Asa Briggs

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The Lord Briggs
Asa Briggs.jpg
Asa Briggs
Born(1921-05-07)7 May 1921 [1]
Died15 March 2016(2016-03-15) (aged 94)
Lewes, East Sussex, England
Spouse(s)Susan Anne Banwell (1955–2016, his death)
Military career
AllegianceFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Corps of Signals Intelligence Corps
Years of service1942–1945
Rank Warrant Officer
Battles/wars Second World War

Asa Briggs, Baron Briggs (7 May 1921 – 15 March 2016) was an English historian. He was a leading specialist on the Victorian era, and the foremost historian of broadcasting in Britain. He was made a life peer in 1976.

Victorian era Period of British history encompassing Queen Victorias reign

In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The era followed the Georgian period and preceded the Edwardian period, and its later half overlaps with the first part of the Belle Époque era of Continental Europe. In terms of moral sensibilities and political reforms, this period began with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodists, and the Evangelical wing of the established Church of England. Britain's relations with the other Great Powers were driven by the colonial antagonism of the Great Game with Russia, climaxing during the Crimean War; a Pax Britannica of international free trade was maintained by the country's naval and industrial supremacy. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made the British Empire the largest empire in history. National self-confidence peaked.

In the United Kingdom, life peers are appointed members of the peerage whose titles cannot be inherited, in contrast to hereditary peers. In modern times, life peerages, always created at the rank of baron, are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958 and entitle the holders to seats in the House of Lords, presuming they meet qualifications such as age and citizenship. The legitimate children of a life peer are entitled to style themselves with the prefix "The Honourable", although they cannot inherit the peerage itself.


Early life

Asa Briggs was born in Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire in 1921 to William Briggs, an engineer, and his wife Jane. [2] He was educated at Keighley Boys' Grammar School and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, graduating with a BA (first class) in 1941, and a BSc in Economics (first class) from the University of London External Programme, also in 1941. [3]

Keighley town and civil parish of the City of Bradford in West Yorkshire, England

Keighley is a town and civil parish within the City of Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, 11 miles (18 km) north-west of Bradford, 11 miles (18 km) south of Ilkley, 13 miles (21 km), north of Halifax, 12 miles (19 km) south-east of Skipton, and 20 miles (32 km) north-west of Leeds at the confluence of the rivers Aire and Worth. Historically in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Keighley lies between Airedale and Keighley Moors. The town is the terminus of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, a heritage steam branch line which has been restored and runs through the Worth Valley to Oxenhope via Oakworth and Haworth. At the 2011 census, Keighley had a population of 56,348.

West Riding of Yorkshire one of the historic subdivisions of Yorkshire, England

The West Riding of Yorkshire is one of the three historic subdivisions of Yorkshire, England. From 1889 to 1974 the administrative county, County of York, West Riding, was based closely on the historic boundaries. The lieutenancy at that time included the City of York and as such was named West Riding of the County of York and the County of the City of York.

Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge constituent college of the University of Cambridge

Sidney Sussex College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England. The college was founded in 1596 under the terms of the will of Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex (1531–1589) and named after its founder. It was from its inception an avowedly Protestant foundation; "some good and godlie moniment for the mainteynance of good learninge". In her will, Lady Sussex left the sum of £5,000 together with some plate to found a new college at Cambridge University "to be called the Lady Frances Sidney Sussex College". Her executors Sir John Harington and Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Kent, supervised by Archbishop John Whitgift, founded the college seven years after her death. The college owns an incredible art collection inclusive of the Nativity (1715) by Giambattista Pittoni.

Military service

From 1942 to 1945 during the Second World War, Briggs served in the Intelligence Corps and worked at the British wartime codebreaking station, Bletchley Park. He was a member of "the Watch" in Hut 6, the section deciphering Enigma machine messages from the German Army and Luftwaffe. [4] This posting had arisen because at college Briggs had played chess with Cambridge mathematician Howard Smith (who was to become the Director General of MI5 in 1979) and Smith had written to the head of Hut 6, Gordon Welchman, who was also a Cambridge mathematician, recommending Briggs to him. [2]

Bletchley Park WWII code-breaking site and British country house

Bletchley Park is a 19th-century mansion and estate in Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire) that became the principal centre of Allied code-breaking during the Second World War. The mansion was constructed during the years following 1883 for the English financier and politician Sir Herbert Leon in the Victorian Gothic, Tudor, and Dutch Baroque styles, on the site of older buildings of the same name. During World War II, the estate housed the British Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), which regularly penetrated the secret communications of the Axis Powers – most importantly the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers; among its most notable early personnel the GC&CS team of codebreakers included Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry. During the war and for many years thereafter, the nature of the work there was a closely guarded secret.

Hut 6

Hut 6 was a wartime section of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, Britain, tasked with the solution of German Army and Air Force Enigma machine cyphers. Hut 8, by contrast, attacked Naval Enigma. Hut 6 was established at the initiative of Gordon Welchman, and was run initially by Welchman and fellow Cambridge mathematician John Jeffreys.

Enigma machine German cipher machine

The Enigma machine is an encryption device developed and used in the early- to mid-20th century to protect commercial, diplomatic and military communication. It was employed extensively by Nazi Germany during World War II, in all branches of the German military.

Academic career

After the war, he was elected a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford (1945–55), and was subsequently appointed University Reader in Recent Social and Economic History (1950–55). Whilst a young Fellow, Briggs proofread Winston Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples . [2] He was later Faculty Fellow of Nuffield College (1953–55) and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, United States (1953–54).

Worcester College, Oxford college of the University of Oxford

Worcester College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. The college was founded in 1714 by the benefaction of Sir Thomas Cookes, 2nd Baronet (1648-1701) of Norgrove, Worcestershire, whose coat of arms was adopted by the College. Its predecessor, Gloucester College, had been an institution of learning on the same site since the late 13th century until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Founded as a men's college, Worcester has been coeducational since 1979.

University of Oxford university in Oxford, United Kingdom

The University of Oxford is a collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's second-oldest university in continuous operation after the University of Bologna. It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled north-east to Cambridge where they established what became the University of Cambridge. The two 'ancient universities' are frequently jointly called 'Oxbridge'. The history and influence of the University of Oxford has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

The title of reader in the United Kingdom and some universities in the Commonwealth of Nations, for example India, Australia and New Zealand, denotes an appointment for a senior academic with a distinguished international reputation in research or scholarship.

From 1955 until 1961 he was Professor of Modern History at Leeds University and between 1961 and 1976 he was Professor of History at Sussex University, while also serving as Dean of the School of Social Studies (1961–65), Pro Vice-Chancellor (1961–67) and Vice-Chancellor (1967–76). On 4 June 2008 the University of Sussex Arts A1 and A2 lecture theatres, designed by Basil Spence, were renamed in his honour.

University of Leeds university in Leeds, United Kingdom

The University of Leeds is a public research university in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. It was established in 1874 as the Yorkshire College of Science. In 1884 it merged with the Leeds School of Medicine and was renamed Yorkshire College. It became part of the federal Victoria University in 1887, joining Owens College and University College Liverpool. In 1903 a royal charter was granted to the University of Leeds by King Edward VII.

University of Sussex university in Brighton and Hove, UK

The University of Sussex is a public research university located in Falmer, Sussex, England. Its campus is surrounded by the South Downs National Park and it is a short distance away from central Brighton. The university received its Royal Charter in August 1961, the first of the plate glass university generation, and was a founding member of the 1994 Group of research-intensive universities.

Basil Spence Scottish architect

Sir Basil Urwin Spence, OM, OBE, RA was a Scottish architect, most notably associated with Coventry Cathedral in England and the Beehive in New Zealand, but also responsible for numerous other buildings in the Modernist/Brutalist style.

In 1976 he returned to Oxford to become Provost of Worcester College, retiring from the post in 1991.

A provost is the senior academic administrator at many institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada, the equivalent of a pro-vice-chancellor at some institutions in the United Kingdom and Ireland, or a deputy (vice-)chancellor (academic) at most Australian universities.

He was Chancellor of the Open University (1978–94) and in May 1979 was awarded an honorary degree as Doctor of the University. He had been an Honorary Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from 1968, of Worcester College, Oxford, from 1969, and of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, from 1977. He held a visiting appointment at the Gannett Center for Media Studies at Columbia University in the late 1980s and again at the renamed Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia in 1995–96. Announced in the 1976 Birthday Honours, [5] he was created a life peer as Baron Briggs, of Lewes in the County of East Sussex on 19 July 1976. [6]

Between 1961 and 1995, Briggs wrote a five-volume text on the history of broadcasting in the UK from 1922 to 1974 – essentially the history of the BBC, who commissioned the work. [2] Briggs' other works ranged from an account of the period that Karl Marx spent in London to the corporate history of British retailer Marks and Spencer. [2] In 1987, Lord Briggs was invited to be President of the Brontë Society, a literary society established in 1893 in Haworth, near Keighley, Yorkshire. He presided over the Society's centenary celebrations in 1993 and continued as President until he retired from the position in 1996. [7] He was also President of the William Morris Society from 1978 to 1991 and President of the Victorian Society (UK) from 1986 until his death. [8]

He died at home in Lewes at the age of 94 on 15 March 2016. [9]

Personal life

He married Susan Anne Banwell of Keevil, Wiltshire in 1955 [10] and they had two sons and two daughters.

Select bibliography

  1. The Birth of Broadcasting – 1961
  2. The Golden Age of Wireless (1927–1939) – 1965
  3. The War of Words (1939–1945) – 1970
  4. Sound and Vision (1945–1955) – 1979
  5. Competition (1955–1974) – 1995

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  1. "The Rt Hon the Lord Briggs, FBA". Debretts. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Jones, Nigel (15 March 2016). "Asa Briggs obituary". The Guardian . London. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  3. Bridges, Sophie. "The Papers of Asa Briggs". Janus. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  4. Asa Briggs, foreword to Gwen Watkins, Cracking the Luftwaffe Codes, 2006, Greenhill Books, p. 12, ISBN   978-1-85367-687-1
  5. "No. 46919". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 June 1976. p. 8015.
  6. "No. 46970". The London Gazette . 23 July 1976. p. 10135.
  7. Lemon, Charles (1993). "A Centenary History of The Brontë Society, 1893–1993". Brontë Society Transactions. Supplement to Volume 20: 105.
  8. Martin Crick, The History of the William Morris Society 1955–2005 (London, 2011); Paul Thompson, 'Asa Briggs 1921–2016', The Victorian: The Magazine of the Victorian Society, 52 (July 2016), p. 5.
  9. "Asa Briggs, Lord Briggs of Lewes, passes: 07 May 1921 – 15 March 2016". University of Sussex. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  10. "Wedding photograph". Wiltshire Times . 10 September 1955.

Further reading

Academic offices
Preceded by
Harold Clay
President of the Workers' Educational Association
1958 – 1967
Succeeded by
Ellen McCullough
Preceded by
The Lord Gardiner
Chancellor of the Open University
Succeeded by
The Baroness Boothroyd
Preceded by
Oliver Franks, Baron Franks
Provost of Worcester College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Richard Smethurst