A very sad announcement – the passing of Professor Melvyn Jones

A very sad announcement – the passing of Professor Melvyn Jones

It is with deep sadness that I have to announce that a very dear friend and indeed a mentor, Professor Melvyn (Mel) Jones passed away very suddenly on Thursday 14th January 2021 at his home Kirkstead Abbey Grange in Thorpe Hesley.

Whilst at Sheffield Polytechnic and then Sheffield Hallam University, Mel was the driving force behind what became known as ‘The Sheffield School of Woodland Studies’. He worked at the Polytechnic or the colleges which were absorbed into that institution from the late 1960s. As well as exuding personal warmth and charm, Mel was a brilliant and enthusiastic speaker. He loved an audience be it of colleagues and experts or simply ‘the public’; for many years the ‘Radio Sheffield History Man’, Mel brought academia to a very wide audience indeed. Mel wrote for leading journals but also for local magazines too. He was an inveterate communicator in both written word and spoken.

For me a lasting memory is of Mel arriving to help Christine Handley and I deliver a one-day workshop on ancient woodlands. To say that he looked a little peaky would be an understatement and was a sentiment confirmed when he whispered to me that he ‘had a touch of pneumonia’ and might need to visit hospital. Nevertheless, despite my protestations he was determined to give his lecture which he did with Joan operating the technology. Mel spoke whilst seated at the front to a spellbound audience and I recall we had perhaps the best ever feedback for an event from delegates on that day.
Mel’s output of publications was famously prodigious and I still have three major book contributions of his in volumes out shortly. He was an inspiration and his passing is a great loss. He will be sadly missed.

We will add more to this in due course. In the meantime I would welcome comments or memories of Mel and his prolific output of work over many years and in many fields, and especially recollections of his infectious enthusiasm for all things ‘woodland’.


ps Please forward this to the many friends, acquaintances and former students who might wish to know. Many thanks.

From Dr Frank Spode – long-time colleague of Mel:

I hereby pen a few words about my experiences with Mel. I first met up with Mel in 1969 after I joined the Geography department at Totley College because we had group meetings with all the other geographers present in the colleges across South Yorkshire. Some meetings we hosted at Totley while others were at City College and High Melton.

In the early 1970’s Sheffield began to bring together all the higher education colleges across Sheffield. At that point we joined with City College then later with Sheffield Polytechnic. I remember a meeting the Deputy Director of the Polytechnic who told us in plain terms that we were over-staffed and needed to find work or quit.

At that point we looked at the assembled staff expertise including 11 geographers, 3 biologists and 1 geologist and came to the conclusion that we could create two new degrees over and above our teacher training degrees so the Human Geography BA was born along with a BSc Environmental Studies. These programmes also brought in staff from the Polytechnic. The Human Geography programme was led by Bill Hornby, Mel and Elspeth out of which came a successful text book which was the basis of their teaching programme.

By 1979, we were instructed by the Principal to move to Wentworth Woodhouse as a department to join with the staff at Lady Mabel College. During the seven years of commuting we had great time and the staff would meet up at lunch-time in the Hayloft café bar to eat and to chat. It was at this time that Mel became very interested in the house and the people of Wentworth whereupon he gained access to the site archives and his relentless researches into the Fitzwilliam family.

By 1986, our time was up so the department was relocated back to Totley were we occupied the K-block with the human geographers operating on the top floor and the environmentalists in the lab on the ground floor this brought Mel and me closer together through the study of the local woodlands at Totley and at Ladies Spring which became part of our study programmes and our outdoor teaching facility.

In the 1990’s we moved to the City Campus and continued with further changes to the teaching programmes and locations on site. From there we both retired; Mel to his speaking and writing and me to the HEC. Mel was a brilliant researcher into people, places and woodlands from which he derived great pleasure in passing on his discoveries to as wide an audience as possible through his lectures and publications. We will always remember his demise as it happened on the date of my 84th birthday, 14 January 2021.

Rest in peace.


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9 Responses to A very sad announcement – the passing of Professor Melvyn Jones

  1. Karon says:

    Oh no, I am sorry to of Mel’s passing. My thought go out to his family and friends. Karon

  2. Yes, very sad news. He leaves a very strong and rich legacy not just via his publications but also in the numerous talks and conversations he had enthusing people with his love of history, place-names and ancient woodlands amongst other things spanning decades of work. He always claimed that Woolley Wood bluebells in spring time were the best in Sheffield and a joy to behold. Whilst I agree with his second point (I could see them on my regular commute to Chapeltown from the train window), I think others in their own parts of Sheffield could have taken him to task about the former although they were spectacular.

    • Julie Fakes says:

      My condolences to Mel’s family . I worked for
      Mel at Sheffield Hallam University in the 1990s and without doubt he was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He loved his work and his interests in ancient woodlands, local history and people made him a man for all seasons. When I moved to Suffolk he pointed me in the direction of Bradfield Woods where I spend many happy walks with the dog. I always remember his lovely humour and his favourite Pooh phrase ‘Oh Bother!’ When things didn’t go quite to plan!

  3. Dorian Latham says:

    Sad to hear this. He was my tutor at SCP and a jolly decent bloke. I still think of the story of the wood cutter’s grave paid for by the local landlord in Eccleshall Wood.

  4. Phil Chisholm says:

    Mel was one of my lecturers when I was a student at Sheffield City Poly – I was one of the students on the second year of the BA Hons Geography course at Wentworth (1980 – 1983). Mel was a great lecturer and a thoroughly nice person, respected and well liked as far as I am aware, by all on my course. I’m glad that I was able to exchange e mails with him a few years ago. Sadly missed. Phil Chisholm

  5. Mark Fowles says:

    Leaving this post a bit late I suppose (but better late than never maybe)? I’ve only just discovered this sad news by chance whilst doing a bit of googling. I remember him as someone who was very interesting and funny (he was my favourite lecturer, sorry other lecturers!). I was a first year student at the Poly at Wentworth the year it closed when we all moved to Totley. After I graduated I stayed on in Sheffield for a few months and did some work for him riding out to various ancient woodlands on my motorbike to do some surveys and researching. I’ve just found the reports he wrote (copies of which he gave me) – Inventory Survey of Ancient Woodlands in Rotherham Metropolitan Borough 1989/90. In one of the earlier posts someone mentioned Woolley Wood which I spent quite a bit of time in. A great shame he has passed on.

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