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Tate, William Edward (1902–1968), teacher and historian, was born on 28 March 1902 in Retford, Nottinghamshire, the only son of three children. His parents were John William Tate (1870–1933), a railway clerk and Methodist preacher, and his wife, Mary, née Woodhead (1869–1947), a schoolmistress. The Tate family had come from a farming background in Yorkshire. W. E. Tate was educated at Grove Street School and King Edward VI Grammar School at Retford, where he was a scholar. In 1917 he left school, aged fifteen, to work for two years in war service as a laboratory assistant analysing steels in Sheffield. He qualified as an elementary schoolteacher at Westminster Teacher Training College (1920–22).

Tate taught scientific subjects at various elementary schools between 1922 and 1945, and became headmaster of Sutton Bonington village school, Nottinghamshire, in 1925, where he insisted upon higher-quality village education. Active in local politics, he was a founder and chairman of the Sutton Bonington Labour Party and of the Sutton Bonington and Normanton branch of the National Union of Agricultural Workers. His Labour Party membership was continuous from 1923. He was brought up a Methodist and joined the Church of England in 1933. His interests in agricultural history and parliamentary enclosure developed from the late 1920s at Sutton Bonington. He became a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1927 and of the Society of Antiquaries in 1947. In 1935 he became headmaster of the Sneyd Holy Trinity School in Burslem, Staffordshire. By all accounts he was extremely good with children and a very fine teacher. He was also a very enthusiastic Workers' Educational Association member and tutor from 1935 to 1962.

In 1945 Tate left schoolteaching to go to Oxford University (Ruskin and Balliol colleges). He was awarded a BLitt in 1947. At Oxford he was Houblon-Norman research fellow in agrarian history (1945–7) and the G. W. Medley senior research scholar at All Souls (1948–50). From 1947 to 1950 he was senior programme assistant in the history unit of the schools department of the BBC.

In 1950 Tate became a lecturer in the education department at Leeds University, and in 1959 he was promoted to a readership there. From 1956 he was also curator of the Museum of the History of Education, University of Leeds, which he started. In these capacities he produced many publications, particularly on the history of education and the charity schools of Yorkshire. He wrote in a 1959 curriculum vitae that ‘I am a teacher with an interest in scholarship rather than a scholar with a taste for teaching, and I find myself happy, and I hope useful in the atmosphere of a Department of Education’ (‘Summary of particulars’, Tate MS 1093). Much of his best academic work on agricultural history was pursued as a leisure-time activity. He retired from Leeds University in 1966, and went to Clare Hall, Cambridge, as a visiting fellow.

Tate's most famous publication was The Parish Chest: a Study of the Records of Parochial Administration in England (1946), an erudite and wide-ranging survey of local records. This book retains much interest and is still widely read. He also published The English Village Community and the Enclosure Movements (1967). In addition he published very many county handlists of enclosure acts and awards, often in the historical and archaeological journals of local record societies. An example is Nottinghamshire Parliamentary Enclosures, 1743–1868 (Thoroton Society record series, 5, 1935). These came together after his death in A Domesday of English Enclosure Acts and Awards (1978), a magisterial and widely consulted reference work which was completed, co-authored, and introduced by Michael E. Turner. Tate wrote many articles in scholarly journals. His publications stretched to such subjects as child welfare, the history of education, Yorkshire local history and topography, inn signs, travellers in Yorkshire, and a number of school texts. Among his lesser-known books were His Worship the Mayor: a Handbook of Citizenship for Children who are to Grow up in a Democracy (1944), English Inns and Inn-Signs (1951), British Institutions (1955), and A History of Yorkshire (1960, with F. Singleton).

Tate married in 1925 Ethel Markham (1902–1941), a schoolteacher, with whom he had a son and two daughters. Following her death he married in 1942 Margery Whitfield (1912–1991), another schoolteacher. This marriage produced a daughter. The couple divorced in 1953. Tate married a third time in 1958, to Margery Kerr (c.1911–1973). He died in Bristol from a heart attack on 22 March 1968, and was buried at Westbury-on-Trym.

Tate is best remembered as a pioneer in agricultural history—researching local enclosures on a county-by-county basis, laying the foundation of a complete ‘Domesday’ of these, advancing academic study of rural history—and as a historian who introduced many others to the broad spectrum of local and administrative records. His work has greatly assisted countless researchers in local and agrarian history.

K. D. M. Snell


U. Reading, Tate MSS, 1093 [incl. an almost entire bibliography of Tate] · private information (2004) [Mrs Pat Hunter; Mrs Ann Best; Alan Everitt; Dennis R. Mills; Joan Thirsk; and Michael E. Turner] · W. E. Tate, The English village community and the enclosure movements (1967), 13–19 · W. E. Tate and M. E. Turner, A Domesday of English enclosure acts and awards (1978), 3 · I. Elliott, ed., The Balliol College register, 1900–1950, 3rd edn (privately printed, Oxford, 1953) · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1968)


Surrey HC, MS notebook ‘English enclosure acts and awards vol. 34 Surrey’ · U. Reading L., corresp. and papers, MSS 1093, 1234 · U. Reading L., holding includes bibliography, CV, corresp., and many other papers · University of Leicester, Centre for English Local History · York Minster Library, notes relating to Thomas Gent and Yorks schools

Wealth at death  

£2134: probate, 15 July 1968, CGPLA Eng. & Wales