Obituary: Anthony Heal

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The Independent Online
Anthony Standerwick Heal, businessman: born 23 February 1907; Chairman, Heal & Son 1952-81; married 1941 Theodora Griffin (two sons); died 25 March 1995. Anthony Heal, Chairman of Heal & Son, the home furnishers, from 1952 to 1981, maintained and furthered the standards of design and quality that his father, Ambrose Heal, had established before him. Heal & Son Ltd was established in 1810 as a feather-dressing business by John Harris Heal. In 1818 the business moved from Rathbone Place to Tottenham Court Road, in central London, where it was known as a mattress and feather-bed manufacturer. By the century it had opened a cabinet-making workshop and produced a range of domestic furniture in a variety of fashionable historicist styles. At the end of the century it ranked alongside Waring & Gillow and Maples as one of the best-known London furniture houses. The firm became a limited company in 1905. Under the leadership of Sir Ambrose Heal (1872-1959), who joined the firm in 1893, Heal's became renowned for promoting modern design in Britain by employing a number of young designers who worked in the modern idiom. Many of these designs were first shown in the Mansard Gallery, an art and design gallery which opened in 1917 at the top of Cecil Brewer's new building for Heal's (1916). Sir Ambrose Heal had begun by designing pieces of simple oak furniture which were fashionable with the ``weekend cottage'' set at the turn of the century, but by the mid-1930s had turned to designing elegant modern furniture in steel and aluminium. The shop also began stocking tubular steel furniture made by companies such as Pel Ltd and Thonet. The post-war period saw the company continue to expand and prosper. Along with Bowman's of Camden Town and Dunn's of Bromley, Heal's was one of the few outlets in Britain that stocked and manufactured good contemporary furniture, designed by, among others, Robin Day, Arthur Greenwood, Christopher Heal and Clive Latimer. Anthony Heal was educated at Leighton Park School, Reading (1919-25), and went on to study at Grenoble University (1925-26) and the Munchener Iehrwerhstatten (1926-27). He was apprenticed to the Gordon Russell furniture workshops at Broadway, in Gloucestershire, from 1927 to 1929 before entering his family's firm. Anthony Heal was appointed a Director of Heal's in 1936, and from 1953 sat as Chairman. From 1981 he served on the Board in a non-executive capacity until he retired in 1985. Early in his career, he managed the company's publicity department and dealt with press advertising, catalogues and publications in addition to public relations. Throughout his lifetime, as well as being a keen proselytiser of modern design (he was a member of the Council of Industrial Design from 1959 to 1967 under its Director, Paul Reilly), he was involved with the promotion of the furniture industry through organisations such as the London and South-Eastern Furniture Manufacturers Association and the Furniture Makers Guild. In 1965 he was awarded the Royal Society of Arts Bi-centenary Medal for his influence in promoting art and design in British industry; in the same year Heal & Son Ltd was awarded the RSA Presidential Medal for Design Management.

Anthony Heal was keenly aware of his company's history and ensured that a phenomenal quantity of archival material was preserved over the years. It was thanks to his generosity that the Heal's archive was given to the Archive of Art & Design at the Victoria & Albert Museum, in 1978. Today, this material is the most heavily used in the archive, and an important resource for design and social historians. A second tranche of material was given in 1994, Heal's generously providing funds for its cataloguing and conservation. Eleanor Gawne

Immediately he left school, Anthony Heal started to acquire vintage and veteran motor cars because of his love and respect for their beauty of workmanship, writes Rivers Fletcher. In 1934, aged 27, he was a founder member of the Vintage Sports Car Club. At that time he was driving a 30/98 Vauxhall of 1926. He drove this car and a Sunbeam tourer of about the same age in all the events of that club. As the club grew and organised speed events at Brooklands and at Shelsley Walsh Speed Hillclimb, Heal racedother cars, such as a 3-litre twin-cam Sunbeam sports tourer and a 1919 Ballot racing car. He became noted for his skill and the care which he displayed for his cars. When there was motor racing at Crystal Palace he bought a large 10-litre Fiat with chain drive and this was one of the fastest Edwardian cars to compete in competition. During the Second World War, when all the motor clubs were closed down for the duration, Heal joined a small group of enthusiasts which promoted social events in London to maintain contact among motor- racing personnel and in 1945, with the return of peace, they organised the first event at which racing and sports cars were demonstrated to the public. Heal, driving his 5-litre Ballot, had one of only 10 racing cars at that meeting. He went on to race his Fiat, Ballot and a 1926 Grand Prix Sunbeam in many events at Silverstone, Shelsley Walsh, Prescott, Donington, and Oulton Park, and became a legendary figure in the world of vintage and veteran motor sport. He extended his interest to other forms of transport, including steam vehicles, and he purchased a 1916 steam tractor which had been built for the Army to tow large guns. He drove this enormous vehicle to many traction engine Rallies and Fairs. Even in his eighties he drove his 3-litre twin-cam Sunbeam touring car to all the Vintage events. Anthony Heal was a quiet and reserved man. In the latter years of his life he maintained close contact with his friends in the vintage-car movement and attended the Annual General Meeting of the Vintage Sports Car Club in London only four days before he died.

Anthony Standerwick Heal, businessman: born 23 February 1907; Chairman, Heal & Son 1952-81; married 1941 Theodora Griffin (two sons); died 25 March 1995.