Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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EMERY, FRANK VIVIAN (1930-1987), historical geographer.

Frank Emery was born 15 June 1930 at his parents' home in Mount Street, Gowerton, Glam. His mother Bronwen Myfanwy (née Williams) was in Merthyr Tydfil in 1897. His father, William (‘Bill’) Emery (1897-1962), was born in Pentrebach, Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan.

At the time of Frank's birth, he was a professional cricketer: a right-handed batsman and right-arm medium paced bowler who in the early 1920's played first class cricket for Glamorgan and Wales, including matches against Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, and the MCC at Lord's.

Frank was brought up and went to school in Gowerton. Much of his boyhood was spent walking in the landscape of rural Gower to look beyond the obtrusive effects of coal mining in his immediate vicinity to discover Iron Age and Roman forts and signs of Anglo-Norman settlement and Parliamentary enclosure, and to speculate about how it had come to be as it was. In leisure hours during his army service, he could be discovered ‘drawing neat sketch maps of Gower, apparently as a labour of love’, in the words of his friend, John Andrews. Emery wrote about Gower intermittently throughout his career: in eleven articles in the Journal of the Gower Society (1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954a, b and c, 1969b, 1970b, 1974b and 1975c); in his undergraduate dissertation, which won prizes from Oxford University and the Royal Geographical Society in 1952; in The National Library of Wales Journal (1956, 1957 and 1958); in The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (1965), and in a posthumously published chapter in Settlement and Society in Wales (1989).

To Emery, the Gower landscape was, like all others, much more than scenery to be enjoyed as an aesthetic experience and explicated as an academic exercise. ‘Beautiful, quiet little Gower straddles the sharp line of cultural turbulence where Celtic Atlantic Europe and Continental Europe faced each other uncomprehendingly for a thousand years’. And evidence of this is visible, to those with the skill and sensitivity to see it, in Gower's now placid landscape. This aspect of Gower, like its scenic beauty, inspired in Emery a life-long intellectual curiosity.

The subject of his prize-winning undergraduate dissertation was ‘The English Settlement in Peninsular Gower’, and his paper of 1957 was concerned with contacts between South Wales and the south-west peninsula of England in the nineteenth century. During the 1980s, Emery greatly developed his lecture courses and seminars in Oxford on the geography of language (with an emphasis on Welsh, still spoken to the north of Gower), and had he lived for longer he would undoubtedly have published much more on this subject than the section of his paper in the Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (1965) and the paper he wrote jointly with Paul White in Area (1976a).

Emery was conscripted to do his national service on leaving school in 1947, training with the Royal Army Educational Corps at Bodmin before going to teach academic subjects (including geography) as a sergeant at the Army Apprentices' School, Chepstow (which was, in fact, at Beachley).

After demobilisation in 1949, Emery went to Jesus College, Oxford on a State Scholarship; Gowerton Grammar School was given a day's holiday to celebrate this achievement. At Jesus College he was tutored by J. N. L. Baker, which must to some extent have been responsible for the development of his profoundly scholarly interest in the writings of early chorographers and the work of the eminent naturalist, archaeologist and linguist, Edward Lhuyd. Besides his love of the landscape itself, Emery felt a strong affinity with these men who were, like himself, ‘moved by their sense of locality and a zeal for making things known’, as he described Robert Gordon and Robert Sibbald in 1958.

After gaining a First Class honours degree in Geography in 1952, when he already had two publications to his name, Emery began work on his postgraduate thesis on British regionalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was awarded the degree of B.Litt. in 1955, when he also took his M.A. degree. (It was unusual at that time to submit a thesis for a doctoral degree, although Emery's B.Litt. examiners considered that his thesis was worthy of an even higher degree.) After only one year of full-time research, he was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Geography at the University College of Swansea, where he was promoted to a full lectureship in 1956, and where he met Muriel P. (‘Pat’) Male (born Newport, Mon. 1928) whom he married in Monmouthshire in 1956. Emery was proud to be the son-in-law of OssieMale (schoolteacher, born Newport, Mon. 1893), rugby full-back for Cross Keys, Pontypool and Cardiff, and 1921-28 for the Welsh national team, which he captained in 1928.

Emery returned to Oxford as a Departmental Demonstrator and Lecturer in Geography at St Peter's Hall in 1957. In 1959 he was appointed to the newly created Lectureship in Historical Geography at Oxford and felt privileged that his was the only post in the School of Geography at Oxford to carry such a specific designation. A few months before his father's death in 1962, he was elected Fellow and Tutor in Geography at St Peter's, which had recently become a fully-fledged college of Oxford University. Pat was a schoolteacher in Oxford, where their children Caroline and Susan were born, while Frank continued to occupy his university and college posts until his death in 1987.

Emery was fully involved in the administration and everyday life of both his department and his college. He always served without demur in institutional offices and on committees and examining boards. His willingness meant that he was asked to do so more than most. Perhaps, too, his ability to remain outside the tangles of abstruse argument and dissolve them into laughter was as valued objectively as it was relished subjectively. An inevitable consequence of Emery's full involvement in administration and his facility always to be amused and amusing was that his colleagues were never fully aware of the extent of the time he spent on teaching, research and writing, or of the commitment, passion and meticulousness with which he engaged in all of them. He customarily lectured and gave seminars and tutorials on sources and methods in historical geography; the historical geography of England, 1650-1800; origins of and changes in British landscapes; recent changes in the upland landscapes of Britain and France; the geography of language; the historical geography of southern Africa, and the exploration and partition of Africa. Much as he evidently greatly enjoyed classroom teaching, no one who accompanied him on one of the many field excursions he contributed to the Oxford geography course could doubt that that was the kind of teaching most congenial to him. The highlight of many geography undergraduates' learning experience in Oxford (often much to their surprise) was their visit with Emery to the deserted village of Hampton Gay.

The kind of geography taught at Oxford, with its strong emphasis on the landscape as a synoptic expression of the relationship between people and the physical environment, and its large component of field work, was undoubtedly both congenial and inspiring to Emery. It blended smoothly with the zealous pursuit of scholarship inculcated by J. N. L. Baker and the enthusiasms developed in the environment of his boyhood to produce the preoccupations expressed in his publications. What is remarkable about a list of his writings is not simply its length, nor even the range of the topics that catalyzed around his love of landscape and its history, but the fact that no area of research was ever abandoned as the range of his interests expanded. Once he was fascinated by a subject, Emery could not think of letting it go - an eloquent testimony to the depth of the personal devotion he brought to his work.

After moving permanently to Oxford, Emery developed the detachment and distance that added a fascination with the landscape of Wales as a whole to his previous interests. His first book was Wales, the second volume of Longman's The World's Landscapes Series (1969a). It displays to the full the thorough scholarship, humanity and verve that characterized all Emery's writings and made them both popular with the general public and authoritative amongst academics. His Wales immediately became the standard reference on the Welsh landscape and established his reputation as the foremost authority on that subject, on which he contributed chapters to two subsequent books (1972 and 1989). His life-long interest in Edward Lhuyd reached its culmination in the book Edward Lhuyd F.R.S. (1660-1709) (1971a), although he wrote another five articles about Lhuyd's researches. His publication of work on the landscape of the Oxford region - inspired, no doubt, by teaching duties as well by his innate responsiveness to the landscape in which he lived - began in 1964. Again, it culminated in a book which is both widely read and authoritative. The Oxfordshire Landscape (1974a) was again followed by further articles on the same subject, the last in 1984.

From the beginning, Emery was fascinated by how landscapes express the changing material requirements of societies. His first publications in national journals were about the farming system that created the landscape of West Glamorgan at the turn of the seventeenth century. The works by which he is best known to historians are probably his chapters on farming in Wales in the volumes of the Agrarian History of England and Wales (ed. H. P. R. Finberg (1967) and Joan Thirsk (1984a)). Although, in the spirit of the Aberystwyth and Oxford Schools of geography which he admired and exemplified, Emery completely eschewed methodological writing, his acute awareness of methodological issues is illustrated by his much-cited article on the diffusion of clover cultivation in Wales (1975c). Again, this research interest continued until his death. During his last few years, most of the long hours he spent (always at the same favourite desk) in Duke Humfrey's Library were devoted to the painstaking analysis of Oxfordshire probate inventories in search of patterns of innovation in Oxfordshire farming in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

For the last decade or so of his life, the majority of Emery's publications, comprising two books and ten scholarly articles, were concerned with the landscape of South Africa, and particularly that of Natal as perceived by the first white men to encounter it. He returned in 1979, 1984 and 1985 after a visiting lectureship at the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg in 1967/68. As in Oxfordshire, it was impossible for Emery not to become enthralled by the landscape in which he was living, or not to speculate upon its provenance. Undoubtedly, further piquancy was due to the strangeness of that landscape compared with those of Britain, and to the fact that many of the first Europeans to experience it were Welshmen: clergymen, such as the Rev. John David Jenkins, but most particularly the soldiers of the 24th Regiment of Foot, who fought in the Zulu War and (after being renamed as the 1st and 2nd Regiments of The South Wales Borderers in 1881) in the Boer War, to whose museum at Brecon Emery gave tremendous support. Their letters home from southern Africa provided Emery with an incomparable store of information on how others before him had perceived and responded to their early encounters with this alien landscape, and how they had acted to gain control over and put their own imprint upon it.

Emery died on 6th October 1987 near Hampton Gay. His remains were cremated in Oxford, and a memorial service was held at St. Peter's College on 21st November, 1987. The diversity of interests represented in his five books and more than fifty scholarly articles, the elegance and wit with which he wrote, and the deep commitment to the study of landscape which shines through all his work, will guarantee Emery a large readership for many years to come. He is remembered with admiration and respect by both the general public and the scholarly community: not only, as he would modestly have wished, as one of those people who have been most ‘moved by their sense of locality and a zeal for making things known’, but also as one of those who have done most to inspire these qualities in others.


  • 1950Four scenes in English Gower’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 3: 18-20
  • 1951The Penclawdd canal’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 4: 45-9
  • 1952Dialect relationships’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 5: 11-12
  • 1953Leghorn to Penrice’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 6: 16-18
  • 1954aThe value of Nicholaston Wood’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 7: 6-8
  • 1954bGower in Spain’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 7: 38-9
  • 1954cLoughor Tythe Terrier, 1559’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 7: 53-4
  • 1956West Glamorgan farming, circa 1580-1620’, Pt. I, National Library of Wales Journal Vol.9 pt.4 : 392-400
  • 1957 ‘Contact between North Devon and South Wales in the 1840s’, Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries 27: 198-206
  • 1957-58West Glamorgan farming, circa 1580-1620’, Pt. II, National Library of Wales Journal Vol.10 pt.1: 17-32
  • 1958a ‘Edward Lhuyd and the 1695 Britannia’, Antiquity 32: 179-82
  • 1958b ‘English regional studies from Aubrey to Defoe’, Geography Journal 124: 3 15-25
  • 1958c ‘Irish geography in the seventeenth century’, Irish Geog. 3: 263-76
  • 1958d ‘The geography of Robert Gordon, 1580-1661, and Sir Robert Sibbald, 1641-1722’, Scott. Geogr. Mag. 74:3-12
  • 1958eA new reply to Lhuyd's Parochial queries (1696): Puncheston, Pembrokeshire’, National Library of Wales Journal 10:395-402
  • 1958fA map of Edward Lhuyd's Parochial Queries (1696) In Order to a Geographical Dictionary &c., of Wales’, Trans. Hon. Soc. of Cymmrodorion 1958: 41-53
  • 1959 ‘A “geographical description” of Scotland prior to the Statistical Accounts’, Scot. Stud. 3: 1-16
  • 1962 ‘Moated settlements in England’, Geography 47: 378-88
  • 1964 (With Scargill, D. I.) ‘The central English scarplands and Oxford’, in Steers, J. A. (ed.) Field Studies in the British Isles (Thomas Nelson & Son, London) pp. 106-19
  • 1965Edward Lhuyd and his Glamorgan correspondents: a view of Gower in the 1690s’, Trans. Hon. Soc. of Cymmrodorion 1965: 59-114
  • 1967 ‘The farming regions of Wales’, in Finberg, H. P. R. (ed.) The Agrarian History of England and Wales (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge) pp. 113-60
  • 1969a The World's Landscapes: Wales (Longmans, London)
  • 1969bFresh light on Dr John Lane, co-founder of the copper industry at Swansea’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 20: 8-13
  • 1969c ‘“The best naturalist now in Europe”: Edward Lhuyd F.R.S. (1660-1709)’, Trans. Hon. Soc. of Cymmrodorion 1969: 54-69
  • 1970a ‘Moated settlements in England’, reprinted from Geography 47 (1962) with a Supplementary Note, in Baker, A. R. H., Hamshere, J. D., and Langton, J. (eds) Geographical Interpretations of Historical Sources (David and Charles, Newton Abbot): 439-53
  • 1970bThe beginning of the coal industry in Loughor’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 21: 71-5
  • 1971a Edward Lhuyd F.R,S. (1660-1709) (University of Wales Press, Cardiff)
  • 1971b ‘The Norman Conquest and the Medieval period’, in Balchin, W. G. V. (ed.) Swansea and its Region (University College of Swansea, Swansea): 147-62
  • 1972a ‘Wales: a geographical profile’, in Jones, R. B. (ed.) Anatomy of Wales (Gweryn Publications Peterston-super-Ely): 1-16
  • 1972b ‘England, circa 1600’, in Darby, H. C. (ed.) A New Historical Geography of England before 1900 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge): 248-301
  • 1974a The Making of the English landscape: Oxfordshire (Hodder and Stoughton, London)
  • 1974bOpen fields in Gower ’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 25: 7-14
  • 1974cA new account of Snowdonia, 1693’, National Library of Wales Journal 18: 405-17
  • 1975a ‘Rural places in the early nineteenth century’, in Smith, C. G. and Scargill, D. I. (eds) Oxford and its Region: geographical essays (Oxford University Press, Oxford) pp. 37-43
  • 1975b ‘A new reply to Lhuyd's queries: Llanboidy’, Arch. Camb. 124: 102-10
  • 1975cEarly cultivation of clover in Gower’, Journal of the Gower Soc. 26: 45-9
  • 1976a (With White, P.) ‘Welsh speaking in Wales according to the 1971 census’, Area 7: 26-30
  • 1976b ‘The mechanics of innovation: clover culti vatio in Wales before 1750’, Journal of Historical Geography 2: 35-48
  • 1976c (With Smith, C. G.) ‘A weather record from Snowdonia, 1697-98’, Weather 31: 142-50
  • 1977a The Red Soldier: Letters from the Zulu War, 1879 (Hodder and Stoughton, London)
  • 1977b (With Walters, G.) ‘Edward Lhuyd, Edmund Gibson and the printing of Camden's Britannia, 1695’, The Library, Ser. 5, 32: 109-37
  • 1977-78 ‘Edward Lhuyd and A Natural History of Wales’, Studia Celtica 12-13: 247-58
  • 1978a ‘Soldiers' letters from the Zulu War: a source of historico-geographical value’, Natalia 8: 54-60
  • 1979 The Red Soldier: Letters from the Zulu War, 1879 (Brenthurst Press, Johannesburg)
  • 1981a ‘From the seat of war: letters by Victorian soldiers’ History Today 31 June: 26-31
  • 1981b ‘Soldiers' letters from the first Anglo-Boer War, 1880-81’, Natalia 11:54-60
  • 1982a ‘Images of an alien landscape: the colony of Natal, 1850-1880’, Landscape History 3: 61-7
  • 1982b ‘The Anglo-Zulu war as depicted in soldiers' letters’, South African Military History Society Journal 5: 163-9, 171
  • 1982c ‘The Zulu War letters of Lt. Charles Commeline, R. E.’, Royal Engineers' Journal 96: 33-9
  • 1983a The Red Soldier: Letters from the Zulu War, 1879 (Jonathan Ball Paperbacks, Johannesburg)
  • 1983bEdward Lhuyd and A Natural History of Wales’, Nature in Wales, N.S, 1: Pt. 2, 34-38
  • 1984a ‘Wales’, in Thirsk, J. (ed.) The Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol. V, Pt. I Regional Farming Systems (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge): 393-428
  • 1984b ‘Geography and imperialism: the role of Sir Bartle Frere (1815-84)’, Geography Journal 150: 342-50
  • 1984c ‘The Revd John David Jenkins (1815-1876), canon of the cathedral of Natal’, Natalia 14: 22-32
  • 1984d ‘The transformation of Wychwood: some fresh evidence’, Oxfordshire Local History 2: 19-29
  • 1984e ‘“South Africa's best friend”: Sir Bartle Frere at the Cape, 1877-1880’, Theoria 58: 25-33
  • 1986a Marching over Africa: Letters from Victorian Soldiers (Hodder and Stoughton, London)
  • 1986b ‘Southern Africa: the struggle for land’, Geography Magazine 58: 276-81
  • 1986c ‘Early colonists' perceptions of Natal’, Journal of Natal and Zulu History, 8: 1-9
  • 1989 ‘The landscape’, in Owen, D. H. (ed.) Settlement and Society in Wales (University of Wales Press, Cardiff): 57-71
  • Sources:

    • I am very grateful to Dr Kenneth Addison of St Peter's College, Oxford, Dr. John Andrews, who served with Emery in the Army Educational Corps, Ann Langton, who supplied the genealogical information, Major Robert Smith of the Museum of The South Wales Borderers at Brecon, and to Dr Anthony Lemon of Mansfield College, Oxford and the late Prof. Michael Williams of Oriel College, Oxford for their help in compiling details of Emery's career and bibliography, particularly for letting me freely use what they themselves had written on these subjects;
    • See further, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers , ns., 13, no.2 (1988), 240-44.


    John Langton, Oxford

    Published date: 2011