Lawrence Barker

Lawrence D. Barker 1939-2011

Reprinted from Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 21 Spring 2011

Laurie Barker, who has died aged 71, was a remarkable man whose legacy to NW Essex history deserves wider recognition. He came from Walthamstow and lived in West Hampstead, but his ancestors were from this area, mainly Hadstock and Saffron Walden, and it was Barker family history which initially brought him to do research in the town. For a man of such integrity and dedication, it was not enough just to build a family tree, he wanted to understand the dynamics of their times, to put their humble lives on record. This passion involved almost weekly visits to Saffron Walden in the late 1990s. During this time he acquired a thorough knowledge of the archives held by the Town Council, the ERO Archive Access, the Town Library and Museum. His working background, as an architect with the GLC and ILEA, gave him a methodical approach which was ideal for the historian too, and very soon he found himself consulted by others.  Laurie earned the respect and friendship of many historians and groups, and he gave back the fruits of his researches, in the form of information and advice, articles in the Saffron Walden Historical Journal and carefully-prepared records. Perhaps  his most valuable legacy locally was a brilliant piece of work completed in 1999: Saffron Walden Essex – A project of computerised lists correlating personal names and locations from the Rate Books 1790-1891 and Census 1841-1891 in Castle Street, Museum Street and Church Street (with accompanying maps and notes). Even the precise and comprehensive title speaks of the man who compiled it. This unpublished study, of which copies have been deposited at Archive Access, has proved of immense value and is constantly in use, but he took no personal profit from it at all. Likewise his analysis and cataloguing of local maps is an invaluable aid to research. He also played a major role in the editing of  The Well-ordered Town, a book on Saffron Walden published in 2000. Above all, we admired the way that Laurie was an exemplary practitioner of those who do family history properly: he kept everything, photographed and catalogued it all, insisted on accuracy and on acknowledging sources, and shared it with genuine researchers. He always said it was important for everyone to keep a record, not only of their ancestors, but also of their own lives for the benefit of those who come after them, something which we all should heed, for instance in the captioning of family photographs. We shall miss Laurie’s wise advice, but his friendship has enriched the lives of those who knew him, and his work will benefit local heritage for generations to come.

Zofia Everett & Jacqueline Cooper

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