Adrian Gibson MBE
This section of the website has been compiled as a tribute to Adrian Gibson M.B.E. who died suddenly on March 16th 2006. It was a privilege to know Adrian Gibson as a friend and as an authority with a national reputation for the study of medieval timber-framed buildings. Fittingly Adrian's funeral took place in a packed St. Barnabas Centre on March 27th. Much of the research on this website was either undertaken or prompted by Adrian. He was most generous with his time, enthusiasm and knowledge.


Adrian Gibson M.B.E.
8th April 1931 - 16th March 2006

Adrian holding two core samples

Compiled by his wife Helen and children Hugh and Bridget
Adrian was an East End boy descended from Huguenots and refugees from Eastern Europe. His maternal grandfather came to London and started a photographic business which had several branches in the East End. The family was very musical, all the children playing instruments. His father was an engineer working on the design of gyroscopic naval guns and latterly in the research department of Queen Mary College. Both his parents played in the People's Palace Orchestra, later at Queen Mary College. Memorable performances such as Purcell's King Arthur with Adrian playing cello continuo were conducted by the bursar, Robert Tong.

During the war he was evacuated, first, with the school, to Taunton and later with his mother, to Keswick where the family had spent holidays. Returning to London he attended Coopers' Company School getting a reputation for ingenious explosive devices derived from ordnance that could be found on bomb sites and for mending the masters' radio sets, in between playing Beethoven cello sonatas with the physics master.

Teaching was his choice of career and, discovering that he was exempt from national service with a C3 health grading, he started his career as an assistant in the infants' class, supervising the Wendy House and producing musical plays with the children.

At Borough Road College he studied geography but spent a supplementary year at Shoreditch College training to teach woodwork, metalwork and technical drawing. It was here that he met John Wymer, whose obituary was in the papers this week (The Times March 18th 2006), and shared in the excavation of Palaeolithic sites in the Thames Valley. It was Adrian's spade that unearthed the Swanscombe Skull fragment now in the Natural History Museum.

Starting work at Parmiter's School in Bethnal Green he set up the technical department finding time to build a real working planetarium with senior boys while teaching a 6th form Art and Architecture by taking them round London on the allocated afternoon. For several boys the experience was seminal in deciding their future careers. Adrian himself studied for the London University Extra Mural Diploma in Archaeology and was asked by Professor F.E. Zeuner to start taking Extra Mural Classes himself, an undertaking that he continued to the day he died. He did WEA classes, Cambridge Extra Mural courses, extension Lectures, some years three a week in addition to his school work.

On marrying and moving to Hertfordshire he joined the East Herts Archaeological Society, organising outings to sites and buildings where he gained a reputation for always having good weather. More recently he acted as chairman and also served on the Editorial Committee for 'Hertfordshire Archaeology', often contributing articles and illustrations. With the removal of Parmiter's School to Garston he decided to join Richard Hale School in Hertford where he taught for the latter part of his career, retiring in 1988. In Essex he participated in the Essex Architectural Research Society, serving as president in recent years.

A meeting with Cecil Hewett at Olive's Farm in Hunsdon, where Adrian was digging a Roman site and Cecil was examining the medieval farmhouse, resulted in a long and fruitful association. Both were schoolmasters with holidays available for crawling through the roofs of timber framed buildings and cathedrals resulting in Cecil's ground breaking books on Medieval Carpentry and Cathedral Carpentry. When Cecil suffered loss of speech Adrian was able to undertake assignments for him including completing his study of Cambridge College doors. His Knowledge of technical drawing led him to a study of geometric relationships between the plan, elevation and units used in the layout of medieval buildings, in both stone and timber, which has been published as a monograph at Cressing Temple. He was also instrumental in realising the extreme age of buildings such as Harlowbury and Wymondley Bury which has since been confirmed by dendrochronolgy.

On retirement he was asked to assist in the relisting of historic buildings in Brentwood and Saffron Walden for English Heritage, He also joined the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust team and was particularly pleased to pass on his expertise to the next generation there.

Recently he has been involved in studying the Historic Royal Palaces which was filmed by the BBC for 'Tales from the Palaces' and only a week before his death was clambering round the Byward Tower in the Tower of London and taking students round his beloved barns at Cressing Temple.

He was awarded the MBE for Services to Conservation in the 1993 New Year Honours.

Adrian in the 14th Cent. Thorley Hall cross wing

A tribute by Russ Craig

Hertfordshire Urban Design and Conservation Officer, given at Adrian Gibson's funeral, St Barnabas Centre, St. James the Great, Thorley, 27th March 2006.

We were all deeply saddened to hear of the sudden and untimely death of Adrian last week. He would have been delighted to see so many friends and relatives this morning in this beautiful building. I have been asked to say a few words in tribute to this extraordinary man and to celebrate his contribution to our knowledge and wisdom.

We had been in recent contact regarding his presentation at the annual Listed Buildings show at Hatfield House in a few weeks time. Ironically he was due to appear on the same programme as John Barnes Conservation Architect of the historic Royal Palaces. Both were on the recent TV programme from Hampton Court.

I first met Adrian when I joined Hertfordshire County Council in 1969. Knowing nothing about timber framed buildings I certainly found myself at the deep end but then a new world opened up when I met Adrian.

One of our first encounters was at 2 High Street Barkway, a 16c end-on hall house which both the County Council and the Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust were to become closely associated in years to follow. The County highwaymen wanted to demolish the "old rubbish "as they described it in order to improve the visibility splay at a junction with the High Street. But Adrian had other ideas. He had discovered a rare smoke hood. The archaeological cognoscenti had been invited to view and discuss it. Thanks to Adrian's generosity and willingness to share information, always with enthusiasm, I was able to meet many of them at some time or other during the following 30 years or so. If my memory serves me right his old friend Cecil Hewitt and J T Smith were present on this occasion along with the charming Irish owner of the building, Mr Walsh, and of course Adrian. To Adrian no problem was insoluble. This was no exception. Why not demolish the modern bit on the front? He was referring to the 17c addition. Its removal revealed a 16c jettied front with a window and provision for shutters. The building was subsequently refurbished only after the late Mr Walsh lost his driving licence and was forced to live over the shop.

By this time Adrian had encouraged me to enrol in his WEA evening classes at Epping where we were entertained with his scholarly and enthusiastic talks about a half notched lap or a crown post in some roof or other in remote Herts or Essex. He always had an amusing tale of encounters with owners of properties he had inspected. His lectures and reports on the microliths, worked pebbles and tranchet axes from the Mesolithic sites at B Stortford had demonstrated his prowess in the excavation field. The same applied to any other period or subject he was addressing whether it was post holes, 12th century carpentry in the nave roof of St Mary's Church, Little Hormead, mediaeval aisled barns in Essex or yet another half wealden house he had come across.

I enjoyed those lectures and he was sorry that I might not be able to continue as I was anticipating a move to Hertfordshire in order to be close to my work. Epping was on the way home to Wanstead and it was very convenient. One Sunday morning he rang me and with his usual cheeriness said I have found a gem. It was the former Old Post office at Offley near Hitchin which happened to have a base cruck hall, then the most easterly cruck in the county, with a few crown posts for good measure. It might have been for sale and needed sympathetic treatment. Sadly it was over 20 miles from Hertford and did not offer any advantage in replacing one long journey with another.

That accelerated introduction to mediaeval archaeology was vital in a county like Hertfordshire to a young conservation officer who had heard little or nothing about vernacular building during a five year course at a School of Architecture. The knowledge gained was to be most useful in years to come.

I was contacted quite recently by colleagues in Dacorum Borough Council about some old timbers which were revealed behind display cabinets in a Victorian pharmacy in Berkhamsted, This was a major find rivalling perhaps 13c aisled hall at Place House Ware. But the immediate reaction was to call Adrian. He confirmed that the building was very important, late 13c, and possibly the second oldest shop in East Anglia. Above all he struck up a rapport with the contractors a pair of likely lads who might have been more at home with a pneumatic drill or sand blasting equipment had they not met Adrian and my colleague Mike Dunn. Together gave them a rapid course on the importance of early curved braces and crown posts and introduced them to recording techniques. Subsequently listed as grade II* the building received grant aid of �250,000 from English Heritage, the largest grant ever to a building of this type. .

Adrian's knowledge of historic buildings was impressive. He had an incredible ability to walk into any building however complex its history and structure and "sort it out" in a very short time. He was decisive but never arrogant. He would always listen, check his facts, reflect, and take further soundings where there was any doubt. He would then stick to his guns. Never arrogant he was at home in the company of enthralled supporters and listeners. This extract from a tribute by another of his friends, John McCann, sums it up.

>"His public lectures were delightful; I attended many of them over the years. No one else could engage his audience so enthusiastically and so intimately. A great many people in Essex and further afield will remember him with respect and affection� "

More recently Adrian promoted and publicised dendrochronolgy the science of determining the age of timbers which is more reliable than carbon dating. He was actively pursuing subjects as diverse as the evolution of the country house or a Thames tide mill. In fact, on his advice the Directors of my Trust will be visiting the mill later this year. We could always rely on Adrian to pop up at some outing or visit to correct some misinformation or other being propagated by some innocent guide or spokesperson. One such occasion was a visit by the Trust to the Globe Theatre. A few minutes into the story of the building by the well meaning official, Adrian appeared, introduced himself as a friend of the timber specialist Peter McCurdy and proceeded to give us a run down on the materials and methods of construction, adding much colour to the visit. But the manner of his intervention was gentle, almost seamless, and purposefully carried out in order to inform listeners of the facts at the same time not upsetting others.

Adrian may have had his own personal views on the attitude of people who may at some time or another take issue with him on historical evidence and dates. And where there was a hint of difference in views he expressed them with gratitude and humility.

The 13c timber frame house at 2, West Street Ware was a case in point. In acknowledging all concerned, as usual, including my department for getting students involved and above all lending him Harold Leach to prepare detailed drawings, he wrote: "Both J T Smith and Cecil Hewitt have visited the building and I thank them both for their short reports. I must stress though, that the interpretations is mine both as regard date and purpose". He would have made an excellent diplomat too.

If only timbers, bricks or stones could speak, structures like this great aisled barn would say. Look out here comes that nice cheerful man from Bishop's Stortford. He will explore our splayed scarfs, inspect our annular rings, check our joints and take away our cores for dendrochronlogical investigation. But we will grin and bear it because he has informed the world about us and saved us from obsolescence and demolition.

Archaeologist, carpenter, historian, communicator, educator, cellist and humorist, Adrian was the 21st century version of universal man. We wish him whatever his destiny, peace of mind among those friendly timbers and stones which he knew and loved so much. His job is done and his reputation will live for ever. We celebrate his very full life. On behalf of all here I say thank you for being our friend and mentor. Thank you also to Helen his loyal supporter who was always at hand to help, to Hugh and Bridget and his two grandchildren. Our thoughts are with you today.
DRC 27 March 2006