John Newman 1936 – 2023
Royal Commission Friends and staff past and present will be saddened to hear of the death of John Newman last week, one of Britain’s most accomplished architectural historians, who taught at the Courtauld for much of his professional life. John was a man of Kent but had (as he called it) ‘a Welsh period’. In his fifties and sixties, he embarked on the acclaimed Buildings of Wales (‘Pevsners’) surveys of Glamorgan (1995) and Monmouthshire/Gwent (2000), the latter awarded the G.T. Clark prize by the Cambrians. Appointment as a Royal Commissioner followed (2000–2010) and John regularly commuted uncomplainingly between Kent and Ceredigion for Commissioners’ meetings, where he took a particular interest in survey (architecture and archaeology) and emergency recording, drafting a paper on ecclesiastical exemption and encouraging the recording of redundant religious buildings. His contribution to the Commission’s centenary volume (Hidden Histories, 2008) was an appreciation of ‘Victorian Churches’. John was justifiably proud of his Pevsners and added Shropshire (2006) to his tally while a Commissioner. He was taken to task for finding architectural merit in a controversial Ludlow supermarket, but John took seriously buildings of all periods, including the C20th. John was particularly good at describing complex set-piece monuments, and had an uncanny knack for accurately dating buildings, especially churches, as our tree-ring dating programme has gone on to show. His introductory overviews to the Pevsners have proved influential at many levels, undoubtedly helping the conservation movement in south Wales by providing arguments for the retention of threatened buildings. John was always benign and free with his knowledge but his apparent omniscience was based on hard work, especially wide reading and fieldwork. This is apparent from the ‘slips’ relating to the Pevsners which John characteristically donated to the Royal Commission’s archive (the National Monuments Record of Wales). In 2018 John was interviewed as part of the ‘Oral History of British Architectural Historians’ project and reflected on his Welsh work. The recordings lodged at the British Library should become available online in due course. John’s Pevsners are, of course, his monument.