Obituary: Michael Nightingale of Cromarty

MICHAEL NIGHTINGALE was not a man to melt into any crowd: his tall, angular figure with flowing beard and hand-me-down suits made him stand out in the merchant banks and boardrooms where he spent much of his career. He appeared more at home feeding hay to his Sussex cows early on a winter's morning, or clambering around church roofs, or leading objectors at public inquiries. Indeed his true bent was as an antiquary and conservationist, but he added financial and negotiating skills to a mastery of legal and historical minutiae which made him a formidable protagonist in the countless campaigns he led to preserve the landscape, woodlands and churches of the North Downs in Kent, where he lived for most of his life. His impact on the landscape and on attitudes to conservation will be his most lasting memorial.

His unfashionable views and unconventional approach to problems were no doubt inspired by his Fabian parents, Victor Nightingale, a City stockbroker, and Bathsheba Buhay (whose family had fled Lithuania in 1888). His mother's death and father's prompt remarriage impelled the 16-year-old Michael to set up a separate establishment in a cottage up the village street from the family home at Wormshill - his precocity, independence and intransigence were already well-established traits.

Michael was educated at Winchester, where he organised archaeological digs, and went on to Wye College to study agriculture, following a course that was more antiquarian than agrarian, and then on to Magdalen College, Oxford.

In 1951 he organised an exhibition of "Treasures from Kent Churches" at Canterbury, but his father, concerned that he should be able to make a more profitable living, arranged a job for him as assistant to the investment manager of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Although he spent much of his two years in this post completing his thesis on Roman field systems, the position set him on a course spanning different careers which seem a world apart in an age of ever greater specialisation.

An appointment in his mid twenties as an assistant and speech writer to the Principal of London University was precipitately ended at one o'clock in the morning because he wrote a speech which advocated that the university should cease to redevelop the squares of Bloomsbury and treat them in the manner of Oxbridge quads. But his sacking did not stop him from continuing to carry the Chancellor's mace as the university's Esquire Bedell for over 40 years (even though he had only acquired the office because he fitted into the silken breeches that went with it) or becoming, in 1954, the university's first ever investment manager (he had discovered its considerable assets were merely held on deposit).

He was appointed in the same year Secretary of the Museums Association and editor of the Museums Journal, in which he was assisted by Hilary Jones whom he married in 1956. As Secretary he pioneered the Regional Museum Service to give expert advice and assistance to small regional museums and persuaded the Treasury to grant-aid the Walker Art Gallery's purchase of Rubens's Holy Family, thus opening a new era in which government money could be sought by provincial museums.

Appointed OBE for his services to museums in 1960 at the age of 32, he might have had a promising career in the museum world but, but with three small children to support, he turned his attention back to the City, joining friends to form a merchant bank, J.F. Thomasson & Co, which quickly prospered before merging with Charterhouse Japhet in 1965.

Being a director of a large bank was not to his liking and after a few years he saw the opportunity of rescuing a former Dutch East Indies plantations company following the nationalisation of its estates. Cutting as striking a figure in Jakarta or on a Javanese tea estate as he did in the City, he relished the protracted negotiations for compensation and the company's role, following a merger, as the principal maker of hand tools (the Chillington Crocodile brand) throughout much of the Third World. But as always his interests extended beyond the purely commercial - great efforts would be expended on the building of a new mosque on one of the estates, or on the transporting of an organ through the jungle to a Lutheran church. And although he continued as chairman of several companies and a board member of the Commonwealth Development Corporation through the 1980s his energies were always widely spread among his other interests.

In the early 1960s he had bought Cromarty House, Ross & Cromarty, attracted there by his wife's family connections with the historically and architecturally important town of Cromarty. His purchase of the fine 18th-century house, which became a much-loved family home, saved it from destruction. In the 1980s, in an effort to regenerate the economy and fabric of the town, he cajoled public and charitable bodies to add to his own contribution of money and buildings to create an outstation for Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology (later Robert Gordon University) and Aberdeen University.

A lover of tradition and pomp (but never pompous), he strove to impart to others the importance of historical continuity, whether in the liturgy (as a lay member of the General Synod), libraries, landscapes or heraldry. But this sense of tradition did not make him content with orthodoxies. He used conventional methods of influence but, was never happy on a committee unless he was chairman. If there was not an organisation designed to achieve his purposes he would form one. Within months of joining a new body (and the list was intimidatingly large) he would be advocating that it should be doing more, and differently.

Inevitably this upset many but it often paid dividends. Joining the Rochester Bridge Trust in 1985, a 14th-century charity with a considerable annual income and a principal object of building bridges across the Medway, he pushed for it to take a large role in supporting higher education in Kent; inspired by the Cromarty experience, he conceived in 1993 the idea that the trust should do something similar in the Medway Towns - the largest conurbation without a university. The result was the Bridge Wardens' College, appropriately established in the wonderful setting of the Royal Dockyard buildings at Chatham.

As a Warden of the trust, he also played a leading role in the complex negotiations to finance and build the new tunnel under the River Medway, but of equal importance in his scale of values was his organising what was probably the first service in the Bridge Chapel since the Reformation and ensuring that the resulting Latin Requiem Mass on All Souls Day should become an integral part of the trust's annual calendar.

Nightingale will be more generally remembered for his role as a conservationist; his sphere of action was resolutely local but the effects often had much wider repercussions. With no interest in politics he nevertheless persevered as a local councillor from 1961 until his death (including spells as leader and mayor) in order to use his position on successive planning committees to fight against the destruction of houses and medieval barns (especially in the 1960s when demolition was the rage of the day) and for tighter planning laws in the countryside, particularly the preservation of coppice woodland and hedgerows. He was the bugbear of hedge grubbers and tree fellers not least because his council was the first to have a farmer imprisoned for breaking Tree Preservation Orders.

Although he often preferred to be a fixer behind the scenes, his absolute faith in the rightness of his cause frequently led him to break committee ranks. When causes appeared lost to others he had an unnerving ability to find a further line of appeal or legal remedy.

His involvement in the restoration of churches and church monuments was the greatest pleasure of his life. As a longstanding member of the Diocesan Advisory Committee and Chairman of the Churches Committee of the Kent Archaeological Society (which he sometimes treated as his personal fiefdom) he had a knowledge and often close involvement with most of the medieval churches in Kent. This often involved far more than advice and financial support. In order to restore the little church of Bicknor on the North Downs, he persuaded a local stonemason to help him reopen a disused chalk quarry and they spent weekends together hand-sawing chalk blocks in his barn. He had an empathy with craftsmen, often persuading them to work for little or nothing but in turn helping them in their careers (the stonemason at Bicknor went on to lead major restoration programmes as head stone- mason at St Paul's Cathedral and then Clerk of Works at Magdalen College).

Typically, his passionate commitment to the fabric of churches and his belief that they should remain as functioning churches regardless of dwindling congregations or clergy (whom one sensed he considered as somewhat superfluous) made him the bane of church authorities. Whenever Kent churches were threatened with closure or the sale of their treasures in the name of rationalisation, he would be found giving advice on how to frustrate it; few could equal his knowledge of the mechanics of appeals to the Privy Council or the Court of Arches. Gradually, over the years, his views which had been those of a lonely protester began to be caught up with by mainstream conservationist orthodoxy.

At the very end of his life, his house full of tottering piles of papers recording the countless battles fought by petition and correspondence (whole files could be devoted to a constituent's boundary dispute or driving offence), he was still bullying friends and charities to raise a substantial sum for another unfashionable cause, the conservation of the important medieval archives of Winchester College.

In 1997, already seriously ill, he had successfully raised Lottery and other funds to save the Brook Museum, when he found that Wye College was proposing to sell this important medieval barn and oast, housing a collection of early agricultural machinery and implements. It was Michael Nightingale himself who had, more than 50 years earlier, saved the collection from destruction and found it its current home.

Such continuity was typical: as a 16-year-old he had opened a savings account with 10 shillings for the restoration of Wormshill's bells. Fifty years later he completed the full peal of six bells, one original, five rescued from abandoned churches. They will ring for him on Friday.

Edmund Gatton

Michael David Nightingale, banker, conservationist and antiquary: born London 6 December 1927; Esquire Bedell, London University 1953-94; Secretary, Museums Association 1954-60; FSA 1956; OBE 1960; chairman, Anglo-Indonesian/Chillington Corporation 1971-89; chairman, Anglo-Eastern Plantations 1985-90; married 1951 Antonia Morland (marriage dissolved 1956), 1956 Hilary Jones (two sons, three daughters); died Wormshill, Kent 2 September 1998.

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvMartin Freeman’s casting is a stroke of genius

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

film
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players