Obituary: Peter Ware

Click to follow
PETER WARE was one of the West Country's most eminent architects. He was a leading member of the generation of conservationists who acted in time to save the region's historic building stock in the Sixties and Seventies, and a versatile designer too of modern edifices. He was a person who inspired unusual affection and respect in younger architects, who regarded him as a mentor, and his work as a model to aspire to.

Ware was born and educated in Bristol and remained a proud Bristolian all his life. His father was a partner in the family tanning business and a noted stamp collector. Ware developed his interest in architecture as a child, walking round the suburb of Westbury, gazing at the buzz of activity on building sites. He was educated at Bristol School of Architecture in the early Fifties, at a time when classical architecture was still studied, as well as detailed draughtsmanship. Elegantly drawn detail was a feature of his work throughout his career, and he never tried to master computer- assisted design.

The start of his working life was delayed by National Service, during which he volunteered to go with his companions in the Gloucestershire Regiment to serve in the Korean War: he was then close to the end of his service and could have opted not to go. His participation in the bloody Battle of Imjin River in 1951 earned him the Military Cross, though few people knew about this.

Ware spent most of his working life as a sole practitioner, which suited him best. In the mid-Fifties, he was hired by Gordon Freeth, then head of the Bristol School of Architecture, to renovate Freeth's newly acquired run-down Georgian house in the semi-derelict Dowry Square, in the Hotwells area of Bristol. Ware bought an adjacent house, in dire state, for pounds 160, obtained a historic buildings grant to repair it, and set up his office on trestle-tables in the panelled front room.

Ware's love of period buildings led him to acquire great expertise in their restoration, and he was much consulted by the City of Bristol and by English Heritage. For the former he carried out important works throughout central Bristol, notably the restoration of the Christmas Steps, which was completed in the early Eighties.

His major projects outside the city included the rebuilding of the Victorian Clevedon Pier last year, which won a civic trust award in the week he died; the renovation in 1997 of Barlaston Hall, a former Wedgwood family stately home in Staffordshire, whose magnificent interior plasterwork won its sub-contractors a national award; and the heroic rescue last year of Acton Court, a collapsing medieval mansion in Gloucestershire. His attention to detail extended to research of the authentic horsehair plaster and the retention of the time-settled asymmetry of old carpentry: a party of Russian architects shown around Acton Court was apparently bemused at the eccentric English habit of not straightening lopsided period window frames.

Although Ware was not a dynamic public speaker, his ability to listen, his modesty, his quiet persuasiveness and his transparent integrity made him an effective operator in committees and negotiations. He was for a number of years president of the Bristol Society of Architects. Other extra-curricular activities included the leadership of a series of annual Urban Landscape and Architecture Tours, which attracted a club-like following to places such as Brussels and Helsinki; and the early championing of the Bristol Architecture Centre, of which he was a trustee.

His design work was by no means restricted to old buildings. His membership of the Roman Catholic community led to the production of modern structures such as the circular Catholic church at Burnham-on-Sea known locally as "the coliseum", and the School of Saints Peter and Paul in Clifton, both built in the early Sixties. Perhaps most characteristic of Ware's careful pragmatic craft was his extensive work at Bristol Zoo throughout the Eighties and Nineties, which ranged from the restoration of the country's only listed Victorian elephant and giraffe house to the creation of a hi-tech tent structure to roof the cafe area.

Among his less prominent jobs was the transformation of the threatened 18th-century Hope Chapel in Hotwells into a flourishing community centre. One of its most successful activities became an annual pantomime. Ware, in Edwardian bathing costume or silly hat, dancing the tango with a dummy or being fired from a mock cannon, was a staple of the cast. He greatly enjoyed a bit of clowning and a good laugh.

Until he and his wife Marie moved out of Hotwells in 1996, to be nearer to their horses and woodland, Ware remained a faithful participant in the minutiae of neighbourhood affairs, chairing the Dowry Square Garden Committee, and was always on hand with technical advice on houses, keenly interested in local planning matters.

I eventually became a neighbour of the Wares and the only time I recall seeing Peter provoked into a lapse from his habitual kindly diffidence was when he saw the slightly too vibrant shade of terracotta with which we were painting the facade of our house. He pointed out with mild agitation that it killed the appropriately subdued colour next door. From him, this was a stinging rebuke.

Peter Ware's funeral was followed by a reception at Bristol Zoo, with a jazz band, which attracted hundreds of people, from bishops to plasterers.

Peter John Wallace Ware, architect: born Bristol 9 February 1929; married 1958 Marie Michallat (two sons, two daughters); died Bristol 17 March 1999.