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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Files  /  HUGH COUNSELL PRINCE: An appreciation by Hugh Clout

HUGH COUNSELL PRINCE: An appreciation by Hugh Clout

I first met Hugh on a fresh Sunday morning in October 1962, on an introductory field class for new geography students at UCL. He came across as a rather quiet, erudite chap. His prematurely white hair – for he was surely in his 30s – conveyed an air of distinction. My last contact with Hugh was on 29 January when I left the emeriti room prior to travelling to New Zealand and Japan. He said how much he was looking forward to hearing my impressions of those distant places. Fifty years had passed.

Hugh’s father was the watercolour landscape painter Louis Stanley Morris Prince (1894-1985) and his mother had been a suffragette. After education at Sudbury Grammar School, where he was impressed by two teachers of geography and history, Hugh received an exhibition to study at UCL, starting in October 1945. He was taught by Fawcett, Dickinson, and Buchanan, and by numerous historians. His Latin teachers always included gossip about College politics in their classes, igniting a spark that remained with Hugh. He would be a ‘College man’ to the last. In 1946, he left the bombed-out ruins of UCL for two years of national service that took him to Northern Ireland and to administrative work in the British occupation zone in Germany. He also contacted geographers at the University of Göttingen – and retained a life-long interest in that country.

In October 1948, he returned to UCL and in the following year would be taught by the famous historical geographer, Henry Clifford Darby. In 1951, Hugh received the top first class degree in Geography across the whole University, and was offered a postgraduate award to study for an MA by research. This focused on Parkland in the Chilterns and drew on historic maps, estate records, and the drafts of landscape designers. Hugh soon realised that every landscape change was a power transaction that not only generated social consequences, but excluded some members of the rural community as well as enhancing the living space of others. There were always losers as well as winners in the process of landscape transformation.

In 1952, he was appointed to teach geography at UCL, coming top of a list of 38 applicants. (We still have his letter of application, written in his elegant script, in the departmental archive). His professional career had begun. During 1954-55, Hugh benefited from a Fulbright Travelling Scholarship to go to the University of Wisconsin. He appreciated graduate seminars by Andrew Hill Clark, but rejected the dogmatism of Richard Hartshorne. He started doctoral research on marshland drainage in Wisconsin, with Darby’s approval. And after years of food rationing, Hugh enjoyed the huge portions served in Mid-Western refectories.

Upon his return to England, he married Sheila Wood. At UCL he assumed a full load of teaching, specialising in historical geography and the geography of France. And here I must acknowledge a deep personal debt to his inspiration that helped to mould my own career. Hugh’s knowledge of the geography and history of France was vast. As the years passed, he came to really love that country – its food, wines, and landscapes – enjoyed during family holidays. And he made good friends there, too. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Hugh duly published his work on parkland, on tithe surveys, and the mysterious pattern of pits and hollows in Norfolk.

1964 was a very good year for Hugh. He served as secretary to the important historical geography section of the 20th International Geographical Congress that met in London. He co-edited an influential book on Greater London, contributing three impressive chapters of his own. And, together with David Lowenthal, he published two landmark articles on English landscapes, the second of which broke controversial ground by exploring ‘English landscape tastes’ – not just facts, but perceptions, preferences, and values. Academic promotion to a Readership came in 1965. The next year, Professor Darby left UCL for Cambridge, making Hugh the senior historical geographer at UCL.

In 1966 and again in 1968, he managed to escape London and served as visiting professor at the University of Minnesota. This gave him long stretches of time to read in its splendid libraries. One of the outcomes was his massive article, ‘Real, imagined’ and abstract worlds of the past’, that would greatly influence new approaches in historical geography. In 1971, he spent time at Clark University in Massachusetts and witnessed the intellectual and political turmoil of that time.

Hugh deployed his talents as editor of two scholarly journals, first Area and then the Journal of Historical Geography. This activity seriously eroded his research time, but he managed to produce a stream of innovative essays on varying notions of time, and on the potential contribution of literature and works of art to a culturally-enriched brand of historical geography not constrained by disciplinary boundaries. He also contributed to Darby’s long-awaited New Historical Geography of England, and co-authored a substantial book on the tithe surveys.

Hugh attracted a brilliant stream of doctoral students to work on historical and cultural themes, including garden design. Each year, he led a fieldtrip to Norfolk and the Fens that brings back many happy memories. He taught about historical conservation and preservation, and ran an extremely demanding reading course on methods in historical geography that was not for the faint hearted.

As Hugh approached retirement, he spent a further spell in Minnesota, and picked up his research on the wetlands of the Middle West. The result was a very different doctoral thesis from what he had envisaged in the 1950s, since it focused on perception, risk, failure, and conservation. Hugh enjoyed the celebratory Champagne after his oral exam, and I had the privilege of presenting him at a graduation ceremony when the whole platform party rose to applaud his success. The thesis soon appeared as book that received critical acclaim. Happy times!

Hugh had another retirement project in mind that gave rise to a book on Parks in Hertfordshire. His knowledge of the county was encyclopaedic. Listening to his lunchtime conversations with John Catt was like being at a research seminar. Indeed, Hugh was a fine conversationalist in his later years. He was blessed with a remarkable memory for people and places. His grasp of British, North American and French geography was outstanding. And he had academic correspondents throughout the world. His knowledge of UCL extended over six decades, enabling him to compare the management styles of many provosts.

Hugh was a wonderful colleague. He was intensely interested in people – alive or dead, near or far. Conversations with him were always illuminating. Residents in the emeriti room enjoyed lunchtime chats that covered everything under the sun, noting that Hugh talked so much that he never managed to eat more than half of his apple before taking coffee in the common room. He attended departmental seminars every Tuesday until the last weeks of his life. He was intensely interested in young colleagues and graduate students, always eager to learn about their research and their families. He held strong views about fair play, the quality of schooling, university education, tuition fees, academic freedom, the health service, and many other topics. He was unfailing proud of his family: his wife Sheila, the GP; his elder son Simon who followed his mother into medicine; his second son Matthew, the photographer; and his grandsons - Robert, James, and young Max.

Hugh had an exceptional gift for enriching the lives of his students, colleagues and friends. At this sad moment, we must also rejoice in his scholarly achievements, his human qualities, and the warmth of his friendship. We miss him enormously – but we will never forget him.

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