John Edwin Cussans
Historian of Hertfordshire
By Ian Fisher
It is perhaps surprising that the author of one of the most important and comprehensive histories of Hertfordshire was not a Hertfordshire man. He was born on the 30 October 1837 at Plymouth and was educated at the South Devon Collegiate School.
When he was twenty-one he went to America to work as a correspondent for The Morning Chronicle, until his reporting on the American Civil War got him into trouble and he was obliged to flee the country. In the same year - 1861 - he went east, to Russia where he was employed by a well-known photographer, but returned to England in 1863.
His marriage, in the same year, to Emma Prior Ward may well be of significance in that his mother-in-law’s family came from Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. Possibly it was this that kindled his interest in the county - we will never know for certain. What is known is that he was an accomplished writer with a lively and enquiring mind.
It was probably his writing that supported his family until 1874 when he obtained full time employment as Secretary of The Anglo-Californian Bank. It was during this time that he started work on his History of Hertfordshire, which was originally published in parts between 1870 and 1881. It was a mammoth undertaking with Cussans visiting every church and every parish in the county. Apart from gathering factual information relating to the history of Hertfordshire, much else of interest came his way, mainly to do with the people he met along the way. These asides and notes are not part of the published work, but are included in Cussan’s own copy now forming part of the collection at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies.
Over one hundred of these have been collected and published by The Hertfordshire Record Society under the title “A Professional Hertfordshire Tramp”. Twelve of these have been selected for Hertfordshire Memories. They reveal Cussans as a man of strong opinions with an eye for the unusual and a very acute sense of humour. All of which is born out in his obituary which described him as a kindly gentleman, generous friend and witty companion”. John Cussans died, aged 61, on the 11 September 1899.