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News > OS News > Remembering OS Professor Derek Beales FBA (DB,RPH,42-49)

Remembering OS Professor Derek Beales FBA (DB,RPH,42-49)

24 Aug 2023
Written by Jennifer Law
OS News

The Stortfordian community fondly remembers Old Stortfordian Emeritus Professor Derek Beales (DB,RPH,42-49) after his recent sad passing at the age of 92. An eminent historian who nurtured and inspired generations of students and historians through his teachings and publications. 

After a full and accomplished time at the College, in 1950 Derek Beales joined Sidney Sussex College, completing his BA, MA and PhD at the University of Cambridge, and was appointed as a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College in 1955, remaining a Fellow for an incredible 68 years. Professor Beales also generously served as a Governor at the College from 1967-73.

A full dediction to Professor Beales' career at Sidney Sussex can be read by clicking this link:

Remembering Derek Beales (1931-2023)  | Sidney Sussex College Cambridge

To honour his College memory OS Dr Andrew Jones (AH,57-62) writes:

OS Professor Derek Beales FBA, born 12 June 1931; died 10 July 2023. 

It was Easter 1949, and the scholarly 17 year-old Derek Beales had an Editorial to compose, ahead of his final term.  Anxiety was inescapable: it is ‘very horrible’ 'to be catapulted from the secure cloistered life of a public school into the Army maelstrom; civvy-street or the University are violent enough contrasts.’  But the essay betrays a balancing faith, a 'cheerful expectancy' in friendship - 'friendships still firm, friendships now broken  … how easily we might never have known the people we have met here.’  And the reflection, 'No doubt we should have found others, but we would not be ourselves', is notably mature. The schoolboy memories Derek would carry with him would, he mused, mix ‘many great and many little things.  We shall not forget the strange smell of the Prep. floor when term begins any more quickly than the wonders Mr Jones worked with our knowledge and love of history.’ 

‘Mr Jones’, W.A. ‘Bill’ Jones, senior History master at the College from 1936 to 1946, was my father.  He left Stortford to take up a grammar school headship in Derbyshire.  In his first term there he received from Derek a letter, which has not survived; the lamentation (that BSC had lost its star teacher) is clear from my father’s reply: ’since even schoolmasters are human beings in their spare moments I must admit that it is very pleasant to see an odd compliment on paper!  But … We must preserve what the doctors and lawyers call “professional etiquette” ‘.  WAJ's letter, which Derek gave me two decades ago, is a treasured possession.  It is the more poignant because my father, in the words of Teddy Wall’s tribute (Stortfordian, July 1948), ‘literally worked himself to breaking point’, dying at 37 in tragic circumstances, a year before Derek’s Stortfordian Editorial appeared.   

WAJ was a ‘great thing’ in shaping the course of Derek Beales’ adult life of academic distinction: Fellow of Sidney Sussex College for 68 years, elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1989, Emeritus Professor of Modern History at Cambridge.  

How remiss that in his own ‘Valete' (Stortfordian, July 1949), Derek did not mention that for three successive years, he carried off the Francis Schnadhorst History Essay Prize.  I walked past ‘D.E.D. Beales’, in a signwriter’s classic hand on the honours board, virtually every day from 1957 to 1962, on my way to the upper floor of the main classroom block.  One further memory, from 1961: Walter Strachan came into a Lower Sixth French lesson with a copy, surely a presentation from the author, of Derek’s first published work, England and Italy, 1859-60.  It was, Walter swooned, a ‘gem’ of a book: ‘read it’.  I did, but not for half-a-dozen years.   

Derek was a wrily observant, humorous, good man and a loyal friend.  At 92, on 10 July 2023, only ‘the shadow of Derek’ remained - a victim of Alzheimers.  

A Service  of thanksgiving celebrating Derek’s life will be held at Little St Mary’s Church, Cambridge at 2 p.m. on Wednesday 30th August 2023 to which members of the Stortfordian Community are warmly invited to attend.

Andrew Jones (AH, 1957-62) 

All at the College are grateful for Professor Beales' dedicated service to the School as a Governor and are hugely proud of his distinguished career. Extending sincerest condolances to Professor Beales' Wife, Sally and their family, including Prof. Beales' Brother, OS Christopher Beales (DBH, 44-51)


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