Renowned Norfolk and Derbyshire architect, Anthony Rossi, died peacefully at home on the 9th October at the age of 88 after a protracted period of ill health. Awarded a CBE in 2008 for services to Heritage and Conservation he worked for more than 35 years to preserve and enhance the built heritage, mainly in Norfolk, Suffolk and Derbyshire.
Although born in Birmingham in 1932, Rossi came from a long line of Norwich silversmiths founded by an Italian immigrant, Giacinto Rossi, who arrived in England at the beginning of the 19th century after service in the Napleonic army during the Peninsula War.
Rossi’s parents moved back to Norfolk in 1938 and he was educated at Norwich School. He was then articled to the highly respected Norwich architectural practice of Cecil Upcher & James Fletcher Watson. After two years at the Polytechnic School of Architecture in London, followed by his National Service, he worked with several Norwich practices, including Wearing, Hastings and Rossi (1968-1972), before taking the newly established post graduate Diploma in Conservation at the University of York. He married Claire Statham in 1963 and had four children.
'He was from a Norfolk family of 13 generations, yet came to Derbyshire in 1974 to join the newly revitalised Derbyshire County Council Conservation Team as its Historic Buildings Adviser. Working with the team's young recruits to the world of building conservation, Anthony's willingness to freely share his knowledge and experience was exemplary, enabling his young colleagues to develop their professional skills by observing his. Anthony's meticulous examination of historic evidence, attention to detail, his ability to communicate his ideas by means of freehand sketches and his impartial and erudite advice - always offered in a calm and measured fashion - set an example and a standard which helped the team progress from strength to strength in the years to follow.'
In 1978 he was ‘head hunted’ to become Conservation Group leader with Norwich City Council, but became disillusioned with the council in control at that time, and returned in 1980 to work with former colleague Derek, when he formed his new practice Derek Latham and Associates
At Latham’s, Anthony’s skills were used to great effect by clients with historic buildings throughout Derbyshire, whether for meticulous repair, self-effacing extensions or empathetic new buildings within their curtilage, including several for the Derbyshire Historic Building’s Trust.
There is no better example of this than the rescue of the C17th Hopkinson’s House, 1-3 Greenhill, Wirksworth, the most significant derelict building in town. The roof and floors had fallen in, but carefully sifting the rubble he was able to resurrect many original features in the process of repair and re-use. Using trades under his direct control, rather than a building contractor he painstakingly pieced the property back together on an extremely limited budget for the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust. The completion of the project was a turning point for the Wirksworth project, established by the Civic Trust and Monument Trust to revitalise and regenerate this unique Derbyshire town. It inspired local residents, and others from outside, to believe in the future of the town and invest in other derelict buildings, bringing them, and the town back to life. This contribution was recognised by HRH the Prince of Wales personally when presenting it with the Civic Trust Award.
He was an extremely talented historic building specialist who always had time to give advice. Quiet and self-effacing but with a sharp sense of humour and wit. His hand drawn construction details were true works of art. His work to stabilise and make accessible the ruins of Hardwick Old Hall was ground-breaking and exemplary.
In March 1987 he returned to his beloved Norfolk where he established his own practice where his projects largely related to historic buildings or buildings in historic settings and consolidated his already established reputation. During the 22 years in his own practice, projects of note included the repair of the near derelict Thorpe Hall in Norwich and the severely damaged Waxham Barn for Norfolk County Council, both projects following public enquiries. He also advised over a number of years on the repair of the great barn at Paston, the care and maintenance of Blickling Hall and Flatford for the National Trust as well as working for several preservation trusts, local authorities and historic churches frequently in cooperation with English Heritage.
A devout Roman Catholic, he undertook work for the Roman Catholic Diocese of East Anglia and the National Shrine including acting as architect to the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Norwich for 11 years. He was awarded a Papal Knighthood in 1998 for his outstanding contribution to the Church.
Despite his personal allegiance to the Church of Rome, he generously gave his time to other denominations. He was a long serving member of Derby Diocesan Advisory Committee, not just whilst living and working in Derbyshire, but continuing after returning to his native Norfolk. Every month he would catch a train at a very early hour from Norwich to Derby to attend the DAC morning meetings and on occasions go on to join in site visits, giving his time freely, despite being a single practitioner.
His work was recognised through a number of conservation and craftsmanship awards as well as two Civic Trust commendations. A thought leader in environmentally responsible design, he was the winner of North Norfolk’s Graham Allen Award in 2007 for the design of the new Roman Catholic Church in Little Walsingham, a carbon neutral design using 90m ground probes to provide under floor heating and 138 photovoltaic cells on the roof for all additional energy requirements and in 2008 he was awarded the CBE for Heritage and to Conservation.
During his professional career he was Deputy Chairman of the Ancient Monuments Society and Chairman of the Society’s Technical Committee. He was a trustee and then consulting architect to the Historic Chapels Trust from its foundation in 1993. He served for 20 years on the Council of the Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society, was a member of the Diocesan Historic Churches Committee, Vice Chairman of the Norwich Council of Churches and architectural advisor to the Wolfson Foundation, a charitable trust committed to the advancement of science and medicine, health, education, the arts and humanities. He acted for a time as external examiner for the post graduate conservation course at Leicester School of Architecture and worked with a number of other educational establishments including the University of York.
Softly spoken and modest, Rossi adopted a low-key, even ascetic way of life with the air of a slightly eccentric Oxford don. With a bone dry, subversive sense of humour, he was profoundly pleased to have been once lampooned by the magazine, Private Eye, a publication of which he thoroughly approved. One of his closest associates cites Rossi’s “talent and integrity…always displayed with gentlemanly manners”. Apart from his devotion to his work, the Church and his family, his simple pleasures included his books, the Norfolk countryside and a lifelong passion for both Sherlock Holmes and Gilbert & Sullivan. His extravagant rendition of The Mikado’s aria “My Object All Sublime” remains a treasured memory for his family. He will be sorely missed by his wife, children and twelve grandchildren.
Footnote: a typical anecdote:
Anthony got a phone call from the redoubtable Billa Harrod (Lady Harrod widow of the economist Sir Roy) asking if he was free Saturday morning. Having confirmed he was he was asked if he could be at Waxham Barn at 10.00 that day. No further explanation was given. It wasn’t until he turned up it was revealed Prince Charles was coming and wanted to be talked through the repair project.