CHRIS Ketchell, who has died aged 66, was a self-educated family and local historian whose enthusiasms were contagious, and infected many lives in and around his home city of Hull. They included music, old pubs and real ale, social history and collecting old photographs.
He possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of local history, and was able to draw people in, often with few academic qualifications, and those who were daunted by the thought of studying at formal institutions. Nurtured by the supportive and informal atmosphere of his classes at Hull College, all were encouraged to carry out small pieces of research. In many instances their research developed into in-depth studies of significant local and national importance.
His classes, legendary local walks, talks and slide-shows, and the material he published through the former Local History Unit at the college – it closed in 2006 – have been the catalysts for many people to share their own research, and become life-long friends. Through his The Local magazine, he provided a forum for local societies to advertise their events, promoting talks, new publications, and all things local; he was also the author and co-author of several books.
Particularly important was the way in which Chris encouraged people to record their own lives, either in photographs, or in written or recorded personal reminiscences. By giving ordinary people a voice, he created an important record of lost trades, lives, and whole neighbourhoods – and all long before it was fashionable to do so. He was often to be seen cycling around photographing street signs, new shops, supermarkets and the ephemeral fragments of everyday life that would otherwise be forgotten.
Chris Ketchell was born in Heckmondwike, and he was five when his family moved to Driffield in 1949. He had a younger sister, their father being a cemetery superintendent.
He went to Bridlington School, became a sixth former but left after one term. As a 16-year old, he commuted by train to Hull where his first job was at an accountant's office in Parliament Street.
In 1968 he moved permanently to his adopted city, and having found the accountant's office unfulfilling, during the 1970s developed an interest in conservation. His interest in local history was fuelled by his friend Leslie Powell, and while attending Worker's Education Association classes, he met his mentor, William Foot-Walker.
He eventually settled in The Avenues, and for many years shared the home of local publican and brewer, Alex Craig, the two of them being enthusiastic supporters of the Campaign for Real Ale. They formed the Get Stuffed Party, and had at least one candidate in an election, their HQ being their Prince's Avenue flat.
As his interest developed, Chris applied for a job at the Humberside College of Higher Education's Local History Archives Unit. Dr Eric Sigsworth, recognising his qualities, appointed him as supervisor in 1985. Chris was never a lecturer, and only ever a member of the clerical staff, but it was largely through his dedication and vision that the unit became a nationally-recognised institution. He himself became a largely self-taught authority on local history. He was probably instrumental in establishing more local history societies than anyone else in the area, and chaired many – not least the East Yorkshire Local History Society.
Twice married, and one who attended Quaker meetings during his later years, Chris had been divorced some time before entering the residential home where he died very suddenly.
Perhaps no one single man did so much to promote – and inspire others to promote – the history of the often-maligned, yet great City of Hull.