As part of the Society’s celebration of its 175th anniversary in 2020, we are publishing a series of articles on distinguished early members. In this article, Donald Munro appraises the work of William Page, whose contributions extended well beyond the Society.
William Page (1861–1934), the most notable historian associated with SAHAAS, played a very significant part in developing scholarly record-based local history. Connected by marriage with St Albans, he lived only six years in the town, but his influence on Hertfordshire and English local historiography was prodigious.
Joint Secretary of the Society
As Joint Secretary of SAHAAS from 1897-1902, he used his professionalism and drive to help revive the Society’s archaeological activities and was closely involved in the establishment of the Hertfordshire County Museum in the Hatfield Road in 1898. He was appointed a Vice President in 1903, and continued in that position until 1933.
A pioneering local historian and archaeologist, Page was very influential in developing the practice of seeking authoritative text through disciplined evidence- and record-based research. A record agent by profession, he was well connected, respected and familiar with leading archivists and medieval historians.
General Editor of the Victoria History of the Counties of England
Page’s monumental achievement is the Victoria History of the Counties of England (founded in 1899). Early involved in the development of this ambitious project, he was appointed general editor in 1902. Page had “a practical genius for organising research allied to wide knowledge of the materials of English local history” (C.Lewis VCH). He devised the topographical templates which even today bring uniformity to the volumes. By 1914 the eminent medievalist T. F. Tout was lauding the Victoria County History as “the training ground for a younger generation of medieval historians”.
Page died in post over 30 years later, having issued some 89 volumes, guided the VCH through numerous vicissitudes, and assured its survival – it is now one of the world’s longest running research projects.
Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London
Page was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London from 1887, and published an astonishingly varied stream of publications reflecting his extraordinarily wide interests in history, archaeology and antiquities.
Locally he edited and wrote much of the Victoria County History of Hertfordshire, comprising four v volumes and an index published. He contributed several articles to SAHAAS Transactions; wrote the first scholarly post-Grimthorpe restoration guide to St. Alban’s Cathedral and Abbey Church (1898) and issued an abbreviated edition of Nicholson’s guide in 1900. His very readable St Albans in the SPCK’s “The story of the English towns“ series appeared in 1920.
A versatile, tactful, energetic, progressive, and scholarly man, blessed with an equable, kindly and generous temperament, William Page certainly was one of SAHAAS’ most noteworthy luminaries with an impact far beyond St Albans.
From 1886 to 1902 Page lived in St Albans with his wife and family at the White House, opposite St Peter’s church.