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Obituary for Alan Bemrose by Edward Wilkinson



William Alan Wright Bemrose (Alan) was born in Derby on 13th June 1928, the only child of William Lloyd Bemrose and his wife, Lucie, of the Derby dynasty of printers. Alan was a direct descendant of the landscape and portrait painter known as 'Wright of Derby'.


Alan had many passions; he was throughout his life a keen and capable horseman, and developed an interest in motor racing at an early age. This was encouraged by his father who took him to Donnington in 1937 where the world champion, Tazio Nuvolari, sat him on his lap in his Auto Union and took him around the course ahead of the Donnington Grand Prix. Alan went on to become an accomplished rally driver himself, completing hill climbs and courses across Europe.


In 1940, Alan, then aged 11, was evacuated to Massachusetts aboard RMS Samaria as part of the refugee programme. He was hosted by a family in Lynn and attended St Marks School, Southborough. Whilst there, he spoke at the Herald Tribute Forum on a programme devoted to Saving Democracy, in front of President Roosevelt. Inspired by Alan's letters home, his mother, Lucie set up the Kinsmen Trust which aimed to strengthen ties between the Commonwealth and America by the provision of scholarships and grants for American and Canadian children to attend schools in the United Kingdom. At the end of the War, Alan returned to the UK aboard a destroyer arriving at Southampton, from where he caught a train to Derby to be met by his parents, who, disapproving of his newly acquired American accent, sent him to Repton.


On arrival at Repton, Alan was allocated to the Mitre on a temporary basis, when pupils were being taken and scattered around other houses in readiness for the opening of the Cross in 1946. He excelled both academically and made his mark as a gymnast and diver in the then cold and none too deep swimming pool. He started his lifelong love of rifle shooting on the 30-yard range which would not have passed today's safety standards and was in the school VIII which shot annually at Bisley. He also played a part in the then JTC reaching the rank of sergeant. Over his time at Repton, he would regularly walk out to the local stables to ride his godfather's horses and occasionally hunt with the Meynell.


He was offered a place at Cambridge but at his father's direction, who noted that Cambridge 'had not done much for his cousins', went instead to the Birmingham Institute of Technology to learn the printing trade. He came out with a First and joined Bemrose and Sons. Alan was made Free of the Stationers' Company on 6th February 1951 at the end of his apprenticeship. He was elected to the Court of the Company on 1st November 1980 and sat on the Investment Review Committee for five years from 1980 to 1985. He left the court in 1986 becoming Court Emeritus.


Alan was first married in 1952 and one daughter, Sarah, in 1959. After working at Bemrose and Sons, Alan worked for Rolls Royce before then becoming a local Councillor for Duffield and serving on Derby County Council where he chaired the Finance Committee. He went on to be appointed Vice Chairman of the Council and the now abandoned rank of Alderman.


In 1967, representing the Lord Lieutenant, he joined the Repton Governing Body and also represented Derbyshire County Council from 1974. (Over this time MPs and the Council had the privilege of nominating a governor, a situation which ended in 1997 for Councillors and 2003 for MPs). Alan worked closely with the bursars and finance bursars and guided the School's finances through the difficult period of the 1980s and 1990s. Alan served as Governor until 2004; he was dined out in July that year and was presented with a whisky decanter suitably engraved with a view through the Arch.


In 1974, at a time when renovating historic buildings was unfashionable, Alan was asked by Raine Dartmouth (later Countess Spencer) to form the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust to mark the European Architectural Heritage Year.


He identified people 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 and the idea of founding a voluntary revolving trust was formed.


It was envisaged that this organisation would raise money by campaigning, events, visits and talks to such a level that the conservation of a building could be taken on, with the money raised from the sale of the completed conserved structure being ploughed back into the organisation to fund the next project.


Alan was appointed unanimously as the newly-formed Derbyshire Historic Building's Trust's chairman, aided by two vice chairmen; the late Duchess of Devonshire (later to become president) and the then chairman of the County Council, George Cocker.


The Trust started by rescuing Toll Barr Cottage in Kedleston Road, Derby, and went on to save numerous buildings across the County, including the Railway Cottages, Derby and the Cavendish Arcade in Buxton. The latter was perhaps the most ambitious project and involved the purchase from the County Council of the Arcade, which was in a complete state of collapse, and its conversion into a newly-fashionable leisure style shopping centre. The most seminal of the projects was the rescue of Hopkinson's House, Greenhill, from a complete ruin into offices and from where Alan was to operate the Trust for the next three decades. Supported by his architect, Derek Latham, Alan established other trusts including the British Historic Buildings Trust, with was later to become the Buildings at Risk Trust and went on to provide advice and support to many others across the country, including English Heritage. Alan also served on the Historic Areas Advisory Committee, the Historic Building Advisory Committee and Ancient Monuments Committee. Recognising his conservation work, Alan was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1986.


Alan's skills were recognised by the Chatsworth Estate and in 1981 he was invited to become one of the founding trustees (then known as Directors) when formed by the 11th Duke of Devonshire. This was a challenging period for the family, and the new arrangement was very much unknown territory. As noted by the 12th Duke, Alan supported Chatsworth for twenty-four years during a period when conservation, restoration and the environment were far from popular.


It is true to say that Alan's career was both interesting and varied and included service with the Sherwood Foresters, his own consultancy and working as an engineer for Rolls Royce. He was a gifted engineer and also, along with his father, built a number of fine clocks. Though not a large man, Alan could command a room, and this, along with his power of persuasion, was a key ingredient to his success.


Alan's parents moved to Rhodesia in 1955, where Alan was a regular visitor and would frequently join the Selous Scouts on local patrols. His parents remained there until his father's death in 1980. His mother died the following year.


Alan married Nibby in 1985 and lived in Tinkersley Farm near Bakewell, along with a menagerie of horses and animals, from where he continued his busy life, supporting Chatsworth, Repton, his building Trusts and English Heritage. In 2007, they both retired from Derbyshire to Blakeney, Norfolk, where for a period, Alan enjoyed sailing (though in something a little more sedate than the International 505 he had sailed when younger), and riding; he gave up the latter some years later, preferring a scooter, which he would drive rather briskly around the village.


Obituary for Alan Bemrose, by Edward Wilkinson