Kenneth Hudson (1916 – 99)

Kenneth Hudson was one of the pioneers of the study of industrial heritage, not only in his native England but across most of Europe. He was born in north London and studied English at University College London. He was a conscientious objector during the Second World War but after the war, as a fluent speaker of German, was drafted to work on the allied denazification programme in Germany. In 1947 he joined the adult education department of the University of Bristol as its resident tutor in Somerset, but moved in 1954 to be talks producer and industrial correspondent with the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) in Bristol. Between 1966 and 1972 he worked at the Bristol College of Science and Technology which became the University of Bath and was then a freelance writer and consultant. He was active in the annual conferences in Bath in the 1960s which were influential in the growth of industrial archaeology in Great Britain and also attracted important overseas delegates, such as Marie Nisser from Sweden. He travelled extensively in continental Europe and was best known as the museologist who established the European Museum of the Year award in 1987. His name is retained in the Kenneth Hudson award for the most unusual and daring achievement that challenges common perceptions of the role of museums in society which since 2010, award by European Museums Forum.

He wrote more than 50 books many of them on topics related to industrial heritage or museums but some on entirely different subjects. Amongst the most influential were Industrial Archaeology: an Introduction (1963), the first full-size book on the subject, The Industrial Archaeology of Southern England (1965) one of the first regional studies, Air Travel: a Social History (1972), which exemplified his concern that historical studies should extend up to the present, and Where we used to work (1980), which demonstrated the value of oral history. He was also responsible for two major reference works, both written with Ann Nicholls, The Cambridge Guide to the Museums of Britain and Ireland (1987) and The Cambridge Guide to the Museums of Europe (1991). He often showed impatience with the writings of academic historians, and was more interested in telling people’s stories. His role was well summed-up by a friend who regarded him as ‘an ideas man not a meticulous historian’. His influence was nevertheless profound.