Colin Platt Obituary

During the 13th and 14th centuries, England suffered from a high homicide rate, comparable to that of New York City during the tumultuous 1970s. At this time, public order had collapsed, and criminal bands, more treacherous than Robin Hood’s men, terrorized the countryside. Witnessing this violence, lords and affluent peasants constructed moats around their properties as a medieval version of contemporary razor wire and floodlights.

Today, thousands of these earthwork moats survive. Colin Platt, who passed away at 80, had a comprehensive grasp of the archaeology, history, and architecture of the medieval era and unearthed the historical reasons for constructing these moats. While many archaeologists preferred studying evidence like pottery and animal bones in isolation, Colin expertly combined excavations of medieval sites with readings on the period’s economic and social trends. His books, including The English Medieval Town, Medieval England: A Social History and Archaeology from the Conquest to 1600, and The Parish Churches of Medieval England, documented this approach.

Platt’s major book, The Architecture of Medieval Britain: A Social History, co-authored with architectural photographer Anthony Kersting, won the Wolfson prize, documenting key structures of the medieval era. Colin wrote multiple books about this historical period, including King Death: The Black Death and Its Aftermath in Late Medieval England, which masterfully combined history, archaeology, and personal tragedies.

Colin, the identical twin brother of DCM Platt, a professor of South American history at Oxford, was born in Canton, now Guangdong, to Shell executive Jimmy Platt and his wife, Hope. The twins excelled in history, attaining firsts at Balliol College, Oxford. Colin began working as a research assistant at Leeds University in 1960. This led to his PhD, detailing The Monastic Grange in Medieval England (1969), which exemplifies his integrated study of the medieval period. He excavated at Southampton, summarizing his discoveries in his Excavations in Medieval Southampton report (1975).

In 1964, Colin moved to Leeds with his wife, Valerie, joining the university’s history department, where he stayed for the rest of his academic career, eventually receiving a personal chair in 1983. Unfortunately, a stammer inhibited his ability to teach, opting for supervisions and tutorials instead. Despite rarely attending conferences, he was a friendly and kind teacher, keen on engaging students in discussions over chilled white wine. Claire Donovan, an art historian who he married in 1996, published a festschrift called A Fresh Approach in honor of his 80th birthday. The couple moved to Littlehempston, Devon in 2002, where Colin continued to research and write. His books, Marks of Opulence: The Why, When and Where of Western Art 1000-1914 (2004) and A Concise History of Jersey (2009), explored various topics, including defense of Mont Orgeuil Castle, castles, and the economics of the medieval land market.

Claire, Colin’s surviving spouse, is accompanied in mourning by Emma, Miles, Tabitha, and Theo, Colin’s children from his first marriage that concluded in separation; as well as seven grandchildren and his two stepsons, Giles and Dunstan.


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