John Armstrong Prize

The John Armstrong Prize will be awarded by the BCMH annually for the best article in the field of maritime economic history published in any peer-reviewed, scholarly journal during the previous year.

The prize is in memory Professor John Armstrong, and in judging entries particular note will be taken of his academic interests, which encompassed coastal shipping, coastal trade and the rise and importance of steam navigation.

The prize winner will receive a cheque for £250, funded by a generous legacy left to the BCMH by the estate of John Armstrong.

Nominations are invited from journal editors, as well as from Trustees and Fellows of the British Commission for Maritime History.

An electronic copy of the submitted article must be sent to the BCMH Treasurer, Dr Roy Fenton, at

The closing date for nominations for the 2019 prize is 31st March 2019.

Professor John Armstrong: a brief biography

Although perhaps best remembered as a maritime historian, John Armstrong (1944-2017) also made significant contributions in other areas of transport history and in business history.  John’s first degree was from the Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster) under Philip Bagwell, who hired John as a new graduate to work as a research assistant on his seminal 1974 work The Transport Revolution from 1770.  John also collaborated with Philip Bagwell on chapters in Transport in the Industrial Revolution (1983) and Transport in Victorian Britain (1988), amongst the first of 84 papers that John was eventually to write or co-author.

The once-neglected field of coastal shipping was one which John made very much his own, with contributions including work on shipping’s relations with railways, the conference system, development of trade routes, freight rates and coastal shipping’s role in pioneering technological change.  Many of his papers were collected in The Vital Spark: The British Coastal Trade 1700-1930 (2008).  Collaboration with David Williams resulted in some 20 papers on the development of steam navigation, a selection of which appeared in The Impact of Technological Change: the Early Steamship in Britain (2012).  John’s wider interests in transport also saw him become a long-running editor of the Journal of Transport History, and heading the team that edited the Companion to British Road Haulage History (2003).

John’s impact in business history was also significant, including editorship of the Journal of the Business Archive Council from 1984 to 1988, and co-authorship with Stephanie Jones of Business Documents: Their Origins, Sources and Uses in Historical Research (1987).  Following post-graduate studies at LSE, John was appointed as a lecturer at Ealing College of Higher Education which subsequently became Thames Valley University, where he held the Chair of Business History until he retired.  He is particularly remembered for his contributions to the pioneering seminars run by Derek Oddy, which are considered to have helped business history to become a mainstream topic at British universities.

In his roles as journal editor and convener of the BCMH’s series of seminars at King’s College, John was very keen to encourage others in their research.  The present writer is undoubtedly not alone in knowing John as first a highly-supportive doctoral supervisor who then went on to became a genuine friend.  It is hoped that the John Armstrong Prize will be a fitting commemoration for both a notable and influential scholar, and a man who is held in very considerable affection by those privileged to have known him.