In Memory – Arnold Root

Arnold was awarded the SPAB Scholarship in 1982 with Paul Bedford and Tim Buxbaum.

Arnold’s love for old buildings may have been in the blood: his aunt and uncle had both worked in the field, his uncle in the old Ministry of Works, predecessor to English Heritage/Historic England. Also, as a boy during his daily train journey to school at City of London, he noticed the destruction of warehousing in the inner London docks and remembered ‘the air rich with spices’. Arnold also told of his father handing him an Architect’s Journal which he’d picked up by chance, found on his seat on the evening commute back to their Surrey home, and which just happened to be a special building conservation issue. Whichever it was, Arnold said that by the age of 12 he knew what he wanted to do in life. Prior to the scholarship, he was at Cambridge University where, at that time, the general antagonism towards conservation made him all the more determined to pursue a career in caring for old buildings. 

Following the scholarship, Arnold worked in Edinburgh for the New Town Conservation Centre, and subsequently for Bath City Council as a conservation officer. He was then for over two decades historic buildings architect for English Heritage in the south-west region. After leaving EH, Arnold set up his own practice – he said later he wished he’d done this years before – based in his Rivers Street home in Bath – with projects often involving careful repair and sensitively crafted new design work. He also worked on a part-time basis with the architect, Chris Smart, and for Andrew Townsend Architects.

As a consequence of Arnold’s time on the SPAB Scholarship, he became a lifelong supporter and ally of the Society; as Matthew Slocombe (Director of SPAB) said, Arnold really ‘got the message’ about the primary importance, interest and beauty of building fabric as handed down to us and, flowing from that, the philosophy of conservative repair.

In his work for English Heritage, Arnold’s benign and thoughtful approach influenced, often profoundly, the work carried out to a huge number of important and more humble old buildings, especially in the south west. Not least of these was Prior Park mansion, where a disastrous fire in 1991 was followed by four years of painstaking reconstruction with Arnold by turns guiding, steering and cajoling loss adjusters, project architects, contractors and the many crafts people involved.

His interests and understanding outside the world of building conservation were wide and varied.  He was fascinated by design – conspicuously modern design – demonstrated by his active membership of the C20th Society and his collections – of mid-C20th artist prints, architect-designed watches, cameras and brightly colourful scarves. 

A committed socialist of the Fabian sort, Arnold recognised talent & encouraged other professionals & craftspeople alike to produce their best work. His power of analytical observation was acute and minute.  His eye for detail is illustrated in an unforgettable incident when he called the specialist decorators back to re-paint the Dining Room in his Rivers Street house, this time with the brush-strokes going the right way. 

Andrew Townsend

2017 DST Gathering at Stanway House, image by Philip Hughes – Arnold Root, Andrew Townsend, Dorian Crone and Robert Williams

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