James Stevens Cox

James Stevens Cox was born in Bristol on 19 February 1910 and attended Bristol Grammar School. On leaving, he was apprenticed to his parents' hairdressing and wigmaking business, `Stevens Hair Artists', at the Old Dutch House in central Bristol. When war broke out he volunteered for the Royal Navy but was directed to join Bristol City police. During the blitz he found it absurd to book motorists for parking offences and he apologized to drivers, which led to a reprimand and transfer to the more congenial C.I.D. From an early age Stevens Cox had been a regular visitor to the old family home in Ilchester, Somerset, then occupied by an aunt, and having discovered Roman pottery in the garden at the age of eight, he spent the next eighty years researching the history of the town along with numerous other projects which aroused his curiosity. After release from the police force, Stevens Cox's rescue digs of the 1940s and 50s helped to prove that Ilchester had been the northern capital of the Durotriges in the late Iron Age - Roman periods and his documentary researches demonstrated that the town had been an important economic centre in the thirteenth century. His A History of Ilchester appeared in 1958, followed over the years by almost a hundred tracts on aspects of Ilchester social life such as as the chaplain's journal from Ilchester Gaol 1823-7, borough records of the fifteenth-seventeenth centuries, transcriptions of the tombstones and, dear to his heart, the various examples of privy. These and pamphlets on other topics were published by his own Toucan Press. Stevens Cox also wrote a number of technical treatises on aspects of hairdressing and wigmaking and was invited to study the structure of an ancient Egyptian wig (c. 1400 BC) in the British Museum, his report being published in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 63, 1977. The exhaustive An Illustrated Dictionary of Hairdressing and Wigmaking appeared in 1966 and was re-issued by Batsford Academic in 1984. New interests augmented, but did not replace, Stevens Cox's youthful enthusiasms. In the late 1950s he realized that there were still many people in Dorset who had met Thomas Hardy and he felt it was important to record their memories as primary evidence for future biographers. He interviewed several hundred people and published seventy-two short monographs of the life, times and works of Hardy. These led to the foundation of The Thomas Hardy Year Book (1970), a journal which continues to publish scholarly essays on the author and his work. Pride of place in the Toucan Press's output must be accorded to Stevens Cox's discovery and publication in 1964 of News from Canada, a broadside ballad of 1628, the earliest known separate publication in English relating to Canada. C. V. Wedgwood wrote the introduction to the publication. In the 1960s Stevens Cox retired to Guernsey and, characteristically, set about researching the island's past, on which he published over thirty tracts in his Guernsey Historical Monographs series. As his range of interests and sympathies suggests, Cox was an endearing personality; antiquary and archaeologist, bibliophile and publisher, bee-keeper and bird-watcher, gardener and demon draughts player, and a pillar of the Anglican church. He frequently designed his own clothes and thought the medieval smock a most sensible garment. He died on 7 February 1997.