Adrian Gibson

Buildings historian
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The Independent Online

Adrian Vernon Brough Gibson, teacher and conservationist: born London 8 April 1931; MBE 1993; married 1959 Helen Briggs (one son, one daughter); died Harlow, Essex 16 March 2006.

Adrian Gibson was a consultant and evangelist in the field of timber-framed building studies - well known not only to timber-framed building enthusiasts, but also to the many property owners, architects, archaeologists, contractors and other professionals who came to a greater understanding of old buildings through him.

Born and brought up in the East End of London, the son of an engineer, he settled on a career in teaching. Having trained in woodworking and metalworking at Borough Road College, he established the technical department at Parmiter's School in Bethnal Green, remaining in teaching until 1988, when he retired from the Richard Hale School in Hertford, which he joined when Parmiter's moved to Garston. But he also developed a keen interest in archaeology, stimulated by the Roman remains revealed in the London bombsites.

He started working on excavations (whilst he was working at Swanscombe with John Wymer, it was his spade which found the famous skull). After studying for an Extra-Mural Diploma at the London University Institute of Archaeology, and was persuaded by Professor F.E. Zeuner to start teaching extra-mural classes himself. One result of this enthusiasm was the publication of Instructions in Archaeology (1963), a general introduction to British archaeology for amateurs.

On marrying, he moved to Bishop's Stortford in 1960, and became active in Hertfordshire archaeology with the East Hertfordshire Archaeology Society, later becoming its chairman. A chance meeting in 1965 with the carpentry historian Cecil Hewett at Olives Farm, Hunsdon, when working on a Roman site, was to change the direction of his interests. Gibson became a lifelong supporter of Hewett in his research on historic carpentry.

More recently, he promoted and publicised dendrochronology, the use of tree-rings to determine the date of timber, a technique which confirmed his recognition of the extreme age of buildings such as Harlowbury in Essex, built in 1225, and Wymondley Bury Manor House in Hertfordshire, built 1379.

Through his studies of Hertfordshire and Essex vernacular buildings, and his delightful lectures, he spread and enhanced the knowledge of these counties' smaller buildings. He often gave three evening classes each week in addition to his schoolwork. In Hertfordshire in particular, his intervention saved a number of buildings and inspired owners to appreciate the historic value and importance of their houses. He was appointed MBE in 1993 for services to conservation.

After he retired from teaching, he worked with Essex County Council and the Department of the Environment re-listing the buildings of Saffron Walden and Brentwood. He also joined the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust team, where he passed his expertise to the next generation.

When in 1987 Essex County Council acquired the two magnificent 13th-century barns built by the Knights Templar at Cressing Temple, he became actively involved in helping with the development programme for the site, in particular with the design and content of the exhibition mounted in the Wheat Barn. He was also instrumental in rescuing the wheelwright's shop from Kedington over the border in Suffolk and having it moved to Cressing Temple. In Regional Variation in Timber-framed Building in England and Wales (1998), the publication of the 1994 conference held in the barns at Cressing, he wrote the chapter on Hertfordshire buildings.

In 1992 he succeeded J.T. Smith as President of the Herts and Essex Architectural Research Society.

David Andrews