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From: "Howard Benbrook" <>
Subject: Re: [G] FW: DONALD STEEL
Date: Sat, 12 Apr 2008 20:03:36 +0100
References: <000001c89b0e$daea1340$6401a8c0@DAVID>
In-Reply-To: <000001c89b0e$daea1340$6401a8c0@DAVID>

I'd like to try and make my own 'suitable reference' to Don Steel
through this Forum.

I didn't know Don in his best period. I was completely unaware of his
earlier, significant background that longer serving members may recall.
Until, that is, I discovered old copies of a book by him. Even then, I
first thought it might be by some 'other' Don Steel. But, slowly, the
light dawned...

No, I knew a determined man who ran a shambling bookstall that, although
it wouldn't stand up as a retail icon, was always a magnet for people
who wanted to have a good old rummage amongst the books, maps and CDs
that Don had amassed over many years in those big plastic boxes, each
box helpfully labelled with big captions like 'Northamptonshire' or
'Military'. It looked a mess, but there was always a chance you'd find a
bargain; and Don was always on hand to offer help, sometimes wearing his
straw hat with a note stuck in the band telling you that he was the
'Moving Cash Till'.

Don seemed to have the knack of recruiting the local scout troop in each
area to help him unload his 'wares'. Early on a Sunday morning, a bunch
of young lads would be gathered around his van or (later) his battered
estate car, crammed with stuff, and you can guess that they weren't all
that enthusiastic to help this nutty gent with his heavy boxes. But
unload they did, come rain or shine, and (usually) by 10:00am the 'Don
Steel Emporium' was ready for trade. It was a significant presence.

I was initially cautious; was it a good idea to be near Don's display?
Surely, it wouldn't show us in a good light to be so close? Or would
that mean more people would have to pass by The Guild Bookstall? But
would that mean that they were only looking for a cheap bargain and
would just simply ignore us? It didn't matter. We were all there with
something to sell, and something to say.

It was a lot later, when Don was clearly finding it harder, physically,
to keep up with the demands of carting a great deal of stock about the
country, that I began to realise what lay behind the facade. And this
was encapsulated by an incident that will now remain with me. I was
trying to offer some helpful advice at yet another Sunday fair about why
spelling was not something you could rely on, even in the late Victorian
era, and he wandered across to me. "I was listening to you talking", he
said. "I liked what you were saying; it was very helpful". Suddenly, I
felt 100 feet tall. "But, you know, the Education Act of 1870 didn't
actually lead to compulsory education for all...". In a sentence, the
man displayed a detailed grasp of his subject that will take me years to

Yes, sometimes it was difficult to reconcile the reputation with the
evidence. But Don wasn't just another trader; he was a partner with Alec
Quarterman in setting up the now well-established Sunday Family History
Fairs that have been a significant source of income to me on The Guild
Bookstall and, of course, the Guild. In fact, I'll be at the one next
weekend, in Worthing, Sussex - as usual. But Don won't be there. And I
shall miss him. But I'll certainly take a moment to remember him.

Goodbye, Don...


Howard Benbrook
Camberley, Surrey, UK
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [mailto:goons-
> ] On Behalf Of David Mellor
> Sent: 10 April 2008 14:29
> To: 'Forum GOONS'
> Cc:
> Subject: [G] FW: DONALD STEEL
> Dear all,
> I think a number of Guild members would have known Don Steel and so I
> forwarding the below message from our President for all forum members
> see.
> Best wishes, David Mellor
> -----Original Message-----
> From: DEREK PALGRAVE [mailto:]
> Sent: 10 April 2008 13:11
> To:
> Dear David,
> For many years Don Steel was a member of the Guild, registering the
> surnames Kitchener and Honeycombe.
> He is no longer listed because for some time he has been unwell and I
> suspect that he had reduced his commitments to many clubs and
> organisations. He soldiered on with his bookstall but, I regret to
> he finished up in Taunton Hospital where he died a couple of days ago.
> He was one of the great pioneers of family history in this country and
> his contributions to its development during the 1960s and 1970s were
> quite outstanding.
> Many members of the Guild will either know him or know of him. At the
> very least we should make a suitable reference to his passing.
> Regards,
> Derek

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