George Redmonds, historian

George Redmonds
George Redmonds
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Dr George Redmonds, who has died at 82, was an internationally recognised historian, specialising in the origin of surnames and place names.

Born in Bradford, he studied at Birmingham University before teaching modern languages in London, Nairobi, West Germany and his native Yorkshire.

He was awarded a PhD at Leicester University in 1970 for his research into surnames of the West Riding, and in 1973 his work was published as the first volume of the English Surnames series.

A resident of Lepton, near Huddersfield, he gave up his secure job as a senior lecturer at what was then the town’s Polytechnic to become a freelance historian in 1974, earning a living through his local history publications. His wife, Ann-marie, recalls them calculating that they could manage on £40 a week, with her income from a pottery shop taken into account.

Along with his friends Dr David Hey, Prof Stanley Ellis and others, Redmonds was arguably one of the scholars who, in the late 20th century, helped validate the study of Yorkshire’s local history as a serious and important activity.

His work on family and place names was based on the apparently simple proposition that the only way to find real meaning and understanding was to look at their earliest written appearances. His language skills enabled him to master the complexities of medieval Latin to remarkable effect, from which came significant findings on the origins of family names. It was an approach that transformed research in the area.

He lectured extensively to local history classes and societies and family historians, travelling to Australia, New Zealand and the USA to speak on the origins of English surnames. He enjoyed showing visitors from abroad the locations from where their surnames originated.

Along with other local historians Cyril Pearce and Jennifer Stead, he helped to produce many editions of the Old West Riding journal, which ran from 1981-95 and which was seen as a vehicle for the growing number of amateur historians to publish their work. In 2001 he presented the BBC Radio 4 series, Surnames Genes and Genealogy.

His many published works included Surnames and Genealogy: a New Approach (1997), Names and History (2004), Christian Names in Local and Family History (2004) and, along with Turi King and David Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011). In 2015, Dr Redmonds produced his extensive Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames with thousands of entries, giving the names’ linguistic meanings, geographic origins and distribution.

Throughout his many years researching records, often from the medieval period, he kept meticulous notes of what he found, which enabled him also to produce The Vocabulary of Coal Mining In Yorkshire, 1250-1850 in 2016 and A Vocabulary of Wood, Wood Workers and Wood Management in Yorkshire last year. His Yorkshire Historic Dictionary is also due to be published in the near future.

Away from his research work, he and Ann-marie were staunch supporters of the Huddersfield Giants rugby league team. She survives him, with their three children and two grandchildren.