Working lifetime spent protecting historic buildings

Date: Monday 3rd December 2018

THE former owner of Newby Hall, near Penrith, who worked for many years as an inspector of ancient monuments, has died, aged 89.

John Weaver, who died after a short illness, was born a Yorkshireman and was proud of his Welsh roots. He was schooled at Penistone Grammar School before taking up a scholarship at Jesus College, Oxford.

After brief encounters with accountancy and librarianship, he spent his working life as an inspector of ancient monuments, first in the inspectorate under the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, then — as government changed the titles of its structures — for the Department of the Environment, and finally in English Heritage.

In that capacity, from 1954 to 1990 his remit covered the north of England. There he came to represent the friendly face of government archaeology. He was elected to the Society of Antiquaries in 1966.

John’s main duties were split between helping to maintain, research, protect and promote castles, houses and ecclesiastical buildings in the guardianship of the state. The protection (through scheduled status) of all other recognisably important, privately-owned monuments in the region also came under his purview.

He wrote a handful of official handbooks. These covered Beeston Castle, Boscobel House, Middleham Castle, Richmond Castle and Easby Abbey, and White Ladies’ Priory.

Additionally, he was involved, among others, in undertaking excavations at Spofforth Castle, Yorkshire, in 1965; at the Chester Roman amphitheatre in 1976; and with investigations at Heath Old Hall, West Yorkshire, in 1977.

He authored the HMSO Exploring England’s Heritage Series guide to Cumbria and Northumberland in 1992. Both before and during his first decade of retirement he sat on and eventually chaired the magistrates’ bench at St Albans until 2000.

John’s real love, however, always lay in Cumbria. And his real retirement was to come when he returned to the area he had known so well while in work.

In 2000 he and wife Margaret bought Newby Hall. Now a listed building, it was originally a minor gentry house and had most recently been a hotel. They set about and had succeeded in affording its authentic restoration.

Unfortunately, they enjoyed wthat success for only a limited period owing to declining health, as Newby was sold late last summer.

Though the building’s listing served to protect its fabric, John was concerned that this offered little to the surviving environs. In that regard, difficulties had been encountered in persuading officialdom — his former masters — to recognise Newby’s rare undeveloped garden curtilage.

That problem was eventually solved by appropriately enlisting historic garden expertise from among garden historians to campaign for the necessary recognition. He bought back two building plots adjacent to the hall that had been granted planning permission prior to his buying the place, and that is how its original garden curtilage was restored to one ownership.

In recent years, John had been attracted to Quaker beliefs. This particularly included pacifism which had manifested itself strongly in 1916 under the compulsion of conscription.

As John had long nurtured an interest in researching the conscientious objectors of the First World War, five years ago he set about writing a book titled Sentenced to be Shot. Completed before he died, the work remains with his publisher and arrangements are being made to ensure its publication.

John is survived by his wife Margaret, two sons, a daughter and three grandchildren.