Emeritus Professor William Speck, universally known as Bill, was an internationally renowned academic historian.

He was a former president of the Historical Association – from 1999 to 2002 – and his work was well known in Britain and the USA. He researched into what happened in Britain and her colonies during the “long” eighteenth century.

His initial field was politics, but he soon branched out into literature, much of his writing characterised by the intertwining of the two perspectives.

He was born in Bradford, and from 1948 he attended the Grammar School where staff encouraged and developed his talent for history. From there he won a scholarship to Queen’s College, Oxford.

He achieved his BA in 1960 and his D.Phil in 1966. At Oxford Bill was part of a group which reinvigorated the University Cycling Club, dormant since the war.

Bill’s career began with a Tutorial Fellowship at the University of Exeter in 1962. The following year, he was awarded a Lectureship in History at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, and promoted to a Readership in 1974.

His first major published works were Divided Society: Parties and Politics in England, 1694-1716 (1967), and Tory and Whig: The Struggle in the Constituencies 1701-1715 (Macmillan, 1970). These ground-breaking works were followed by Stability and Strife: England, 1714-60 (Edward Arnold, 1977).

He was appointed in 1981 to the G. F. Grant Professorship of History at the University of Hull.

His publications in this period included The Butcher: The Duke of Cumberland and the Suppression of the 45 (Blackwell, 1981) which ran to a second edition in 2013.

His final full-time academic post came in 1984 to the chair in Modern History at the University of Leeds, from where he took early retirement as Emeritus Professor in 1997.

Bill also held short-term visiting posts in the USA: at the College of William and Mary, the Universities of Iowa and Portland State, Oregon, and a sabbatical year at Yale.

After retirement Bill did not just remain “research active”, he significantly increased his output. He moved home to Carlisle primarily to be close to the material for his biography of the Lakeland poet Robert Southey held at Southey’s old home in Greta Hall, Keswick.

His book on Southey was published in 2006 to great critical acclaim. It resulted in his appointment as Honorary Professor in the School of English Studies at the University of Nottingham from 2006 to 2012. Most recently he published a study of Thomas Paine.

Bill was widely regarded as an excellent teacher and lecturer. He could always spare time for those who wished to pursue further matters raised in class, and took care to foster and encourage younger colleagues. At his funeral, one of them described Bill’s facility for “gathering in” younger colleagues, who invariably were delighted by the process.

Bill had a rich hinterland of interests outside his professional life. He was passionate about jazz. He played the clarinet and to the end of his life he was involved with a group in Hexham that came together to play small-scale classical pieces for their own enjoyment.

He loved walking the Lakeland fells. Each month he met with others for lunch and debate at what he termed the “Carlisle’s Victor Meldrew Appreciation Society”, at which each member brought a “Would you believe it?” item in order to mull over the precarious state of the contemporary world. He was a noted cat-lover and chairman of the Carlisle branch of the RSPCA. He often participated competitively in pub quizzes in the Carlisle area, notably the Bee Hive.

It has been agreed that his papers and relevant books would be transferred to Greta Hall, where the Southey and Speck collections would be housed together.

Bill will be greatly missed by his family, and his many friends and colleagues in and outside the Historical Association, not least in the Cumbria branch.

He died suddenly on February 16, aged 79, after a short illness.