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Obituary: David Nicol Barclay (1929–2013)

Pioneer of regionalism and a practice moderniser

David Barclay’s death leaves the world a poorer but better place for the influences he shared with those who knew him. None who had even the briefest acquaintance would fail to be aware of the true spirit of the man. He epitomised all that was best of the ‘English Gentleman’.

Born in Cambridge, his upbringing based on a love of music, truth and a deep sense of duty towards others, laid the foundation for his life. In 1937, the family moved to North Shields, and at the outbreak of war he was evacuated to Penrith in Cumberland. 

In 1947 David became a sapper in the Royal Regiment of Engineers. Later commissioned as an officer in the Artillery, 80th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, he saw active service in Egypt in the Suez Canal Zone.

At 20, having decided that architecture was for him, he attended Christ’s College and the University School of Architecture. His degree prepared him for continuing architecture studies at Birmingham School of Architecture, and he was awarded the diploma in architecture in 1954.

In Birmingham he joined the practice of John P ­Osborne and Son, which was involved in a wide cross section of ­projects including schools, commercial, conservation and private housing. In 1955 he completed his professional final exam, becoming a registered associate of the RIBA. During the next 10 years of architectural practice, and following previous inclinations, he joined the Birmingham Bach Society, later becoming secretary and then chairman.

These were busy times for David. In 1968 he married  Joan Maxwell Steen, daughter of a mathematician and fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge.  David took on the role of honorary secretary of the Birmingham and Five Counties Architectural Association which became a trust: he then led the smooth change over to the first RIBA regional office, the West Midland region, and was its first regional director, from 1967-1974.  His attention to detail and management skills were pivotal to laying a firm foundation for the future and the RIBA region’s continuing success.

In 1975 David and Joan moved to Highgate, in north London. Practising as an architect gave way to four years as director of the RIBA’s Practice Department, supporting architects in practice and providing guidance. As well as managing relations with government departments and organisations within construction , he did much to develop the professional indemnity and contractual forms and professional codes we still have today. 

David’s enjoyment of classical music eventually saw him become chairman of the London Bach Society. Maintaining his strong concerns for architectural practice, in 1983 he became an honorary member of the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association. That year he also helped found W87, a commission of CIB (the Inter­national Council for Building Research) studying post-contract ­liability and insurance. 

In 1994 David retired from the RIBA as a staff member to devote more time to his church interests – in particular as a ‘wandsman’, the equivalent of a verger, at St Paul’s Cathedral. Finally he became a member of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects and a Freeman of the City of London. Having successfully nursed his wife through four years of cancer treatment, he was himself ­diagnosed with the disease, which proved terminal. It was never in his nature to give up, and he remained optimistic and brave to the end. 


Allan Gibson McCulloch
Elected 1949, Callington, Cornwall    

James Noel Pitts 
Elected 1950, LOUGHBOROUGH, Leicestershire
Alan John Potts
Elected 1951, ASCOT, Berkshire

Ann M L Hayes Towns    
Elected 1953, LONDON

James Morrow McCormick    
Elected 1953, CRAIGAVON, County Armagh

William Edward Larkin    
Elected 1955, LEATHERHEAD, Surrey
Donald Harvey Cheney    
Elected 1956, HYTHE, Kent    

Peter Dunstan Renwick Adams        
Elected 1958, WARE, Hertfordshire

Laxmikant Ramchandra Patkar    
Elected 1958, India    

Graham Sidney Excell    
Elected 1962, SWINDON

Gordon James Nelan    
Elected 1963, BECKENHAM, Kent

John Howard Penton    
Elected 1965, ST. ALBANS, Hertfordshire

Thomas John Smith Donnell 
Elected 1979, Craigavon, County Armagh

Reginald Maurice Aaron
Elected 1977, CROYDON    

Timothy John Kniveton 
Elected 1984, Elland, West Yorkshire

Heather Mary Smith    
Elected 1990, BANCHORY, Kincardineshire


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