The Twentieth Century Society

Obituary: Maurice Walton

by Catherine Croft

As Historic Buildings Inspector for English Heritage in the East Midlands in the 1990s, I met a large number of priests and architects.  One of the nicest people I encountered was – unusually – both.  This was Maurice Walton, who died aged 80 on Christmas Day 2011.

Maurice was a founding partner of the Northampton-based practice Stimpson Walton and Bond.  He attended the town’s grammar school, and studied architecture at Liverpool University, graduating in 1953.  The firm won Civic Trust Award commendations in 1966 for a jeweller’s shop and in 1969 for a sports pavilion at Northampton High School; and then again in 1993 (with a different stylistic approach reflecting changing times)  for an extension to the famous Victorian Guildhall in Northampton by Edward William Godwin.  A stone label stop [?] to one of the arches, carved with Maurice’s image serves as a lasting reminder of his work.

Clearly visible as I drove around my patch with Maurice visiting the many listed buildings (mainly churches) he was working on, was the practice’s Express Lift Company tower.  With its jagged silhouette, it is known locally as the ‘Northampton Lighthouse’ – thanks apparently to Terry Wogan.  It finally lived up to its name when in May 2012 laser lights were installed as part of the Cultural Olympiad.  The tower was listed in 1997 and was, at the time, the youngest building ever to be listed.   Strangely, although buildings under 30 years old are only meant to be eligible at Grade II* or Grade I, it was listed at Grade II – an anomaly I have never got to the bottom of.

The structure was commissioned in 1978 and built from 1980-82 of reinforced concrete, largely a continuous slip pour (which took three weeks).   It is 127m tall and, although the lift shafts inside are rectangular, it is circular, with piercing at the top, to reduce wind resistance, tapering from a diameter of 14.6m diameter at the base to 8.5m at the top.  It can test lifts at speeds of up to 7m per second, and is one of only two such towers in Europe.

A lifelong Christian, Maurice was ordained at the age of 63 after many years as a lay preacher.  He was therefore uniquely qualified for his role as ecclesiastical architect in his home territory of Northamptonshire, and he had a close and affectionate relationship with many of his parishes and their buildings.

Maurice Walton, died 25 December 2011, aged 80