Obituary for Allan Bemrose,
former County Councillor for Duffield
and Chairman of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust
By Derek Latham, Barry Joyce and Max craven of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust
Alan Bemrose was the conceiver and originator of the Derbyshire Historic Building’s Trust at a time when conservation was not fashionable and there was overwhelming pressure to demolish and rebuild. In 1973 European Architectural Heritage Year was announced as an event which would be marked in 1975. Thus it was that in 1973, Alan Bemrose, then a member of the ruling group on the County Council, was charged with coordinating plans to mark the coming European Architectural Heritage Year.
Alan Bemrose was a member of a Derby dynasty of printers who had risen to much prominence in Borough and later County life. Members of his family had been considerable philanthropists in the past, and the family had an active political tradition going back into the mid-19th century. Saddled with his task, he quickly identified people active in the county, who had already given thought to the problems of the decaying heritage, especially in the Derbyshire Archaeological Society, academics and even amongst the County Council’s officers.
Alan quickly saw an opportunity to put in place something of permanent benefit to building conservation over and above the loud-sounding nothing of a pan-European display of architectural virtue-signaling, and the idea of founding a voluntary revolving trust was formed. This kind of organization, it was envisaged, would raise money by campaigning, events, visits and talks to such a level that the conservation of a building at risk could be taken on, with the money raised from the sale of the completed conserved structure being ploughed back into the organization to fund the next building.
Alan Bemrose was appointed unanimously as the newly formed Derbyshire Historic Building’s Trust’s chairman, aided by two vice chairmen, the Duchess of Devonshire (later to become President) and the then Chairman of the County Council, George Cocker.
The Trust went on to save many buildings, starting with the Tollbar Cottage on Kedleston Road, Derby and Stud Cottages, Boythorpe Chesterfield, but quickly expanding its ambitions firstly to rescue the 18 stone and 12 brick Cottages at Golden Valley, Riddings, and soon after the 56 Railway Cottages opposite Derby Station due to be demolished to make way for a road scheme which was actually constructed 30 years later, but rerouted into the regeneration site now known as Pride Park.
There were many smaller rescue and conversion projects, including Twyford School House, shops in Bolsover Market Place, and several in Wirksworth. Indeed the whole renaissance of Wirksworth may not have begun in the early 1980’s were it not for Alan entering a partnership with the Civic Trust (aided in the background by Deborah, The Duchess of Devonshire) supported by the Monument Trust. The most seminal of these being the rescue of Hopkinson’s House, Greenhill, from a complete ruin into offices in a portion of whish the DHBT based its HQ from where Alan was to operate the Trust for the next three decades.
Perhaps the most ambitious project was that of the purchase of the Cavendish Arcade, Buxton from the County Council, in a completes state of collapse and its conversion into a newly-fashionable leisure style shopping centre. But located away from the prime shopping area it needed something special to attract the punters. This came in the form of a new Barrel vault roof, opening up the centre, conceived by the Trust’s technical adviser, Derek Latham, and clad entirely in stained glass by renowned artist Brian Clarke. This art commission was made on the understanding it would be funded by grants and major donors but in the downturn in the economic climate this did not materialise, nearly bankrupting the Trust. Every ounce of Alan’s character and ability were required to rescue the situation; determination dedication, negotiating skills, money management and sheer hard work pulled off a financial rescue package which not only saved the project but the Trust.
As If all this was not enough, Alan and his technical Adviser spawned and supported additional new trusts such as Barlaston Hall in Staffordshire, The Halifax Square Chapel Trust, and The British Historic Buildings Trust -later to become the Buildings At Risk Trust, operating nationally between 1985 and 2008.
His skills were recognised by Chatsworth who elected him firstly as a trustee of the Settled Chatsworth Trusts and later as a Director of the Chatsworth House Trust and also Repton School and Sir John Port’s Charity.
Married with a daughter, Sarah (?) by his first wife Ann, whom he lived with in Duffield which he represented as a County Councillor, and later to Elizabeth (Nibby) firstly at Tinkersley, Derbyshire and later in Blakeney, Norfolk until his death on 15th January this year.
Alan stood out from others in several ways. He had a commanding presence. Despite being a relatively short man, when he came into a room you noticed. He had a natural elegance and natty dress sense but counter to that his hands often revealed one of his abiding passions - horse riding - and the follow up to that - horse grooming. (Whenever HRH the Prince of Wales rode incognito with the Hunt in Derbyshire Alan was chosen to ride with him).
But what marked him out more than anything was his sheer courage and determination in securing an outcome he wanted, forging onwards where angels would fear to tread, or perhaps more accurately where angels would not want to tread.
Derek Latham, Barry Joyce and Max Craven