ONE of York's best-known local historians has died aged 70.

Tributes have been paid to Van Wilson who died on Saturday (July 29) and throughout the course of a long career left an incredible legacy of 27 books, conducting more than 1,000 interviews with York people.

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Kate Giles at the University of York, who worked closely with Van, said: "Van Wilson was an extremely skilled and talented writer and local historian, who understood how special and significant the stories of everyday York people were and how important it was to capture their memories and reflections for future generations.

"Her study of York's 'Golden Half Mile' inspired everyone working on our Coney Street, 'Streetlife' project and we were delighted to be able to help bring her important study of York's Mansion House to publication just over a year ago.

"Her legacy will live on in the work of York's Oral History Society and in the many friends and colleagues she inspired - and with whom she shared her love of York and its communities."

Press reporter Stephen Lewis, who writes many of our local history features, said Van would be hugely missed.

In her role as an oral historian, she recorded countless interviews with ordinary York people and turned them into books which provided a unique record of York’s recent past, he said.

“She had a rare ability to get people talking, and to tease out great stories,” he said.

“The books she has left behind - whether dealing with life in York’s chocolate factories before the war, or the music scene in the city in the 1950s and 1960s – give a wealth of insight into what life was like for ordinary people in York a generation or two ago," he said.

“Anyone who loves York’s history owes her a real debt.”

York Press: Van pictured with former BBC presenter Harry Gration at the launch of her book The Changing Face of CliftonVan pictured with former BBC presenter Harry Gration at the launch of her book The Changing Face of Clifton

Born in 1952, Van was one of three children with two brothers, Mike and Rich and lived in Fulford. She went to Mill Mount School before graduating with a BA in English and American Studies at York St John's College.

Growing up, one of her proudest achievements was coming second in a knobbly knees competition in Skegness.

York Press: Van Wilson at her graduationVan Wilson at her graduation (Image: Supplied)

She was married for 29 years to Pete Wilson, a local musician and they had two children - Pip and Toby. Van also had had two grandchildren - Lauren and Luke.

York Press: Van in her younger daysVan in her younger days (Image: Supplied)

Pip and Toby said: "Mum was a gentle, loving and caring soul who selflessly put others first. 

"We are proud of the many achievements our mum has made and the legacy she has left within York as well as all the lives she has touched, she will leave a huge hole in our lives, we know she loved us dearly.

"She was a strong independent woman who always wore a smile on her face through thick and thin.

"She loved spending time with her family, reading books, listening to music, going to the theatre, watching films and doing quiz's.

"Mum had an incredible Christian faith and worshipped at St Paul's church in Holgate Road, which was a very important part of her life.

"The values she lived by and projected, were an inspiration to us all, which is a testament to all those that she was loved by and the legacy that will live on in the city of York."

York Press: Van Wilson with Terry's engineer Mike Grimes at the launch of her book The Story of Terry'sVan Wilson with Terry's engineer Mike Grimes at the launch of her book The Story of Terry's (Image: Newsquest)

Van was the treasurer, secretary and editor of 77 squadron RAF association as a tribute to her father Alan May who was a pilot for 77 squadron during the Second World War who was killed in an air collision before she was born.

She had honorary life-time membership of Elvington Air Museum due to her dedication to 77 squadron.

York Press: Van will be much-missedVan will be much-missed (Image: Supplied)

She was the treasurer of York Oral History Society (YOHS) where she managed many projects across Yorkshire, led various exhibitions, workshops and training nationally including the British Library in London and a member of the National Oral History Society.

Jonathan French YOHS chairman said Van was involved in the work of the society since its inception in the 1980s and undertook many of the interviews with York people and was the author of the Society’s books based on those recordings. These included works of popular music in the city between 1930 and 1970, the story of Terry's and most recently the York Mansion House.

He said: "Van has been one of the mainstays of York's large history community with a record of publications that will not be equalled. She will be sorely missed."

Van also carried out a lot of fundraising throughout her life including securing a £30,000 National Lottery grant.

She was a member of local history groups and did work for York Civic Trust and York Archaeological Trust as well as being secretary of the Parochial Church Council at St Paul's.

Van's funeral will be held on Thursday, August 10 at 2pm in St Pauls Church, Holgate Road followed by a reception from 3pm at York RI AFC in Hamilton Drive, York. Van asked wear colour and flowers in your hair, or buttonholes. Donations to St Leonard's Hospice in lieu of flowers.