of the Historical Geography Research Group of the IBG from 1973 to 1985, serving as Chair between 1974 and 1977. He was also editor of the Journal of Historical Geography from 1981 to 1986. Hugh died at home in the early morning of 20 February 2013.

He was born at Wanstead on 16 September 1927, to a father, Louis Stanley Maurice Prince (1894–1985), who was a landscape watercolourist, and a mother, Jessie Heyworth (née Counsell) (1894–1971), who had been a suffragette. After early schooling in Essex and London, Hugh and his mother and brother were evacuated in 1939. His secondary education was at Sudbury Grammar School in Suffolk, where he was very influenced by his geography teacher. He received an exhibition to study at UCL, starting in October 1945, where he was taught by C B Fawcett, R E Dickinson and R O Buchanan, and by numerous historians. In 1946, he left UCL for two years of national service that took him to Northern Ireland and to administrative work in the British occupation zone in Germany, where the ruins and the hardship suffered by many Germans affected him deeply. He managed to make contact with geographers at the University of Göttingen and returned for a period of research in 1978.

After military service, Hugh returned to UCL in October 1948 where he would soon be taught by the new professor, Henry Clifford Darby. In 1951, Hugh received the top first-class degree in Geography across the University of London, and was offered a postgraduate award to study for an MA by research. This focused on ‘Parkland in the Chilterns’ and drew on historic maps, estate records and the drafts of landscape designers. Hugh soon realised that every landscape change was also a transaction in social power. In 1952, he was appointed to lecture at UCL. During 1954–55, Hugh held a Fulbright Travelling Scholarship to study at the University of Wisconsin, attending graduate seminars and starting doctoral research on marshland drainage in Wisconsin. Upon his return to England, he married Sheila Wood. At UCL he assumed a full load of teaching, specialising in historical geography, cartography and the geography of France. Although he published little about France, his knowledge of the geography and history of the country was extensive. Subsequently, he published essays on parkland, tithe surveys, and mysterious pits and hollows in Norfolk.

In 1964 he was secretary of the historical geography section of the 20th International Geographical Congress that convened in London. With J Terry Coppock he edited Greater London (1964), contributing three detailed chapters on the growth of north-west London and on the capital's parkland. With David Lowenthal, he published two essays on English landscapes, the second of which explored ‘English landscape tastes’ and favoured perceptions, preferences, and values over facts. Academic promotion to a Readership came in 1965. The next year, H C Darby left UCL for Cambridge, making Hugh the senior historical geographer at UCL. In 1966 and again in 1968, he was visiting professor at the University of Minnesota. That experience gave him time to read and to plan future publications. One of these was ‘Real, imagined and abstract worlds of the past’ (Progress in Geography, 1971) that advocated new approaches in historical geography. In 1971, he spent time at Clark University in Massachusetts and witnessed the intellectual and political turmoil of that time.

Hugh's editorship of two scholarly journals consumed much of his research time, but he produced several innovative essays on notions of time, and on the potential contribution that literature and works of art might make to a new, culturally enriched form of historical geography that transcended the conventional boundaries of geography. He also contributed to Darby's long-awaited New historical geography of England (1973) and co-authored The tithe surveys of England and Wales (1985) with R J P Kain. Hugh attracted an impressive stream of doctoral students who worked on various historical and cultural themes. Each year, he led a very successful undergraduate fieldtrip to Norfolk and the Fens. He taught about historical conservation and preservation, and ran a very rigorous reading course on methods in historical geography for small groups of dedicated finalists. As Hugh approached formal retirement in 1992, he spent more time in Minnesota, and returned to his research on the wetlands of the Middle West. His doctoral thesis focused on perception, risk, failure and conservation, as well as drainage, and was published as Wetlands of the American Midwest: a historical geography of changing attitudes (1997). His second retirement project gave rise to Parks in Hertfordshire since 1500 (2008).

Hugh inherited his interest in art from his father and his commitment to free speech and fair play from his mother. His knowledge of British, North American and French geography was outstanding. Having spent six decades at UCL he was able to compare the personalities and effectiveness of many provosts and presidents. He was intensely interested in people and discussions with him were full of insight. He attended departmental seminars every Tuesday until the end of his life. He held strong views about many things, including human rights, education, academic freedom, and the National Health Service. He was very proud of his wife, who served the community as a general practitioner, of his elder son who was also a medical doctor, and his younger son who used his artistic skills as a professional photographer. Hugh had an exceptional gift for enriching the lives of his students, colleagues and friends. Many of his publications injected a cultural dimension into the practice of historical geography, and his commitment to Area launched an important new publication. Hugh Prince will be remembered for his remarkable personal qualities and for his scholarly contributions to our discipline.

Selected references

  1. Top of page
  2. Selected references
  • Coppock J T and Prince H C eds 1964 Greater London Faber & Faber, London
  • Kain R J P and Prince H C 1985 The tithe surveys of England and Wales Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
  • Lowenthal D and Prince H C 1965 English landscape tastes Geographical Review 55 186222
  • Prince H C 1971 Real, imagined and abstract worlds of the past Progress in Geography 3 186
  • Prince H C 1997 Wetlands of the American Midwest: a historical geography of changing attitudes University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London
  • Prince H C 2008 Parks in Hertfordshire since 1500 Hertfordshire University Press, Hatfield