Christopher John Sansom was born on 9 November 1945 at Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire.
He was the first-born son of John Gordon and Doreen Mabel (nee Gold) Sansom who had
married after John had returned from the Middle East in November, 1944 after serving
in the Territorial Army during World War Two. John then
re-enlisted in the Army.
John was posted abroad. Doreen and Christopher lived in Colchester Army Barracks
until 30 January 1948 when they boarded the troop ship, SS Dilwara, at Southampton
and sailed to Colombo, capital of what is now Sri Lanka to join John. There, in 1948,
a second son, Mark, was born. As an infant, Christopher attended Montessori School
in Colombo (pictured below).
The family returned to England in 1950 when they lived initially with Doreen’s parents.
They later moved to
21 Broughinge Road, Boreham Wood. Christopher was a pupil at Furzehill and then Cowley
Hill Primary Schools. After passing the 11 Plus examination, Christopher attended
Boreham Wood Grammar School where he was Head Boy. He studied History, German and
Latin to ‘A’ and Scholarship levels and was a talented middle-distance runner.
While at school, Christopher also took prominent roles in amateur dramatic productions.
Christopher chose to study Latin at school because he was determined to go to Cambridge
University. This ambition was kindled partly because of the influence of his Headmaster
who had graduated there and partly because of his favourable impression of the University
after a visit. He read Archaeology and Anthropology at Peterhouse College.
His interest in archaeology had been fired by BBC radio programmes. In his mid-teens,
he joined digs at St Albans Abbey and Winchester Cathedral. The photograph below
is of Christopher searching for fossils at the Jurassic Coast, Dorset.
While at Cambridge, Christopher, a tenor, was an enthusiastic member of choral groups
and the Peterhouse Chapel Choir. He left Peterhouse College when he was twenty-two
years old with BA and MA degrees.
Significantly, noted below this photograph is a comment from A Bowley’s The Natural
Development of the Child: Collecting - ‘Sometimes this interest constitutes a passing
phase while sometimes it persists or revives and may be the foundation of an adolescent
or adult hobby’.
After completing the teacher training course, Christopher taught history until 1984
at Glossop School, Derbyshire where he became Head of Humanities. While at Glossop,
Christopher married Audrey Wickens at Buxton, Derbyshire in the summer of 1979 –
a marriage which was to last for around ten years until they drifted apart and divorced.
Christopher then enrolled at Alsager (Teacher) Training College near Stoke on Trent
with the intention of teaching history. During this time, he and Anna divorced ‘amicably’
– they ‘discovered that it wasn’t really going to work out’.
Christopher retired early and became interested in computer database software development
for charitable organisations. In the early 1990s, he moved in with his parents, who
were now living in Old School Bungalow, School Lane, Preston.
His days were spent cycling; walking the River Hiz; counting bats and wild flowers;
dating the age of hedgerows from the species of plants and trees found and singing
with the North Herts Guild of Singers. He also joined the choir at All Saints, St
Pauls Walden and conducted choirs around Hitchin. He thought music was for the glory
of God. Christopher also decided that ‘it would be a good idea to get a job’ and
worked in the Education Office at Letchworth as an assistant in the Educational Psychology
In 1999, he wrote an unpublished paper which researched a Knights Templar house at
the nearby village of Charlton. The following year, together with Gilbert Burleigh,
Joseph Elders and Adrian Havercroft, Christopher was part of the Temple Dinsley Archaeological
Project. An appendix to the subsequent report, The Templars, Baliols and Hitchin,
was dedicated to his memory.
As a person, Christopher was ‘distant, scholarly and absorbed in music’. He was ‘solemn
and never loving and affectionate – he was not ‘a hugger’. His mother added that
he ‘showed his affection in unexpected ways’. If she was ‘stuck’ on the Daily Telegraph
crossword, he would say, ‘Would you like me to do that, Mother?’.
Following a musical concert at Benslow, Hitchin in 2000, Christopher returned home
and collapsed on his bed with a seizure. He was taken to Lister Hospital at Hitchin
where an inoperable brain tumour was diagnosed. He was confined to a wheelchair.
While spending Xmas with his brother, he collapsed again. He passed away in 2001
and his ashes were laid in St Martin’s Churchyard, Preston on 16 June.
A villager remembers him thus: ‘Christopher was a very competent chap. He could have
read Music at Cambridge. He sang, played and was a Choirmaster at All Saints, St
Pauls Walden. He was interested in natural history and single-handedly conducted
bat surveys in the parish. He was concerned also with the state of the mighty little
rivers, Hiz, Purwell and Oughton and sought to form a new 'Three Rivers Society'
to look at their catchment areas. He researched the medieval agricultural systems
of the Knights Templar. Christopher gave us several rather long but fascinating and
detailed lectures in Preston Village Hall - no slides; just facts and enthusiasm! We
did some 'field walking' together around Minsden which produced no great discoveries. His
brain tumour and early death were a tragedy. We would all have learned much more
The memorial to Christopher in St Martin’s Church, Preston
In Highways and Byways in Hertfordshire (1913), Herbert W Tompkins describes a discovery
at Temple Dinsley: ‘Leaving the village green, I obtained entrance to the private
gardens of Temple Dinsley and here lying upon the ground near the house in a spot
shaded by pines an guarded by an effigy of Father Time with his scythe and hour-glass
(located in the rose garden) is a large stone coffin lid which was found by some
workmen when digging in the grounds...on that lid is a filial cross upon a rod or
staff with a central disc and floriated extremes...this specific pattern was, I know,
among the insignia of the Knights Templar...these discoveries have set the villagers
The coffin lid was deposited in St Martin’s Church and a use for it was often discussed
at church annual meetings. In 1951, it was kept ‘behind the altar’ and it was suggested
that it be moved to ‘a more convenient place’. A further comment was that its ‘appearance
would be improved by a coat of paint’. Sixteen years later, it was still laying,
unpainted, ‘in the storage room behind the altar’ and there was a move to bring ‘it
out into the church and shown in a suitable way’. In 1992, it was in the south-east
corner of St Martin’s nave.
The slab is of light grey Purbeck marble. The upper face is bevelled; the underside
is flat; and the edges have been chamfered although there is a little damage here.
The foot of the stone is missing and the underside is broken and only half of its
original thickness remains along the bottom third of the slab. There is also a simpler
cross on the underside of the slab.
The slab probably dates from the second quarter of the thirteenth century. Its cross
stem is slender and sharply carved (which is typical for an artefact associated with
a Templar Preceptor as it symbolizes his staff of office). The disc at the centre
of the cross may represent the head of the staff. So it is likely that this is the
lid of the tomb of a Preceptor who died in the early thirteenth century.
Following Christopher’s death, Doreen Sansom arranged for the slab to be mounted
in a oak frame which allowed both sides to be viewed as a fitting memorial to her
son in the church.
Christopher then enrolled at Edinburgh University for three years to study for a
doctorate in the Department of Educational Studies. However, he didn’t finish the
course as ‘he couldn’t prove what he was set on’. While there, he met Anna Georgina
Chitty with whom he sang as a member of the Edinburgh Renaissance Singers. Christopher
was also a director of the choir and sang at the Edinburgh Anglican church during
Daily Service and on Sundays as a lay clerk. His consuming musical interest may have
diverted his attention from his studies. Christopher and Anna married on 27 September
1969 at the bride’s local church, St Gwynhoedl, Llangwnnadl, North Wales.
After a time at Hale in Greater Manchester, the couple moved south to New Romney
on the Kent coast where Christopher was again Head of Humanities, but now at Southlands
School. He was also the history adjudicator on the North Kent History Committee.
Evidently continuing his interest in the theory of teaching history which he showed
at Edinburgh University Christopher produced two written pieces in the late 1980s.
The first article, produced in 1985, was a survey of recent research into the history
syllabus and its implications for teachers. Then, in March 1987, he contributed a
chapter to the book, The History Curriculum for Teachers (right),in which he reviewed
how children understood history and the concept of time, evidence and change.
(My thanks to Doreen Sansom and Liz Hunter for their help and comments that form