Obituary: Charlotte Haslam

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The Independent Online
Charlotte Haslam devoted nearly 20 years of her life to the Landmark Trust, a charity which rescues buildings in distress and gives them a new life by letting them for holidays. At first she was engaged in historical research; then she edited the trust's publications as well; and latterly she was also an architectural adviser and supervisor. For some years she was one of the trustees.

Like many Smiths, she was a distant cousin of mine - known as "Nim", born in 1954 and brought up on Tresco in the Scillies. I first remember her as a little girl with a fat pigtail, firmly strapped into a blue mac, made to walk up snipe through breast-high gorse on the island of St Martin's for ourselves and her father to shoot. He was a well-to-do retired naval officer, intelligent of course, but consciously monarch of all he surveyed and very reluctant to change his opinion. Her mother, Tamara, of noble Russian (Georgian) descent, was the most beautiful woman I ever beheld, an extraordinary figure to find on an island off the far west point of Cornwall. These genes brought Nim a good brain, beautiful eyes, and a resolute character.

After reading History at Exeter University, she worked briefly as an assistant on the Penguin "Buildings of Wales" series and with the architect Clough Williams Ellis at Plas Brondanw. Then, in 1978, she decided she would like to work for the Landmark Trust. In those days, 13 years after it was founded, quite a few people wanted to do that, and as I - then chairman - am dilatory and indecisive it was entirely due to her persistence that she joined us.

At first she carried out historical research into the various buildings which came our way, and also edited successive editions of the Landmark Handbook, latterly writing most of it. Since she was not an orderly worker we gave her, in the basement of our office at 21 Dean's Yard, Westminster, a large room, once the servants' hall of the Receiver General's house; and here, in the intervals of studying the ankles of innumerable visitors to the abbey, which was all she could see from her window, she produced reports on our buildings in scholarly left-handed writing. From time to time her assistant Emily Holden would spend a week or so tidying the room.

She had a very just appreciation of what the Landmark Trust is all about - how everything at each property should be perfectly done, but unaffected, indeed unnoticeable - and gradually she played more and more of a part in appraising buildings offered to us and in deciding how to treat them. Once she and I visited a grand house in the West Country, with quite a grand owner who showed us round, and to whom I tried to give the impression that the Landmark was a serious body. When we reached a narrow upstairs gallery with a well-polished floor, Nim, instead of admiring the architecture, suddenly said, "This would be very good for hassock polo", which betrayed her Dorrien-Smith origin.

On another occasion, at Iffley Rectory on the outskirts of Oxford (one of the most numinous buildings which the Landmark Trust possesses), she had arranged to be picked up after our visit by the architectural historian Richard Haslam, whose assistant she had been while he was writing about Wales. He did not appear by the time I had to leave, and eventually, with some misgiving, I abandoned her in the dusk, standing on the edge of the pavement, her feet close together, like a well-schooled child, or a soldier. Next day I telephoned to make sure she was all right. Richard, it emerged, had kept her waiting there for several hours, and after the ensuing discussion they had become engaged.

She was strong-minded, sensible, intelligent and humane, good company, with a well- developed sense of the ridiculous. Her death (from meningitis), leaving two young sons and a very young daughter, is a most deplorable loss; but she also leaves her own impression for good on the buildings of England, and of few can that be said.

Charlotte Sophia Smith- Dorrien-Smith, architectural historian: born Tresco, Isles of Scilly 22 April 1954; married 1980 Richard Haslam (two sons, one daughter); died Basingstoke 3 January 1996.