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Peter Carey 1951-2018

Robert Dunton

Thoughtful conservationist, talented artist, teacher and musician and associate at Donald Insall

Peter Carey, who died suddenly in July, devoted his life to rescuing and conserving some of our best loved historic buildings. He was never in doubt about the importance of respecting the marks of time on our old buildings and was elected a Lethaby Scholar by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1977. He used the time wisely, absorbing the wide variety of regional architectural traditions, and expanded this knowledge with extensive travel to India and further afield.

An early specialisation in Medieval timber-frame buildings in the North West was followed by four years at John Philips in London, where work included improvements to The Royal Opera House and his ingenious design for the entrance ramp and steps to 66 Portland Place, while carrying out other work at the RIBA.

However, Peter constantly sought the clarity of approach that had been set out in William Morris’ ‘Manifesto’ of the 1870s, and this led him to Donald Insall in the mid-1980s. Here he was able to apply SPAB principles to his work at 57-60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and to use his imagination in recreating new interiors for the Clothworkers’ Hall.

In London, Peter met Carol, his wife and soulmate for the rest of his life, whose own career in design was a perfect complement to his, increasingly promoting the work of our most promising sculptors and painters.

An alumni of Marlborough College and Bristol University, Peter had grown up near Bristol and the lure of the West Country drew him to settle in Bath in 1987, where he divided his time between a delightful Regency town house and a remote cottage in dense woodland on Exmoor. Assisting David Brain & Partners in Bath, he became involved in a succession of challenging projects, often for the National Trust, at Avebury Manor, Prior Park and The Assembly Rooms.

But Peter’s desire for greater autonomy led to a plan to solve the long-running conundrum of Bath’s redundant spa baths, closed after a meningitis scare in the 1970s. A competition was launched and he approached Nicholas Grimshaw, who had agreed to enter, to form a joint design team. Their competition design was chosen and Peter enlisted the support of Donald Insall once more to provide a new studio in Bath, collaborating with Grimshaw to see the complex and often turbulent Thermae Bath Spa project through to completion. It won numerous awards and became a popular and financially successful venture.

An incurable optimist and could be relied upon to lift the spirits of all around him when the going got tough

  • Codrington Library at All Souls College, Oxford
    Codrington Library at All Souls College, Oxford
  • Cross Bath, Bath. Edmund Sumner
    Cross Bath, Bath. Edmund Sumner

Peter was a naturally gregarious person who drew a wide circle of friends to him, enjoying his witty conversation and encyclopaedic historical knowledge. He served on the RIBA Council from 1988-1995, chaired the RIBA Wessex Region Education Committee and served on Bath Preservation Trust’s Architectural Panel. In later years he found an outlet for his natural teaching ability and lifetime’s experience as a guest lecturer and studio tutor at Bath University’s School of Architecture.

The new Donald Insall Associates’ base in Bath provided Peter with a springboard to a succession of exciting projects in Bristol and Oxford. The commission to restore and update the Codrington Library at All Souls College, one of Hawksmoor’s most outstanding interiors, began a long association with the College, later taking in further Hawksmoor buildings and Wren’s notable sundial.

Peter was an incurable optimist and could be relied upon to lift the spirits of all around him when the going got tough. A great many projects in the world of conservation work rely on grant aid and a willingness to persevere with long and tortuous development periods. Just before his death, Peter had steered to fruition a bold plan to restore the UK’s oldest swimming lido, after interminable delays. He was a loyal supporter of other architects who valued his help in making their designs possible; his award-winning house with Alec French in Queen Square, Bristol, and nearby work with Haworth Tompkins at the Bristol Old Vic being two such examples.

Peter’s interest in the arts embraced all branches, including a shared interest in the visual arts with Carol, an enduring interest in contemporary dance and in 20th century music, which he performed as a singer.

He is survived by Carol and their daughter Jessica.