Adrian Gibson 1931–2006
Reprinted from Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 12 Autumn 2006
Adrian Gibson, MBE, who died at the age of 74 in March 2006, was a noted architectural historian and the foremost authority of his time on the study of timber-framed buildings, sharing his expertise freely with many local historians and societies in NW Essex and beyond. After retirement from teaching, he was invited in 1988 to re-organise the descriptions of listed buildings, and the much-improved detailed Saffron Walden listing therefore owes much to his expertise. More recently, he had given large amounts of time to Littlebury historians engaged in a buildings survey for their book on village history. Born in East London and of Huguenot ancestry, Adrian was also a gifted cellist from a very musical family. As an archaeologist, he helped excavate Palaeolithic sites in the Thames valley, and it was Adrian’s spade which unearthed the famous Swanscombe skull fragment now in the Natural History Museum. His achievements were many – president of the Herts & Essex Architectural Research Society, past chairman of the East Herts Archaeological Society, co-editor of Hertfordshire Archaeology journal – and even TV presenter on the Historic Royal Palaces programmes. Meeting Cecil Hewett in 1965 began a brilliant partnership in which they pioneered methods of recording timber-framed buildings, his particular passion being the Cressing Temple barns. Adrian could walk into any building and rapidly sort out its historic features. He could talk with authority about archaeology, church carpentry, medieval barns or half-Wealden houses, of which he discovered several. His passion helped save many ancient buildings from the damage inflicted by bureaucracy and ignorance.
But it was as a teacher and speaker that many will remember him, for who could forget a lecture by Adrian, as he excitedly gathered his listeners into another world, sharing deep knowledge with wisdom and humour, spiced with anecdotes: audiences loved him. Adrian was busy to the last – two days before he died, clambering around the roofs of the Tower of London. More than 250 people attended the funeral at Thorley Barn Church, and next year there will be a memorial study day at Cressing Temple. He was, as described at the funeral, ‘archaeologist, carpenter, historian, communicator, educator, cellist and humorist, the 21st century version of universal man. His job is done and his reputation will live for ever.’