Trevor May obituary

My father, Trevor May, who has died aged 82, was a historian of 19th-century economic and social history, and the author of more than 20 books, including An Economic and Social History of Britain 1760-1970 (1987), which became the standard school textbook for that period.

Trevor was born in Harrow, London, to Dolly (nee Holdham) and Harry May, who both worked in a Lilley & Skinner shoe shop. He attended Harrow county school for boys, and later wrote its history.

He did a degree in economics at Slough College of Further Education and after gaining a postgraduate diploma in education at the University of Exeter, he became a history lecturer at Hatfield Polytechnic, now the University of Hertfordshire. He also took an MPhil with the University of London.


At a church youth group he met Jennifer Dempster and they married in 1964. As she had a history degree, she always maintained that she was the “real” historian in the family.

In 1975 Trevor spent a year lecturing in the US, on British and American history at Mesa College, San Diego. The experience awoke his sense of adventure, and in later years he drove across the Sahara by compass-bearing and retraced his father’s wartime exploits in Nagaland, India.

In 1988 Trevor and Jennifer moved from Harrow to Wingrave, Buckinghamshire, where he would joke that Michael Portillo, then a transport minister, “lived in his extension”, as the politician owned the newer of the two attached farmhouses.


Trevor took early retirement from the University of Hertfordshire in 1993, then went on to tutor for the Open University and to organise immersive Victorian schoolroom experiences at Wall Hall, Aldenham. He completed his PhD with the University of London and used the research for his book The History of the London Horse Cab (1995).

In 1999 he joined a missionary visit to India that would have a profound impact on him. In 2002 he became a lay minister in the Diocese of Oxford and continued his patronage of many Indian projects, including the Grace orphan home in Bhongir, for the rest of his life, visiting for the 10th and final time in January 2020.

Widowed shortly after moving to Ashwater, Devon, in 2003, he became very active in the local church, preaching regularly in the area.


His last book, Smugglers and Smuggling, was published in 2014 and led to him appearing in the Channel 4 series Coastal Railways With Julie Walters to discuss smuggling in Cornwall.

Trevor enjoyed painting, carpentry, amateur dramatics (both acting and directing) and was a legendary loser of keys. “Trevoring the keys” is a family saying.

Trevor is survived by his two daughters, Susannah and me, and three grandsons, Angus, Felix and Harry.


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