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Dr Martin Crossley Evans MBE, 1957-2021

Dr Martin Crossley EvansOlivier Burnside

5 November 2021

Dr Martin Crossley Evans, long-serving Warden of Manor Hall (1984–2017), passed away on 18 October. His friends, former colleagues and students offer a remembrance.

Martin John Crossley Evans was born on 8 August 1957 in Bromborough, Wirral, a region he remained fond of throughout his life and to which he retired in 2018 to live near his brother, Mark. He was named after his uncle, John Crossley, a towering farmer and a man whom Martin greatly admired. Family history was important to Martin, and he devoted considerable effort to researching his ancestry and placing the lives of his family in the context of their times. As a child he spent many hours with his grandparents, born in the Victorian era and representative of its habits and sensibilities. It was from them, perhaps, that he derived his characteristic sartorial flair: Martin was rarely seen in anything other than a three-piece suit, always sporting pocket watch and chain, handkerchief and walking stick, and this made him something of a local celebrity in Clifton, where he lived for most of his adult life.

It will surprise many to learn that the bookish and bibliophile Crossley (the name by which he liked to be known by his friends) initially struggled with reading and did not completely master this skill until the age of ten. Rather than fall behind, he learned much by heart from oral recitation, a remarkable facility that never left him and which he deployed frequently in conversation and in speeches, delighting and astonishing his listeners with anecdotes, quotations, poetry, and indeed extended passages from his favourite texts, which included the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, the novels of Dickens, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, as well as limericks of a colourful character. Crossley was a contemplative and devoted Protestant but combined spiritual seriousness with a wonderful, liberal, and often scurrilous sense of fun: his rendition of 'Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)' was a firm favourite both of Manor Hall students and those attending the annual summer camp for disabled children for which he volunteered from 1973 and which he led between 1982 and 2005 – organized by the Heswall Disabled Children’s Holiday Fund. He also served as a Trustee and sometime Chair of several long-established Bristol charities including the Christ Church Exhibition Fund, the Christ Church Lands’ Charity, and the Thomas Beames’ Charity. He was a member of the Parochial Church Council of Christ Church with St Ewen’s, Bristol, from 1983, and Churchwarden from 1995. He served as a Justice of the Peace on the Bristol Bench between 1999 and 2017.

Crossley studied at Wellington Independent Grammar School in Bebington from 1968 to 1975, but it was at the University of Bristol that he felt happiest. A resident of Wills Hall throughout his undergraduate degree, Crossley studied Archaeology and Geology from 1975 to 1978. Here he made lifelong friends, particularly as a member and sometime Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the Barney’s Club, the discussion society in Wills. He valued the close companionship of those years in Wills highly and cherished the unique and supportive atmosphere that Hall life constituted for its international community. Crossley’s attachment to Wills Hall never diminished. He donated many works of art and items of furniture to grace the lovely common spaces – including some handsome watercolours by the Bristol artist John Stopps RWA and the clock designed by the Hall’s architect, George Oatley – and served on the Executive Committee of its alumni association, the WHA, for 20 years.  

After graduating from Bristol, Crossley completed a PGCE at the University of Keele (1978-1979), which was followed by a spell teaching, briefly at Shrewsbury and then at Gresham’s School (1979-1982) after which he returned to the University of Bristol. In 1984, he was appointed Warden of Manor Hall and Sinclair House, a post he held until his retirement in 2018 – he was the longest-serving Warden of any Hall and towards the end of his career also held the office of Head Warden (2010-2016). The wider institution also benefitted from Crossley’s dedication. He joined the Corps of Bedells in 1993, and after a period as Deputy was University Marshal between 2013 and 2017, which allowed him to participate in the graduations of his own Hall students, standing at the bottom of the stairs to the stage to give them one last smile before they collected their certificates. His other University roles included Historic Collections Officer (2008-2017), Alumni Officer (1989-1994) and Assistant Secretary and Clerk to Convocation (1989-2008). Crossley also held honorary memberships of various student societies including the Malaysian and Singaporean Students Association, the Chinese Society, the Malay Cultural Society and the Hong Kong Society, for whom he audited the accounts. His support for these organizations reflected his particular concern to help overseas students settle and thrive in the University. Few can have been as proactive in support of Bristol’s international community of undergraduates; he developed life-long friendships with many, and he was frequently a guest at weddings and other personal celebrations, even standing as godfather to some.

What Manor Hall students will remember most fondly and respectfully is Crossley’s long wardenship. His life’s crowning achievement was undoubtedly his active and unstinting commitment to generations of Manor Hall residents – characterized by his generosity, hospitality and kindness, his humour, his inveterate pipe-smoking, and by the extraordinary number of antiques, prints, and curiosities (especially from the Far East) he managed to shoehorn into his office and his various lodgings. He was particularly careful to ensure that international students settled in well, welcoming their families when they came to visit and entertaining groups and societies to dinner in his rooms. During the holidays at Manor Hall, Martin would cook and host a Christmas Day dinner for students remaining in Hall, mainly those far from homes abroad. During the early part of his career as Warden he was responsible for the Hall budget and this allowed him, as far as funds permitted, to ensure that social spaces were well appointed and decorated in keeping with the period of the buildings and the gardens carefully maintained. He hosted several formal dinners each year with charisma and aplomb. He is especially warmly remembered by the many teams of Deputy Wardens and Hall Tutors (latterly retitled Senior Residents) who worked closely alongside him – and whose welfare was also important to him – as well as by a small team administrative staff, first and foremost his splendid Student Support Administrator (always addressed formally as Mrs Press).

Student welfare and community were always uppermost in Martin’s mind, and he was devastated by the manner and outcome of the University 'pastoral review' in 2017-2018, which resulted in the restructuring of support in Hall communities. By this time, however, he was in poor health and moving towards early retirement. His long wardenship is commemorated by a fine portrait of him by Laurence Kell, commissioned by the University, which now hangs in Manor’s Great Hall, although this was not compensation for what he saw as the larger loss.

Even after leaving the University, Martin remained acutely aware of the importance to University life of its alumni, and he continued to foster and cultivate the continued allegiance of old members of the University of Bristol. His long-standing role as a Convocation representative on Court was only one facet of this engagement: he was also President of the Manor Hall Association, which he helped revitalize in the early 2000s. His concern for and interest in students past and present was such that almost all who met him felt they shared a personal and unique friendship. In his retirement he was an indefatigable communicator, welcoming many of his huge acquaintance to his home and embracing WhatsApp and Facebook to ensure he could stay in touch with the hundreds more across the world whose friendship he so valued. For his unequalled pastoral engagement, 'services to higher education', he was awarded an MBE in the 2001 New Year’s Honours List.

Crossley was a learned man – a Fellow of the Geological Society and the Society of Antiquaries of London and a member of many more. He published nearly 30 articles and books, and his unpublished lectures and the papers he delivered to a huge range of audiences on the history of Bristol and the University must number well over a hundred. Sometimes, as he would himself admit, it was necessary to curtail his enthusiasm: legend has it that his PhD in Ecclesiastical History (1990) was of such a prodigious length that the University subsequently imposed a word limit for doctoral theses.

Martin Crossley Evans died on 18 October 2021 at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary after surgery following a severe fall. He had just returned from the Lake District, a place close to his heart where he kept a cottage and would try to visit whenever he could. In accordance with their wishes, his funeral will be a family affair, although in recognition of Crossley’s large circle of friends there will be a live-stream at on Monday 15 November at 11.30 am. A memorial service will take place in Bristol in due course. Those who would like to contribute or attend are invited to email

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