Eric was a longstanding member of the Society, a speaker at First Tuesdays and, although he was unable to attend meetings, regularly sought me out to enquire about the organisation and its activities.
Eric was the son of an Ashington pitman. He left school at sixteen and followed his dad into mining. At first via evening classes, he went on to study mining engineering to doctorate level. Research posts followed at Edinburgh and Cambridge as Eric developed academic interests in the field of social science, eventually joining Newcastle Polytechnic. But most of Eric’s teaching and research career was as a staff tutor with the Open University which he joined at its birth in 1970. The OU awarded him an Honorary M.Univ in 2005 for his services to the institution and he was made an Honorary Research Associate on his retirement.
Eric remained true to his roots and maintained a strong attachment to coal mining and his native coalfield. In 1985, at a critical time for the industry, he produced ‘Coal Mining & Employment: A Study of the Blyth Valley’ for the borough council. His ‘Social and Economic Consequences of the Coal Industry in Northumberland’ was later published by the OU. Eric cultivated links with mining communities abroad, particularly in Germany, and at the time of his death was Vice-President of the Mining Institute. He was also Honorary Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University, where his knowledge of mining’s technicalities was proving invaluable.
Eric was also an activist. He was energetically involved with his union at both local and national level, serving, for example, as President of the OU AUT Branch from 1985 to 2000. He was also a passionate ‘Labour man’. Eric fought two general elections in Hexham with literature that screamed ‘Wade In With Labour’. Eric was great company with a fund of humorous anecdotes. He had been ill for quite some time, but brushed off enquiries about his health, switching the conversation to my concerns about a certain football club. He never wanted a fuss.
In an announcement of his death, the Dean of the OU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences described Eric as ‘a one-off, a character, an entertainer and jolly good fellow’.
This appreciation was first published in North East History Volume 50, 2019