Thomas Frederick Tout
|Born||28 September 1855|
|Died||23 October 1929|
|Alma mater||Balliol College, Oxford|
|Title||Professor of History|
Born in London, he was a pupil of St Olave's Grammar School, still then at Southwark, a graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, and a fellow of Pembroke, but failing to obtain permanent fellowships at All Souls (1879) and Lincoln, his first academic post was at St David's University College, Lampeter (now the University of Wales, Lampeter), where his job title was 'Professor of English and Modern Languages'.
While at Lampeter, Tout commenced his prolific production of articles for the Dictionary of National Biography, including the entry on Rowland Williams. His descendants have said that this famous outpouring of influential biographical ur-essays was due to no more than the sheer poverty of a young married academic needing cash for words. It seems that the historical importance of the priceless Lampeter Tract Collection, held in that institution's Founders' Library, was not fully recognised at Lampeter until T. F. Tout arrived at the college. With his friend, C. H. Firth, who was an external examiner for St David's for a number of years, Tout rescued the collection from neglect, arranging for seventy-two volumes to be rebound, rearranging the contents of some, and bringing together, for example, all the Civil War and Commonwealth newspapers scattered throughout the collection, into four volumes arranged in chronological order. Tout was the most distinguished member of the Lampeter staff at this time, and was soon styled professor of history.
In 1890, Tout left Lampeter and became professor of history at Owens College, Manchester, (a constituent college of the Victoria University) where he stayed until 1925 (this changed to the University of Manchester in 1903). In 1894 he failed to gain the chair at Glasgow. Tout was, with James Tait, one of the two leading figures of the `Manchester History School' and is best known for his 6-volume Chapters in the Administrative History of Medieval England, whose influence still remains and was for 40 years magisterial in the shaping of late medieval English History scholarship. Concentrating, through close study of the Crown's administrative records, on how changes of government-method reflected changes in the nature of power and politics, the work stood the test of 19th century constitutional history and mid-20th century socio-political emphasis with very few fundamental criticisms of Tout's methods and conclusions. Other works, which stood the test of time much less well, included The Political History of England, 1216-1377 (1905), and the notoriously unpersuasive The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History (1914), comprising the Ford Lectures at Oxford University in 1913. Tout published a heavily revised second edition in 1926. Tout was also prolific in writing short, sharp articles about the significance of particular documents he had found, most of which still stand up impressively. He was president of the Royal Historical Society from 1925 to 1929. He was a member of the Chetham Society, and served as a member of Council from 1907 to 1929.
Tout served from 1919 to 1921 as the first chairman of the Central Organisation of Military Education Committees of the Universities and University Colleges, what is now the Council of Military Education Committees of the Universities of the United Kingdom (COMEC).
Tout also introduced original research into the undergraduate programme, culminating in the production of a Final Year thesis based on primary sources. This horrified Oxbridge, where college tutors had little research capacity of their own and saw the undergraduate as an embryonic future gentleman, liberal connoisseur, widely read, and mainstay of country and empire in politics, commerce, army, land or church, not an apprentice to dusty, centuries-old archives, wherein no more than 1 in 100 could find even an innocuous career. In taking this view they had a fair case, given the various likelihoods and opportunities for their charges. Tout's ally C. H. Firth fought a bitter campaign to persuade Oxford to follow Manchester and introduce scientific study of sources into the History programme, but failed; there was failure too, at Cambridge. Other universities, however, followed Tout, and Oxbridge, but very slowly, had to face up to the fact, and fundamental changes to the selection of college fellows across all disciplines ensued.
Tout was actively involved in the life and running of Manchester University and of the John Rylands Library where he served on the council of governors, but, apart from letters from A. W. Ward, his papers, now housed in the John Rylands Library, contain more information on general academic affairs elsewhere around the country and about his own historical research than the affairs of his own University. The collection is greater in quantity than quality, and his wife's supplementary files might actually be of greater interest. Letters from former pupils serving in World War I are noteworthy, as are those from their bereaved relatives.
Seeking to enlarge the historical research materials available in Manchester for the benefit of its university's students he planned the ordered development of the university's library and built upon the foundation of W. H. Freeman's library (acquired in 1890). In collaboration with Henry Guppy, librarian of the John Rylands Library, archival resources for medieval England were obtained so that they could be studied without travels to other parts of the country.
He married Mary Johnstone and lived at 14 Mauldeth Road, on the Fallowfield/Withington border, and later moved to 1 Oak Drive, Fallowfield. He and his wife, Mary, moved south to 3 Oak Hill Park, Hampstead, shortly before his formal retirement. He was a devout Anglican and died in 1929. Their daughter Margaret [Sharpe] was also an academic medieval historian, based at Bristol University. James Tait said of Tout: "Tout comprendre, c'est Tout pardonner" (meaning in English: If one understands Tout one can forgive him too).