Pat Thompson, a prominent member of Oxford University’s history faculty, has passed away at the age of 89. Born in Preston, Lancashire to a civil servant, he relocated to Northern Ireland in 1923, and later moved to London where he studied history at Magdalen College, Oxford. Thompson excelled academically, achieving a first-class honours degree in modern history in 1941. He then served as a glider-paratrooper in the Worcestershire Yeomanry but was wounded during the Normandy campaign in 1944. Following the war, he returned to Oxford as a graduate to work on 19th-century political history.
In 1947, Thompson became a history tutor at Wadham College, where he remained until his retirement. He was a passionate academic who played an instrumental role in the "Oxford school" of labour history, which focused on trade-union history, the Labour party, and industrial relations. He co-wrote the first volume of A History of British Trade Unions Since 1889 with Hugh Clegg and Alan Fox, which was published in 1964 and had a profound impact on British historiography. Thompson also had a close interest in Gladstone, and his work focused on the "radical" or "progressive" tradition in British history.
Thompson was a perfectionist who did not produce as much academic work as he would have liked. Still, he was an outstanding graduate supervisor who imparted the virtues of the Oxford school, attention to sources, and an unwillingness to accept conclusions that could not be partly grounded in fact. He was survived by his daughter Ruth, son Johnny, and grandson Paul.
Melvyn Bragg, a former student of Thompson’s at Wadham College, described him as a kind and easy-to-talk-to man who passed on his passion and deep knowledge of history to many students. His role was central and influential at a time when Oxford had few tenured historians of the late-19th and 20th centuries, but many graduates who wanted to study that period. His legacy lives on, with his dedicated graduates occupying positions in universities throughout the English-speaking world.
Pat was an incredibly supportive figure. He expressed a genuine interest in our work in drama and films, and always had an eagerness to gather and swell his abundant source of college tidbits. Being a proud college man, he cherished every aspect of it. Time and again, he and Mary graciously extended their invitation to their house, providing us with a remarkable experience and a privilege to cherish. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of getting to know his family better and keeping in touch with Pat throughout the years. My most remarkable and treasured memory occurred last year when we dined together in Oxford for over three hours. It was the first time we were able to spend such an extended period alone. Above all, his desire was to exchange information on his past pupils. He exuded a sense of a man whose academic career delivered immense gratification, and he imbued his pupils with the same satisfaction.