‘A great loss to Horsham’ - tributes to leading conservation expert

Roy Worskett (submitted).
Roy Worskett (submitted).

Tributes have been paid to a leading conservation expert from Horsham who died aged 81 on Saturday August 23.

Roy Worskett was born in the town and studied architecture before going on to work on ground-breaking conservation legislation passed by the Government in 1967, and wrote a seminal work ‘The Character of Towns: An Approach to Conservation’ in 1969.

Throughout his career he worked on a number of important conservation projects, in Bath in particular, as well as receiving several high profile commissions in the UK and abroad.

He returned to Horsham in his retirement where he took a keen interest in creative arts, was one of the founding members of the Horsham Society, and was involved in many organisations in the town.

Roy was born in Horsham’s Clarence Road in 1932, studied at Collyers Grammar School and then at Worthing Art School, intending to be a professional artist, before switching to architecture at the Portsmouth School of Architecture.

After national service, with a commission in the Royal Engineers, he joined the London County Council Architect’s Department working on an expansion of Thetford in Norfolk to take the London overspill, and later at the National Film Theatre.

He moved to the Civic Trust where we worked with Conservative MP Duncan Sandys on the ground-breaking Civic Amenities Act 1967, which included the first conservation area legislation, and later as co-ordinating architect for the Dorking street improvement scheme.

He then joined the Historic Areas Division of the Department of the Environment, working in the Joint Urban Planning Group on conservation.

During this time he wrote, illustrated, and published The Character of Towns, a seminal work on conservation and planning still cited today.

Roy was invited to become a city architect and chief planning officer for Bath in 1974, and professor of urban conservation at Bath University.

Here he was instrumental in establishing the city’s green belt which contribute so much to Bath’s unique character, and achievements included the interior design for the Roman Baths museum, the Museum of Costume, and later the Royal Photographic Society Museum.

From 1977 to 2000 he was a member of the Architectural Heritage Fund’s council of management which lends funds for restoration projects.

He also worked as a conservation consultant to the Crafts Council.

After Bath he became a private consultant, with many high-profile commissions including Mansion House and County Hall.

He also spent time in India as a consultant to the Ford Foundation, advising the government on how to include conservation in town planning.

Between 1972 and 1997 he was visiting professor at the International Centre for Conservation in Rome, and recently was a consultant architect for Brighton Palace Pier, for which he designed the stained glass windows.

Roy was full of energy and he had a wide circle of friends and interests.

Creative arts and contemporary jazz played a large part in his life, and his parties were legendary.

In his retirement he designed and built his Scandinavian-style home overlooking St Leonard’s Forest, but still connected to the town he grew up in.

An accomplished artist himself, the house was filled with his vibrant abstract paintings and he delighted friends with hand-painted greeting cards.

It also contained his collection of modern furniture, the sitting-on of which was strictly forbidden - and ceramics.

He took a great and sometimes outspoken interest in the town, and was one of the founding members of the Horsham Society and its vice president. He helped guide the council to adopt a local list of the town’s important buildings in 2011, and had been working on proposals for a new conservation area. His unfulfilled ambition for the town was for it to have an art gallery to rival Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

A lifelong humanist and a spirited debunker armed with a sometimes acerbic wit, but always the best possible company, Roy described his recreation as ‘looking and listening in disbelief’.

He will be much missed and the town poorer for his loss.

He leaves three children and three grand-children, all living in the Horsham area.

Rupert Toovey, director of Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers in Washington, said: “It was my great pleasure to serve with Roy Worskett on the Horsham District Arts Board, one of the many organisations in Horsham with which he was involved.

“Roy had a passion for 20th-century British art and architecture with a genuine belief that good design and town planning could enhance people’s lives.

“He also understood the importance of history and a common story. Although a man of definite and determined opinion Roy was nevertheless both practical and a pragmatist. I admired his humanity and courage especially in the face of his illness. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”

Jeremy Knight, curator at Horsham Museum, added: “I first met Roy as a name on a booklet published in 1964 that looked at how the town of Horsham could resolve some of its traffic problems.

“Known as the Worskett Plan it controversially suggested that what is today Blackhorse Way became a main road that took traffic in front of the museum and then down a new road.

“It was many years later that I got to know Roy, rather than seen from a distance at the museum exhibitions.

“The museum held a number of Toovey’s contemporary art auction previews and Roy would attend passing a critical eye of the work before going to the auction and bidding to acquire a select piece for his collection.

“Then in 2010 the museum opened its art gallery and Roy’s hobby and interest in art came to the fore; he was a passionate believer in contemporary art and would at every opportunity push, berate and argue for the town to have a contemporary art gallery in public and behind the scenes.

“A large glass cube attached to the rear of the Museum Barn was a key suggestion, which when written seems to jar but in Roy’s eyes would work so well.”

Two Horsham District Council cabinet members have also paid tribute to Roy.

Jonathan Chowen, cabinet member for arts, heritage, and leisure, said: “Roy Worskett was a very charming character who was equally passionate about architecture and the arts.

“He had tremendous knowledge of town planning and had a book published on the subject in the 60s. He was a tireless campaigner for better arts facilities in Horsham and I still have one of his famous drawings of an Arts Centre.”

Roger Paterson, cabinet member for the local economy, added: “Roy was both very knowledgeable and great company which made him such a memorable personality.

“He was dedicated to Horsham and always happy to provide valuable architectural advice, often supported by one of his beautifully drawn designs. He will be a great loss to Horsham and his wide circle of friends.”