Chris Upton, 1953-2015

A ‘genuinely public historian’ and charismatic lecturer has died

October 29, 2015
Obituary: Chris Upton, 1953-2015

Chris Upton was born in Wellington, Shropshire in 1953 and educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School and King’s College, Cambridge. He followed this up with a PhD in Scottish Latin poetry at the University of St Andrews and moved to Birmingham to act as a research assistant at Aston University. He later gained a qualification as a professional librarian and worked in the archives and local studies department of Birmingham Central Library, combining this with a role as a visiting lecturer at the University of Birmingham and fellow of its Institute for Advanced Research in the Humanities.

Appointed senior lecturer in history at the then Newman College of Higher Education in Birmingham in 1995, Dr Upton remained there for the rest of his life. He was promoted to reader in public history at what was by then Newman University College in 2012 (and became Newman University the year after). He therefore played a major role in transforming what had been a subject area at a teacher training college into a full university department with a single-honours history degree, joint-honours history courses, a taught postgraduate degree in Victorian studies and research students. He was voted Lecturer of the Year by the students’ union in 2015.

Author of A History of Birmingham (1995), A History of Wolverhampton (1998), A History of Lichfield (2001), Bygone Brum (2002) and Living Back to Back: The History of a Court and its People (2005), Dr Upton regularly contributed to the local press and acted as historical consultant to galleries, museums and the Birmingham Conservation Trust as well as the BBC television series Peaky Blinders and Who Do You Think You Are?

Ian Cawood, head of history at Newman University, described Dr Upton as “a genuinely public historian, finding time to train tourist guides, city council executives and local history teachers across the region…I never once saw him turn down a request for help from anyone, undergraduate, former student, university colleague or local history group.”

Over and above all this, continued Dr Cawood, Dr Upton was “a superb teacher…Curious, witty and impossibly well informed about everything he taught, from the causes of the Peloponnesian Wars through the place names of Anglo-Saxon England, the Middle English of Geoffrey Chaucer and the industrial history of his beloved West Midlands, he took his students on adventures into the human past with respect, humility and a lot of very bad jokes.”

Dr Upton died of cancer on 1 October and is survived by his wife Fiona.

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