In Memoriam Professor Angus Hawkins

A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Director of the Research Centre in Victorian Political Culture at Keble College, Professor Hawkins’s research centred on 19th-century politics – including constitutional change, political parties and coalitions.


The Department regrets to announce that Professor Angus Hawkins, Director of International and Public Programmes and a noted historian of modern British politics, died unexpectedly in December 2020. He was 67.

Professor Hawkins joined the Department in 1992 as Deputy Director, in charge of International Programmes. His large portfolio of summer schools and collaborative courses grew over the years to also include programmes in Leadership and Public Policy, Diplomatic Studies, and International Human Rights Law. He also developed a major new series of programmes with Chinese partners. From 2010 he became Director of all of the Department’s public-facing programmes of short courses, and award and degree programmes for adult learners. Angus was ultimately responsible for overseeing more than 700 programmes, enrolling more than 13,000 adult learners worldwide each year.

Interestingly, Angus was not the first of his family to serve the cause of adult learning at Oxford; he would fondly recall that his relative Anthony Hope Hawkins (the author of The Prisoner of Zenda and other novels) was a key player in the establishment of adult learning at the University of Oxford – then known as ‘University Extension’ – in the late 19th century.

Angus joined Oxford Continuing Education from Harlaxton College in Lincolnshire, where he had been Principal. He was already an accomplished academic having recently published a book based on his University of London PhD thesis, Parliament, Party and the Art of Politics in Britain, 1855-59 (1987) and was soon at work on a well-received general history of politics in the period 1852-1886 (published in 1998).

His academic interests remained focused on the middle decades of the C19th, which were the focus of his finest work, the two-volume biography of Lord Derby, The Forgotten Prime Minister, published by Oxford University Press in 2007/2008. Angus was always amused by the thought that his own passion for Victorian high politics had given rise to that most Victorian of publishing endeavours, the multi-volume political biography!

Angus was steeped in the period that he studied – his office was piled high with the biographies and memoirs of leading politicians, and in recent months, when the pandemic forced us all to communicate online, the Victorian prints in his study formed a familiar backdrop for his calls.

As Deputy Director in charge of International Programmes under Geoffrey Thomas in the 1990s, Angus travelled extensively in North America (and elsewhere) to visit partner institutions and forge relationships with new colleagues. Angus’s charm and relaxed manner were essential to the success of these missions. During this period he also served as Bursar of the newly-founded Kellogg College (known as “Rewley House” until 1994). With Geoffrey Thomas, Angus often visited the W. K. Kellogg Foundation at Battle Creek, Michigan, and as a result helped to secure invaluable funding support for the growth of the college. (For the period 1990-2006 the college was based in the department, and Continuing Education academics were – and remain - strongly represented in the Fellowship).

In 2011 Angus’s historical expertise led to him being called to address a Houses of Parliament Committee as an expert witness for The History of Parliament Project, and his knowledge of C19th coalitions made him an in-demand speaker following the formation of the UK’s coalition government in 2010. His academic eminence was recognised by the University in 2012 when he was awarded the title of Professor of History. This distinction is awarded to those whose research is of outstanding quality, and a significant international reputation.

After twenty years as a fellow of Kellogg, Angus moved to a fellowship at Keble college (itself a fine Victorian institution), where he established a research centre on Victorian Political Culture with support from Dr Ralph Walter. He published a further book with OUP in 2015 entitled Victorian Political Culture: Habits of Heart and Mind. He had recently taken sabbatical and had completed a number of new writing projects.

For all of his academic success, Angus – throughout his career at Oxford – was above all a magnificent colleague and very popular tutor (especially of the graduates that he supervised). In the 1990s the Department was a much smaller community than it is now and Angus touched everyone’s life, most memorably by his musicianship at Departmental and college events. He forged a remarkable musical partnership with our former colleague, the late Brian Hitch, with Angus on viola and Brian on the piano. He remained a devoted chamber musician until his untimely death. His many qualities and personal attributes helped beyond measure to make the Department what it is today – he will be sorely missed by the whole Rewley House community, and far beyond.

The Department's thoughts are with Angus's family at this very sad time.

- Professor Tom Buchanan




I was fortunate on my return to Oxford in 2008 – to be Director of the Department for Continuing Education and President of Kellogg College – to have Angus as a welcoming and supportive colleague in both institutions.  At Kellogg, as Bursar, Angus played a great role in our successful move during the course of 2008 to the College’s permanent Norham Manor site, and then in ensuring that the new site was utilised fully for the benefit of students, alumni, fellows and other members and friends of the College.  An early initiative was to establish the Burns Night ceilidh, and there is a great photo of him in full tartan regalia on the dance floor. 

At the Department for Continuing Education Angus helped establish and develop several new programmes. During my 13 years to date, we have had two successful programmes migrate to our partner departments, and two programmes move into Continuing Education at the request of the relevant Division, namely the Diplomatic Studies Programme from Social Sciences and the Bachelor of Theology from the Humanities, and Angus oversaw both these successful migrations, and in the case of Diplomatic Studies, added a Master’s degree to the portfolio.   

Angus developed several other important programmes, which supported the strategic ambitions of the Department and University.  With the University’s commitment to interdisciplinarity, Angus took the lead in developing our Master’s in Literature & Arts, and subsequently the linked Doctorate in Literature & Arts.  The Postgraduate Certificate in Historical Studies was designed to enable those from other disciplines to pursue a study of history; a linked Master’s provides an opportunity for progression.  I could give further examples, but the key point is that Angus thought strategically, recognised that we were a Department for Continuing Education – not just for ‘part-time study’ – and developed new programmes that would deliver this historic mission in new, relevant and exciting ways. 

Angus also served on the Executive of the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning, and hosted their annual conference in Oxford.  While Angus was on sabbatical last year, I joined the UALL Executive, and learned in what high regard Angus was held not just in Oxford and globally, but also nationally.  Since his untimely death, I have been inundated with moving and inspiring messages from within the University; from current and former students and staff; and from other figures nationally and internationally.  Angus’s impact will continue to be hugely positive, not just through his memory and publications, but through the successful programmes he crafted – and the work of the alumni from those programmes, across the globe. 

Professor Jonathan Michie
Director, Oxford University Department for Continuing Education;
President, Kellogg College


I was and am a huge admirer of Angus's; we had corresponded at length about the recent brief book that I am so glad OUP have accepted. I thought he was an outstanding historian; his two-volume life of Lord Derby was a tour de force, one of the great political biographies, and then some; and his collection of essays on the political culture of nineteenth century Britain was no less brilliant.

He was also utterly decent and good, an ornament to Oxford and to the republic of letters, and someone whom I felt privileged to count as a friend. I find it almost unbearable that that friendship is now sundered, and there must be many people, in Oxford and far beyond, who feel the same.
Professor Sir David Cannadine
President of the British Academy


For those of us fortunate to know him, the photograph of Angus, seen above, captures his spirit utterly. Here he is, resplendent in sub-fusc, addressing the audience – magisterially and with verve, but with genuine warmth too - at the award ceremony in the University’s magnificent ceremonial hall, the Sheldonian Theatre. The annual occasion on which students of the Department for Continuing Education receive their awards is the most important event in our year. It is the day when students come, with their friends and families, to join with the academics and the support staff of the Department to mark their achievement. It is symbolic of our being as a community which believes in, supports, and celebrates scholarship and lifelong learning. Angus was at the heart of that community and valued every member of it. He remembered people’s names. He praised their achievements. He was a strategic leader; and he was an adept ambassador for Continuing Education in the wider University and beyond. He was a highly distinguished scholar and teacher. For those of us who worked closely with him he leaves an example of wisdom, prudence, and commitment to the purposes of the Department.

In recent months our image of Angus has been against a backdrop of his treasured Victorian political cartoon prints, as we have necessarily met in remote format. But I should like to remember him as he is here: at the heart of Oxford Continuing Education which he loved, in the University which he served with such dedication and conviction over very many years.

Elizabeth Gemmill
Associate Professor in History
Fellow of Kellogg College


Just before Christmas, Angus and I met – virtually, of course – to discuss his plans for retirement. He was on top form, full of ideas and bubbling over with enthusiasm. He had just finished writing one book, which will, I hope, still be published by OUP. He had exciting plans for others and for the on-going work of his Centre for Victorian Political Culture. It was, as always with Angus, an enjoyable conversation and I looked forward to many more in the years to come.

And then came the New Year and, with it, the devastating news of Angus’ death. It seems, even now, very hard to believe that it’s true. He was such a fixture of Oxford life: in Continuing Education, in History, and in the university more widely. Driving round in his diminutive sports car, at a disconcertingly nippy speed, he was also a feature of the city more widely. It is very sad to think that I’ll not see him zipping up the Banbury Road again.

Angus was a great scholar. His biography of Derby will last for decades to come. Reviewers equally recognized that his most recent book on Victorian Political Culture was, in the words of one, “an original and powerful interpretation which will command the field for some time”. The next book – the book he had just finished – will provoke much debate and be widely cited. His legacy as a historian is assured.

But Angus was more than just a scholar. He was, of course, a famously brilliant teacher and supervisor, a mentor, an organiser and administrator, and an academic entrepreneur.  His skills in all these areas will find fulfilment and a lasting memory in the Chair in Modern British Political History which was endowed by a former student and long-standing collaborator, Ralph Walter. Above all, Angus was a life-affirming, uplifting, and encouraging figure to all who knew him. My encounter with him just a few weeks ago was typical of all our many conversations over the years. I left feeling better and happier and more upbeat. That was Angus’ gift to us all.

Professor William Whyte
Fellow of St John’s


Like everyone else who knew Angus, I was devastated when I heard that he had died suddenly over the Christmas holiday. The numbness remains. At 67, with retirement on the horizon, he still seemed a man in his prime.

For ten years we were colleagues at Rewley House, but during that period colleagueship grew into friendship, which flourished in the ten years following my retirement. Angus had the sparkle of good conversation and the warmth of good humour about him. He always had the good of the Department in mind, just as, when he had been Bursar of Kellogg, he had had the good of the College. Time in Angus’s company was time well spent. He embodied the Aristotelian virtue of friendship and its necessity for living well. I sometimes wonder whether adult education is not in fact a school for friendship. Unlike the traditional school teacher and the disparity in age and life experience with his or her charges, the adult educator is on a par with the class, and openness, engagement, humour and warmth are the means of advance. To see Angus in the midst of his summer school students, many of whom retuned year after year, you realized how he was shaped by that milieu and in turn went on to give continuing spirit and form to it.

Angus and I had in fact met once before in our professional lives, prior to Rewley House,. He was then Principal of Harlaxton Manor, Anthony Salvin’s magnificent pile in Lincolnshire, the British campus of the University of Evansville. I was Director of Overseas Programmes at the much humbler Westminster College (now part of Oxford Brookes). Both our institutions were related to the Methodist Church. At Westminster, we were devising a strategy to attract the US Methodist-related universities to send their Junior Year Abroad students to us. Alarm bells were set ringing in Evansville and Harlaxton; within weeks the University President and Angus arrived at Westminster College. The finesse and courtesy with which Angus went into bat (or perhaps the metaphor should more appropriately for Angus be to tackle) for his side was a masterclass in diplomacy. I admired his quiet determination.

A visit to Angus’s office was always a treat. On his shelves were to be found all those ‘Life and Letters’ so beloved of the Victorians as literary monuments to their great men and occasionally women. Angus, I believe, had read them all in his quest to understand the world and ethos of mid-Victorian politics. He carried his learning lightly but was most generous in sharing its fruits with those who were interested. Since his death, I have found myself more than once thinking that I needed to ask his opinion when next I saw him of some Victorian figure or movement, only to pull myself up sharply. I shall miss him on so many fronts.

Philip Healy
Former Director of Public Programmes, Oxford University Department for Continuing Education
Emeritus Fellow, Kellogg College


With the untimely passing of Angus, the Department has lost one of its mainstays of the last thirty years. His contributions, first in International Programmes, and later in his further responsibilities for Public Programmes, were immense and invaluable. He was very conscious of the Department’s history and its ethos, which he always sought to build on, and to extend its reach in ways relevant to Oxford’s global role. He was, of course, in his element with the Department’s US partnerships, but he added to those with important initiatives in other parts of the world, not least in China.

His academic distinction brought wider recognition to the Department, and helped make him such a valued tutor with international students, as well as those from the UK. Alongside his academic work, Angus’s personal qualities made him a marvellous colleague. His hallmarks included his instantly-proffered hand, his good humour (and booming laugh), and his unfailingly courteous manner. These, together with his wide cultural and musical interests, made him an excellent companion, professionally and socially.

Those qualities also helped make Angus such a natural as a college member. He was a pillar of the young Kellogg College – as Fellow, Bursar, and sometime Acting President, and he played an especially important part in helping acquire and develop the College’s new base in Norham Manor.

I know all of us will mourn the passing of Angus, and I personally will miss him very much. But I will also remain grateful for having been able for so long to enjoy the enormous pleasure of his company, and the great privilege of his friendship.

Geoffrey Thomas
Director, Department for Continuing Education, 1986 – 2007;
President, Kellogg College 1990 – 2007



Published 5 January 2021