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Somerset, H.C.D (Crawford)

Identifier: somc


  • 1929-1966

Access and use

Access is freely available within the J.C.Beaglehole Room for research and private study. For any use beyond this, please contact the J.C.Beaglehole Room ( in the first instance.

Biographical information

Hugh Crawford Dixon Somerset (known as Crawford) was born in Belfast, North Canterbury, on 29 August 1895, the eldest of four children. Crawford Somerset attended Belfast School and Christchurch Boys’ High School. In 1915 he entered Christchurch Training College where he edited Recorder , the training college student magazine. He also rekindled a friendship with Gwendolen (Gwen) Alley. The onset of severe osteoarthritis left him with a permanent disability which disqualified him from obtaining a teacher’s certificate, so he coached private pupils.

In 1920–21 Alley and Somerset attended the first WEA summer school at Oxford. Having in taken up a temporary role as secondary assistant at Oxford District High School in 1923 (on Gwen's recommendation), the following year he accepted the role of co-ordinating the WEA’s adult education programme for Oxford. From this situation he studied extramurally at Canterbury College, earning a BA in 1930 and an MA in 1931. His thesis was ‘An experiment in rural adult education’.

On 15 January 1930 Crawford Somerset married Gwen Alley in Christchurch; they were to have two sons. In 1935 they were awarded a joint Carnegie fellowship for overseas travel and study, and spent 1936–37 in Great Britain, Europe and the United States where they met leading figures in education and visited adult community education centres, such as village colleges in Cambridgeshire and Danish folk high schools. At James Shelley’s suggestion the Somersets had made a sociological study of Oxford which was published in 1938 as Littledene, and is still regarded as a significant study of a New Zealand rural community.

As well as his educational interests, he was keen on drama and in 1935 wrote two one-act plays, which were published by the British Drama League (New Zealand Branch): The ayes have it and Black sheep. He was also a licensed lay-preacher and gave a sermon every second Sunday in the Anglican church. In February 1938 L. J. Wild, principal of Feilding Agricultural High School, invited the Somersets to be co-directors of the country’s first community centre.

Crawford Somerset was one of the joint secretaries of the 1942–43 consultative committee on the post-primary school curriculum (which produced the Thomas Report). He also continued writing and in 1947 he gave four radio talks on the community centre, in which he emphasised his belief that such a centre did its job best when just one or two paces ahead of the average life of the community and was complementary to it. The Somersets left Feilding in late 1947 when Crawford was appointed senior lecturer in the Department of Education of Victoria University College; he was promoted to associate professor in 1958. He taught all aspects of educational studies, at all levels, from first year to masters. Stimulating open-house discussions were regularly held in the Somersets’ house on Kelburn Parade.

Somerset continued to publish and participate in professional associations. During the 1950s he undertook further visits to Oxford, which resulted in ‘Littledene revisited’. He retired from university teaching in 1962 and died in Wellington on 16 May 1968. Gwen died in 1988.

Adapted from Somerset’s entry in Te Ara Biographies. More detail is available at

Also of interest is the entry for Gwen Somerset


75 linear_centimeters (Two archive boxes and one white flip-top box, plus portraits.)

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Appraisal note

A small amount of material was discarded during appraisal. This consisted of duplicate items and a register of attendance and fees paid for a course held at Ardmore College in 1965.

Papers of Hugh Crawford Dixon Somerset
Nell Woodward & Sue Hirst
17 June 2019
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Repository Details

Part of the J C Beaglehole Room, Victoria University of Wellington Library Repository

P O Box 3438
Wellington 6140 New Zealand
+64 4 4635681