OBITUARY: Jeremy Collingwood 1937–2020

Published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 41 (2021)

The Rev’d Jeremy Collingwood retired to Saffron Walden with his wife, Margaret, in 2002, after a very full and varied career. In retirement he devoted much of his time to his love of history and research; he had already written several books and he soon embarked on a biography of the town’s Victorian philanthropist, Mr Saffron Walden: the Life and Times of George Stacey Gibson (1818-1883), published in 2008.

Jeremy joined the Saffron Walden Historical Society; he became a member of the committee in 2012 and in 2015 was elected as Chairman of the Society. He contributed a number of articles to the Society’s Historical Journal and also gave several talks to the members. In 2012 the Society published his next book, Sir Thomas Smith: Scholar, Statesman and Son of Saffron Walden, a biography of the eminent Tudor statesman (see opposite page for extract). Jeremy then led a memorable Society outing to Hill Hall, the unique classical mansion at Theydon Mount, which Sir Thomas had designed and where he died.

His final book, completed in 2017, was: Rab Butler: A Short Life of Lord Butler of Saffron Walden (1902-82). He felt it was important to keep alive the memory of Rab Butler, who had served Saffron Walden as MP for nearly 36 years and yet had little written about him. Sir Alan Haselhurst, who was then the current Member of Parliament, wrote a foreword to the book, calling it ‘a worthy reminder’ of Lord Butler of Saffron Walden.

When Jeremy retired as Chairman, he was invited to become the Historical Society’s Honorary Life President. This was warmly and unanimously approved by the AGM at which it was announced in 2019.

Jeremy himself wrote that in his career he had served in four instruments of state. The first of these was when, aged 18, he joined the Royal Navy for his National Service, spending time in the Mediterranean at the time of the Suez crisis. Much later in Saffron Walden, he retained a naval link by acting as chaplain to HMS Lapwing Association. After National Service, Jeremy read Law and Economics at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and on graduating he entered the overseas civil service and went to rural Northern Rhodesia as a colonial District Officer. He was then appointed Head of the Law School in Zambia and wrote his first book, Criminal Law of East and Central Africa, which for many years was the official and only text book on the subject for the whole of that area.

After nine years in Africa, Jeremy returned to England in 1970 and began work as a barrister for the Director of Public Prosecutions. One of the cases with which he was involved was a murder in Saffron Walden; his first contact with the town long before he moved here! But he felt called to train for the ministry and so he became a student again at Trinity College, Bristol in 1974. After ordination, he remained in Bristol, first as a curate at St Peter’s, HenleazeenleazeHHHHHHHHHH and then as the vicar of Holy Trinity, Hotwells and Rural Dean of Clifton. In 1991 he moved to Surrey, becoming vicar of Christchurch, Guildford and Rural Dean of Guildford for eleven years, before retirement brought him to Saffron Walden, where he became a member of St Mary’s Parish Church.

Although retired, Jeremy found plenty to do in addition to his historical writing and research. He took services in many local churches, particularly in Debden and Wimbish, and led Bible study and discussion groups. He loved exploring the countryside and led walks around the paths and fields of north-west Essex. He had long had a deep interest in Israel and in the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, and he led several study trips to Israel with people from the Saffron Walden team parish and from further afield.

The Saffron Walden Historical Society has many reasons to be grateful to Jeremy. His wide knowledge, interest in local history and his thorough, detailed research led him to identify the three important individuals whom he felt had no easily accessible biography and who deserved to be better known in the town; so he wrote about each of them to rectify this. The varied contributions written for the Historical Journal and the talks he gave at Society meetings were both interesting and much appreciated. He was a calm and gracious chairman, always thoughtful and encouraging. It is a cause of deep sadness that his time as our Honorary President was cut so short by his last illness and death in December 2020. He is greatly missed.  

Kathryn Fiddock

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