CHARLES William Crawley was for many years a famous Cambridge character and teacher. He was quiet and modest and did not relish lecturing because it was too much of a performance for his comfort. But as a teacher of modern history to individuals, as a member of numerous committees and as a pastor who knew undergraduates personally, he was the best sort of college don, wise and well read, compassionate and without enemies.
He came from that old-fashioned school which preferred to administer with unostentatious efficiency by using little notes in beautifully clear handwriting and not bothering much with machines. Few men of comparable ability can have been as unassuming, and few were regarded by colleagues and pupils with greater respect. More the diplomat than the warrior, unsentimental, but never harsh or rigid, he was always in demand for his sane, balanced, unruffled wisdom and faithfully attended numerous university committees without ever succumbing to the vice of enjoying them.
The son of Charles Crawley of Lincoln’s Inn and on his mother’s side a nephew of the classical scholar S. H. Butcher and the grandson of Samuel Butcher, Bishop of Meath, he was a scholar of Winchester and then Trinity College; Cambridge, and in 1924 became a fellow of Trinity Hall to which he devoted the rest of his working life, ending as senior tutor (1940-58) and vice-master (1950 until his retirement in 1966). He was the author of an admirable history of that college: Trinity Hall, The History of a Cambridge College, 1350-1975 (1977). This was much admired at the time of its publication for the judiciousness with which Crawley discharged his task, avoiding piety and sentimentality and looking boldly forward to such revolutionary matters as the admission of women, as well as providing a just appraisal of the past. As one reviewer remarked: “It is not just a book for Hall men to possess: it is a source book for the historians of Cambridge.”
Diffident by temperament, he had been brought out by his marriage and later by the burden of responsibility which fell on his shoulders at the outbreak of war in 1939. He understood the workings of the university machine as few others did, was a member of council of the Senate from 1943 to 1950. He also helped to found the two women’s colleges New Hall and Lucy Cavendish.
He a disciple of Harold Temperley, the master of the new flowering after 1919 of the study of international politics and diplomatic history. He was keenly interested in the history of the Mediterranean in the nineteenth century and in 1930 he published an original and important book “The Question of Greek Independence,” which is still an indispensable study. His expertise in modern Mediterranean history led to other essays on Greece and the diplomatic tensions among the Powers of the nineteenth century. He edited volume IX of the New Cambridge Modern History 1793-1830 (1965) and contributed a chapter on modern Greece to “A Short History of Greece” (1965).
Friends who knew the discrimination of his mind regretted that for so many years the inclinations of the scholar were hampered by his administrative duties and that he could not find more time for writing. Yet, part of his vocation was undoubtedly the office of tutor.
As a supervisor in modern history he preferred rather to encourage than to drive and was thought by some of his pupils to be too modest and too gentle to criticise them with the severity their productions might deserve. But he won their affection and their allegiance by the endless trouble he was always ready to take on their behalf. Undergraduates often confessed they attended his lectures more because they liked him so much than because they were stirred by his material. Students smiled at him scooting across the court on the most ancient of bicycles draped in a still more ancient gown, to outward appearances the busy and harassed man late for some meeting. When they knew him better they discovered that he was never harassed. Indeed, his serenity was perhaps the most marked of his qualities. He had a remarkable faculty of seeing in a clear perspective problems which were calculated to arouse passions in others.
He was a staunch churchman who for many years acted as treasurer to St. Edward’s Church in the city; and the undergraduates were wont to crowd the chapel on the rare occasions when he could be persuaded to preach a lay sermon. In 1930 he married his second cousin Kathleen, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel H. G. Leahy. She died in 1982. He is survived by four sons and a daughter.
From The Independent. 20th October 1992.
CHARLES CRAWLEY was, for almost 20 years, Senior Tutor (acting or actual) of Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He became a legend among many generations of Hall men without having any of the easy passports to legend; he wasn’t eccentric or witty or glamorous or Machiavellian. But he certainly was greatly loved. Anyone who had dealings with him came to feel the strength of his personal interest, shrewd, comprehensive and (above all) interested and kind.
And those bland words fall shamefully short. The youngest of three Hall brothers contracted a serious cranial illness that made it impossible for him to live in college. Crawley rang up the family, offering to have him in his own home: There the young man spent the last months of his life – with intervals in hospital but able, when fit, to live as an undergraduate. His doctor-sister says that Crawley knew just when the time had come for another period in hospital, and that no doctor could have judged better.
Charles and a much-loved sister were brought up by aunts: His parents had died in a sailing accident when he was too young to understand: He was left very much on his own when his sister died while he was still a scholar at Winchester College, where he became Prefect of Hall. After 15 months in the Army at the tail-end of the First World War, he came up to Trinity College as a scholar. Post-war regulations allowed him to take Classics Part I in five terms, and then in one year he took History Part II – getting First Class, of course.
He chose the Greek War of Independence as the topic of his research, trying unsuccessfully for a Prize Fellowship at Trinity. Within two years he was, in 1923, offered a Staff Fellowship at Trinity Hall. He persuaded the college to defer the appointment for a year, which he spent studying archives at Munich and Vienna and in Greece, and fitting in romantic sounding journeys through the Balkans.
It would probably surprise many who knew him as the balanced, scholarly tutor of Trinity Hall to hear his account of those journeys; or to hear that he had learned to fly and held a pilot’s licence; or that he had visited a doctor friend in South Africa and lent a hand by giving inoculations himself; or that, during the General Strike in 1926, he was Acting Harbour Master at Hull. For a man with that zest for taking things on, it must have been a hard decision to stay at Trinity Hall during the Second World War, helping to hold the place together and hearing from his friends about quite different experiences.
I knew him as a colleague at Trinity Hall, and served under him for many years as Assistant Tutor. And how he grew on me. He always had my respect, but under his steady support and friendship respect warmed into great affection. He was excellent company, with wide interests, a good talker and a good listener, occasionally sharp in his comments but never malicious, and with flashes of dry humour. He had done some good historical work; but he found that although he could do an excellent job as Senior Tutor, he could not also make his mark as an historian. He was quite lacking in self regard and has said things about his own contribution to the History Faculty that he would never have said about anyone else. But he must have had great satisfaction from knowing how well he had steered the college through a long post-war period, and how highly he was regarded.
In addition to his work as Tutor, he contributed a fascinating monograph on the north range of the Front Court, and a richly documented history of Trinity Hall.
He and his wife Kitty were tirelessly hospitable, and many of us look back with great pleasure to Sunday lunches at 1 Madingley Road. Kitty, sadly for Charles, died many years before him after a period when she was a shadow of her former vivid self. They had a daughter and four sons and many grandchildren; so they enjoyed a family life such as he had not known as a child.
Charles William Crawley, historian, born London 1 April 1899, Fellow Trinity Hall Cambridge 1924-66 (Emeritus 1966), Senior Tutor 1940-58, Vice-Master 1950-66, Honorary Fellow 1971-92, University Lecturer in History 1931-66, books include The Question of Greek Independence 1821-1833 (1930), New Cambridge Modern History volume ix (editor) 1965, Trinity Hall: the history of a Cambridge college 1350-1975. (1975) married 1930 Kathleen Leahy (died 1982; four sons, one daughter), died London 6 October 1992.