Obituary: Celebrated Priestley biographer and historian Dr Stephen Bartle


The funeral was held this week for the well-known historian Dr Stephen Bartle, who wrote a celebrated biography about the life of Birstall-born Joseph Priestley.

Dr Bartle, who died suddenly at home in Upper Batley on January 16, was born in Manchester in 1931 but moved to Stockport where he grew up and went to Stockport Grammar School.

His early life was beset by poverty and, while he excelled academically, he endured the most appalling hardship.

After National Service, Stephen secured a place to study modern history at Durham University – a time and environment he cherished for the rest of his life.

He developed a consuming passion for history and his thesis was so well received it led to an award to complete his doctorate.

The doctorate in turn led to a Commonwealth Fellowship for two years at Queen’s University in Canada.

Upon returning to England he became a history lecturer at the University of Leeds and taught strategy at the Army’s Staff Training College at Catterick.

He later taught in Wakefield Prison and worked closely with the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

While military history was the field in which he made his name internationally, locally he will be most remembered for his work on the life of the scientist, philosopher and writer Joseph Priestley.

He was a leading light in the Priestley Society and wrote his book in 2003.

In 1969 Stephen married Sylvia and the following year their daughter Jane was born.

After a poor and largely dysfunctional childhood, Stephen found joy in normal family life, even though Jane was ill.

In 2001, Jane died aged only 31 and four months later Sylvia also passed away.

Their deaths deeply affected Stephen’s remaining years, and he found life hard and lonely without them.

Stephen attended St Saviour’s Church and was involved in numerous local groups. He played the violin and spoke fluent French and German.

He loved to sing in both languages, often rousing military songs.

Stephen overcame adversity, hardship and abject poverty to become a noted and celebrated historian.

His knowledge of and passion for history and military strategy made him a respected figure all over the world.