A tribute to Sir Tony Wrigley

4 Mar 2022

Professor Sir Tony Wrigley FBA, former President of the British Academy, has died aged 90. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1980 and served as President from 1997 to 2001.

Wrigley was Professor of Population Studies at the London School of Economics and a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford before returning to the University of Cambridge, where he studied as an undergraduate, as Professor of Economic History in 1994. In the same year, he was also elected Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, a position he held until 2000.

Sir Tony Wrigley FBA.
Sir Tony Wrigley FBA.

He held senior academic posts including President of the British Society for Population Studies, President of the Economic History Society, Editor of the Economic History Review, Chairman of the Population Investigation Committee, and Chairman of the Newton Trust. He was an honorary foreign member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was conferred a Knighthood in 1996 for services to historical demography.

Among his most significant scholarly contributions was the establishment of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, CamPop, with Peter Laslett in 1964, a research centre which undertakes quantitative research in family history and demographic history (and is now based in the Faculty of History and Department of Geography). This was followed by the publication of The Population History of England 1541-1871, which he co-authored with Dr Roger Schofield FBA in 1981. More than forty years later, the book is still considered a masterpiece. In recognition of these and many more of the contributions he made throughout his career, the British Academy awarded Sir Tony Wrigley the Leverhulme Medal and Prize in 2005.

As Bursar of Peterhouse College, Cambridge and of the Economic History Society, Sir Tony’s reputation preceded him. His stewardship proved invaluable during his terms in office at the British Academy, first as Treasurer from 1989 to 1995 and then as President from 1997 to 2001. His periods in office in the 1990s coincided with a period of great advancement and he oversaw the establishment of the then-Arts and Humanities Research Board (now the AHRC) and successfully completed the Academy’s move into its home in Carlton House Terrace. His nurturing of the Academy Development Fund ensured the British Academy could strengthen the enduring independence and security it still enjoys today.

Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy, said:

“The British Academy is saddened to learn of the passing of a scholar of exceptional quality, originality and influence.

“Sir Tony Wrigley turned his remarkable abilities to many fields, from historical geography, urban history and economic history to historical demography and the history of social structures. For over half a century, he published a wide-ranging selection of brilliant books, many still indispensable to students and scholars following in his footsteps.

“His exceptional abilities and intelligence made him widely trusted and admired as President. The British Academy will forever be grateful to Sir Tony Wrigley for his service, and we keep Sir Tony Wrigley’s family in our thoughts.”

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