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Woodbridge: Tributes paid to distinguished writer and historian Norman Scarfe who ‘lived and breathed Suffolk’

PUBLISHED: 13:30 07 March 2014

Norman Scarfe, a distinguished local historian and writer.

Norman Scarfe, a distinguished local historian and writer.

Tributes have been paid to a distinguished writer and historian whose vast knowledge of Suffolk was said to be rivalled only by his generosity.

Norman Scarfe MBE FSA died in Ipswich Hospital on Sunday, aged 90.

His partner of almost 60 years, Paul Fincham, with whom he lived in Woodbridge, has spoken of Mr Scarfe’s love for Suffolk and the huge impact he had on all who knew him.

“He lived and breathed Suffolk – there was almost nothing about the county that he did not know,” said Mr Fincham.

“He was wonderfully helpful and kind to people who needed his assistance, sharing his knowledge – he was never too busy to help.”

Mr Scarfe’s literary career began in 1947 with Assault Division, a factual account of the Third Division’s role in the D-Day landings – an event he could recount first-hand, having fought with the Suffolk Regiment on Sword Beach in 1944.

After completing his first publication, Mr Scarfe returned to read history at Oxford’s Magdalen College before continuing his studies as a lecturer at the University of Leicester, where he met Mr Fincham, his student, in 1954.

In 1963 the two men moved to Shingle Street on the coast, where they both became active in local
societies including the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, the Suffolk Record Society and the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust.

They also were also heavily involved with the Aldeburgh Festival and Music in Country Churches.

An esteemed academic, Mr Scarfe published many papers and historical books, but was most widely known for the Shell guides to Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.

His other works included books on Suffolk in the Middle Ages, the county’s beautiful landscapes and A Frenchman’s Year In Suffolk – an account taken from the diaries of two young Gallic noblemen written during their 18th Century visits to East Anglia. Mr Fincham said it was his partner’s “proudest work”.

His academic renown was such that for his 80th birthday, a group of scholarly friends produced a collection of essays in his honour titled East Anglia’s History: Studies in Honour of Norman Scarfe.

But even among these intellectual acquaintances, Mr Scarfe is recalled as much for his kindness as his academic prowess.

“It was his humanity rather than his historic knowledge that made me so fond of him,” said Colin Richmond, a professor at Keel University who contributed to the collection.

“He had a great generosity of spirit, he was one of the least
mean-minded people I’ve ever come across.”

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