Tribute to Stephen Porter

Dr Cathy Ross, Honorary Research Fellow at the Museum of London, and consultant to the Charterhouse, leads our tribute to Stephen Porter, a historian and archivist with an extensive knowledge of the Charterhouse history.

The Charterhouse’s honorary archivist, Stephen Porter, has died at the age of 72.  It is a sad loss and he will be remembered for his enormous contribution to the understanding of the Charterhouse’s complex history. A true scholar, Stephen’s curiosity about the Charterhouse began during his 17 years as an editor at the Survey of London. Research on the building was followed by research on the institution, culminating in his wonderful book of 2009 The London Charterhouse. This was the first detailed history of Sutton’s Hospital in over 100 years and became an indispensable foundation for all future work – including the opening of the Charterhouse museum in 2017.

No-one knew the archives like Stephen and he was immensely generous with his knowledge: always helpful and encouraging; always ‘setting the record straight’ with kindness when things had been misunderstood.  He was the fount of wisdom for many of us working on the history, not least those Brothers who took an interest in the past. His own energy when it came to publishing was remarkable: pieces by Stephen about the Charterhouse feature in countless publications, large and small, from scholarly journals to the Charterhouse magazine.

And quite apart from the Charterhouse, Stephen was also a distinguished London historian, producing over 20 books on Tudor and Stuart London, all elegantly written, packed full of fact and meticulously researched.  He will be much missed.

An extract from Stephen Porter’s obituary by Robert Tittler FSA
Stephen had a virtually unparalleled grasp of the archival sources for English local history of the Early Modern era, with the record offices both metropolitan and provincial which housed them, and with the archivists who curated them. Yet he somehow found time for his own research and writing, which he kept up at an astonishing pace. His shorter efforts included several dozen essays in journals as diverse in their subject matter as, e.g., Mariner’s Mirror, The Journal of Transport History, Landscape History, The London Journal, Architectural History and The Biologist, along with a great many county historical and archaeological journals. He also wrote and published no fewer than eleven books on his own, several of them for the broader audience provided by Sutton and Amberly publishers. Along the way he maintained an abiding interest in the records and people at Charterhouse, where he became a frequent visitor and Honorary Archivist.

A modest, self-effacing, and sometimes taciturn man with a very dry sense of humour, an infrequent seminar attendee and a reluctant combatant in the lists of historical controversy, Stephen was enormously generous to others who sought him out for advice. To this North American seeking, without appropriate training, to explore the possibilities of English local history, he became a constant source of information and encouragement. We often think of important historians exclusively as university faculty; Stephen Porter’s life and achievements suggest that they may still be found outside the formal institutions of academe.

Brother Tim Epps adds:
“One of the pleasures of designing and editing the Charterhouse Magazine for me was seeing what turned up to go in. I always particularly enjoyed receiving Stephen’s contribution. You could be sure it was about an aspect of Charterhouse you had never heard of and would make a fascinating addition to one’s knowledge. The downside was that as a result my tours became longer and longer as Stephen’s contributions were added to my spiel.”

Leave a comment