The Twentieth Century Society

Obituaries: Brian Anthony

by Elain Harwood

Brian Anthony, who has died aged 80, was always wary of the Thirties Society, as this society was known in the 1980s when he was head of listing at English Heritage. He insisted on personally approving every post-1914 listing, and organised a mass deputation of his staff to the Society’s 1982 AGM held at the Stanford Hall Theatre in Nottinghamshire. Throughout his time in charge of listing – from 1978 until 1991 – twentieth-century buildings policy remained cautious. Cases such as the 1984 delisting of Torilla, F R S Yorke’s house in Hatfield, against his advice, indicate the atmosphere of the time; it was only when the post-1945 listing programme took serious hold in the 1990s that the listing of buildings from the years 1914 to 1940 became less controversial.

Yet Anthony had recommended the listing of the Firestone Factory in 1980 and its infamous demolition over a bank holiday weekend prompted him to organise a rapid survey of inter-war buildings, with nearly 150 added to the list in July 1981. Many were in traditional or Art Deco styles. Firestone was also the catalyst for a further nationwide listing survey for which Anthony secured funding from Environment Minister Michael Heseltine the same year. Nobody else in what was then the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings at the Department of the Environment could have organised the military-style operation that saw the addition of more than 100,000 listing entries over the next decade. The 1983 National Heritage Act that created English Heritage required the new organisation to compile a register of historic landscapes, and this also was organised by Anthony.

Behind all this organisation lurked a brilliant mind often distracted by back pain. He was born in Little Kingshill, Buckinghamshire, but aged four he contracted spinal tuberculosis which went untreated until the death of his Christian Scientist father in 1939. He spent six years in the Wingfield-Morris Orthopaedic Hospital in Oxford, where his back was eventually reconstructed in a pioneering operation using bone grafts from his legs. He had little formal education during those years. Eventually he attended the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe and read history at Leicester, then still a university college. Here he met his first wife, Patsy, a social science student, and they had three sons.

Anthony’s first job was teaching history at the Wildernesse School, Sevenoaks. However, he had become fascinated by archaeology, and in 1956 joined a Roman dig in the north of England. He joined the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments in the Ministry of Works in 1963, inspired by meeting the charismatic inspector Stuart Rigold while walking on the Downs. He assessed buildings of outstanding interest for grants, and later aided major ensembles of buildings in Bath, King’s Lynn and other historic towns. Although he always used his first name professionally, he remained ‘Jim’ to his family and to friends in Lewes where they settled.

The formation of the Department of the Environment in 1970 introduced Anthony to the historic buildings investigators from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, responsible for listing. When in 1978 he became Assistant Chief Inspector responsible for the whole historic buildings team, only four staff were engaged in listing, across Wales as well as England. Cadw took over the programme for Wales, while for England Anthony secured finance for ten new inspectors (including his eventual second wife, Nicola Smith) and 120 temporary fieldworkers. The programme led many young historians to pursue careers in conservation, and by 1990 planning authorities finally had workable lists of buildings identified for their special architectural and historic interest. Anthony was always generous in his support of young historians, and maintained an active interest in the amenity societies, the Society of Architectural Historians, the Royal Archaeological Institute and the Vernacular Architecture Group.

However, one of English Heritage’s many restructurings saw his post abolished, and in 1991 Anthony retired to Stamford. Although he joined the local Civic Society, nothing compensated for the loss of his English Heritage role. He suffered from vascular dementia for many years before his death.

Brian James Anthony, born 18 February 1934, died 26 February 2014.