Shaun Morley was drawn to the study of local and social history by an interest in the everyday life of everyday people - the past's 'hidden majority' - and though an affinity for research and evidence which had served him well in his previous life with the Thames Valley Police force.
'I was Chief Superintendent with Thames Valley Police, in charge of policing for Oxfordshire. I retired in 2008 after 30 years’ service at the embarrassingly early age of 51.
'I had always ensured that I had a substantial interest outside work to provide a balance in life. I played rugby, then hockey until I was 38, and then coached youth rugby for ten years when my sons were of that age. When they left for University I decided to follow another passion - the study of history. I was still working at the time and in 2004 I enrolled for the Advanced Diploma in Local History, a year-long online course with the Department for Continuing Education. It was my first foray into academic study since my original degree, which was in geography at Salford University. I was still working at the time and the flexibility of the course entirely met my needs.
'After successfully completing the course, I was accepted onto the two year part-time MSc in Local History. This was again immensely rewarding, and after a one year break, on retirement I started upon the DPhil in English Local History. I was given great encouragement throughout by staff at the Department and by my tutor, and submitted in late 2012.
'I have always been interested in history, but the great people and major events held my attention for only a short period. I was far more interested in everyday life, how the hidden majority lived and survived. The study of Local History was a perfect match to my interests. Searching through dusty records in archives to further personal research, inspecting sources that had remained largely hidden from view for generations, and interpreting the social history through linking a variety of evidence was the enjoyable challenge. It has resonance to my days as a detective investigating serious crimes.
'I chose for my DPhil to research the provision of welfare in rural communities in the nineteenth century, using Oxfordshire as my geographical area of study. There was extensive literature on the Poor Laws for the period, but I had realised this was only part of the story. Village friendly societies, coal clubs, clothing clubs, soup kitchens, and a plethora of other initiatives were available for the poor at parish level after the new Poor Law of 1834.
'I was able through my studies to demonstrate a rich array of philanthropy, self-help and mutual aid in addition to the Poor Law, which increasingly became a backstop of welfare rather than the first line help. Alongside my DPhil, I published a book entitled Oxfordshire Friendly Societies, 1750-1918, that contained much of the data I had collected including details of 750 friendly societies that existed in the pre-1974 boundaries of Oxfordshire.
'My involvement in history in Oxfordshire has resulted in my becoming secretary of the Oxfordshire Record Society, an organisation that publishes a book each year connected with the history of the county. They are especially produced to aid further research and are of very high academic standards. An Historical Atlas of Oxfordshire, edited by Kate Tiller and produced in 2010 has been a great commercial success although most volumes are used for general reference or specific study. Thirty-one USA universities subscribe to the publications as well as others worldwide. I am also a committee member of the Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society, and organise the annual Oxfordshire Past event.
'Early into my DPhil I started teaching through the weekly class programme at Oxford on a variety of nineteenth century history topics. In more recent time I have become a tutor on the Advanced Diploma course, returning to teach where my studies commenced, and I also taught on the MSc in Michaelmas 2012. The part-time teaching fits well with my life-goals as I enjoy both the challenge and reward of the work whilst also able to enjoy leisure activities.
'Taking the first step back into academic study after many years away, especially at the most prestigious and well known university in the world, can be daunting. However, all the staff - both academic and administrative - have always been helpful and supportive. I have also realised that mature students have a wealth of acquired knowledge and experience, together with discipline achieved through years of work. They bring many relevant skills to academic study whatever their chosen subject. The Department for Continuing Education provides that valuable opportunity.'