Professor R. Angus Buchanan, OBE, FSA, FRHistSoc, died peacefully on 17 June 2020, aged 90. He was one of the founding members of the University, a pioneer of Industrial Archaeology, an internationally renowned scholar in the History of Technology and an expert on IK Brunel. He outlived his wife Brenda, a fellow scholar in Industrial Archaeology, by just two months.
They met in their native Sheffield when they were sixth form students. Angus, who had completed his PhD in trade union history at Cambridge, began his career as an Adult Education Officer in Stepney in 1956. It was there that he first became involved in the Workers Educational Association (WEA), which remained a significant commitment over the subsequent decade.
In 1960 Angus moved to become Assistant Lecturer in Social & Economic History at the Bristol College of Science & Technology – just as it was being reconstituted as a College of Advanced Technology. At the Bristol Folk House he resumed his WEA work and helped form the Bristol Industrial Archaeology Society. Angus and Brenda also pursued their social work interests through The New Bristol Group set up by Tony Benn.
In 1966 the Bristol CAT became the University of Bath. Angus launched a series of Bath Conferences on Industrial Archaeology, which soon had an international following. He subsequently established the Centre for the Study of the History of Technology to attract post-graduate researchers. The Centre created a cohort of Rolt Fellows, encouraged them to publish their research on the history of technology and engineering and ran seminars throughout the 1980s and 1990s, three times a year, with invited speakers.
Angus was one of the leading British scholars in this new field. His influence spread internationally and in 1968 he was a founder member, and later president, of the International Committee for the History of Technology - at the time, an important cultural bridge between scholars in a divided Cold War world. The Bath Industrial Archaeology Conferences that he organised in the late 1960s led to the founding of the UK Association for Industrial Archaeology and the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage. He also held visiting lectureships in Australia, United States, Sweden and China.
Angus became an expert on the works of I K Brunel and over the next 40 years was to publish some seminal works on the great engineer including Brunel’s Bristol in 1982 and over 15 learned articles culminating in his classic Brunel: The life and Times of Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 2002. This interest led Angus to research the lives of engineers in general and in particular their development of the stationary steam engine. In this he collaborated with the venerable George Watkins, a noted expert on steam engines and Angus secured George a post of research assistant at the University in 1965. Their collaboration led to the publication of numerous books and articles on stationary steam engines and their manufacturers and to the creation of the Watkins Collection of thousands of photographs of over 220 such engines.
As a result of his reputation the University became home in 1965 to the National Record of Industrial Monuments (NRIM) and then, from 1971, host to staff of the national Industrial Monuments Survey. In 1972, he published Industrial Archaeology in Britain in paperback, which with subsequent editions was to be the seminal introduction to the subject. When, in 1981, the Industrial Monuments Survey was transferred to the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England, Angus was appointed a Royal Commissioner. The NRIM with the Watkins Collection were to become the bedrock of the industrial heritage component of the National Buildings Record (now Historic England Archive in Swindon). As a Royal Commissioner for the next decade, he advised on the publication of numerous volumes on England’s industrial heritage.
Angus retired from the University in 1995 and, as a final flourish, the Centre published Engineers and Engineering: Papers of the Rolt Fellows, edited by Angus and published by Bath University Press. He remained very active in scholarship and publication until recent years, within what was now re-designated as the History of Technology Research Unit (HOTRU), drawing together a network of leading scholars. Among the output of HOTRU was, in 2011, Landscape with Technology: Essays in honour of LTC Rolt and, belatedly in 2019, marking the 50 years since the creation of the Centre, The Engineering Revolution: How the Modern World was Changed by Technology. His close interest in the University remained undiminished, indeed with Angus corresponding with the Vice-Chancellor about his work during the 2019/2020 academic year. As Ian White has noted, the University has lost a valued founding member of the University whose role in its formation was so important and his knowledge of it was exceptional.
Three of Angus’ students, during those early years of the University, remember him well:
We arrived at Bath University of Technology in 1967 to read Economics and Administration. We were taught for some time in what is now the South Building, the only completed accommodation on Claverton Down, before the rest of the new University moved across from Ashley Down, Bristol. Our course, which included industrial placements, was clearly evolving as we moved from one year to another. The small community meant that we got to know some of the teaching staff well and we had a sense of having some influence over the shape of the programme.
Angus Buchanan taught an ‘Economic History’ elective in the second year of the degree and a small group of us were so impressed with his ability to communicate enthusiasm for a subject so completely we asked if he would teach a new final year option on a similar theme. A discussion with Edward Horesh, the Director of Studies paved the way and we sought Angus out in his office in Northgate House to obtain his approval. He welcomed us in and seemed more than happy to prepare and teach a new course. The following September a small group of us enjoyed ‘Economic History’ as a final year option in our degrees.
Angus was a friendly and accessible lecturer who had a love of his discipline and was able to encourage a similar love for it in his students. He was a man who knew his stuff and enjoyed your knowing it too. He was an inspired teacher who influenced many and was always ready to provide support when needed.
We remember being invited for drinks with Angus and Brenda just before the end of the Christmas term. This was an unusual event, in that invitations to lecturers’ homes were not frequent but also because it was marked by a power cut of some duration. This was during the three day week instituted by Prime Minister Edward Heath, in a vain effort to defeat the National Union of Mineworkers.
We have all remained in Bath since graduation and continued to meet Angus in other settings. Whether it be at the Museum of Bath at Work, at Local History Groups or at Heritage Railway Societies, a meeting with Angus was always a positive and interesting encounter. We are pleased we had him as a lecturer and are saddened that his insight and enthusiasm is no longer available.
Dave Pearce, Michael Godwin and Trevor Turpin Economics and Administration 1967 -1971
Two more recent students also record their tributes:
I was very sorry to hear that Professor Angus Buchanan has died. I first met him when I attended an interview to study for a BSc in Social Sciences with History and Philosophy. His passion for History was evident and he conveyed this enthusiasm to his students. I remember well his lectures on European History. I greatly enjoyed that course. He was a familiar figure in Bath and will be missed. I send my condolences to his family.
Prof Angus Buchanan was a gentleman and a scholar. I remember well his passion for his subject, his pastoral care and the way he treated all students equally. He introduced me to a more granular and contemporary history of the impact of the industrial revolution and to European history. I was very sorry to hear of his passing and send my condolences to his family.
Dr Joanna Lewis, LSE Associate Professor, Africa
David Collard, Professor of Economics from 1978 until 2005, knew Angus well:
I was familiar with Angus Buchanan’s book on Brunel when I arrived at the University of Bath in 1978 as a Professor of Economics, so I was delighted to have him as a colleague. His interest and expertise in the history of technology were not far removed from my own interests in economic history. Angus was a “scholar”, a puzzling term to some colleagues in science and engineering who were carrying out what they regarded as the entirely different activity of “research”. Indeed a Vice-Chancellor, who shall be nameless, once asked me “what is this ‘scholarship’ thing?” But Angus’s growing reputation in the wider community must have convinced even him that scholarship may be a worthwhile activity after all, so he eventually got his well-deserved chair.
Angus was a “gentleman” as well as a scholar, which sometimes put him at a disadvantage compared with his more assertive colleagues. He was good and lively company in the common room and tolerant of the opinions of others, though rather sceptical of authority. He and his wife Brenda, also an historian, were frequently to be seen at the University after his retirement and he continued to attend meetings of Court well into old-age. I was always glad to see Angus and regarded him as a friend, not merely a colleague.
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