Obituary: Jill Allibone

Hermione Hobhouse
Saturday 07 February 1998 00:02 GMT

Jill Spencer Rigden, architectural historian: born Abadan, Persia 26 April 1932; married 1957 David Allibone (three daughters); died Tunbridge Wells, Kent 3 February 1998.

The architectural historian Jill Allibone was the biographer of the Victorian architects Anthony Salvin and George Devey and an active and campaigning vice-chairman of the Victorian Society in the 1980s.

She was born Jill Rigden in 1932 in Abadan, Persia, where her father, Horace Walter Rigden, managed the Anglo-Persian oil refinery. Much of her childhood was spent in Persia (now Iran), where her father remained in charge throughout the Second World War, though she was evacuated to South Africa. With this international background, it is interesting that when she returned to live in her father's county, Kent, she developed all the passion of a native for that part of England.

After Godolphin School, Salisbury, she went to St Martin's School of Art, and in 1954 to the Courtauld, where she specialised in Gothic art history. A contemporary remembers her as intellectually tough, benefiting from the intensive tutorial system then in place, which was so daunting that of the dozen students who started the year only six finished.

Despite getting married in her last year and doing her Finals already pregnant, she got a sufficiently good degree to enable her to return after the birth of three daughters to do a PhD. She and her solicitor husband, David Allibone, bought a 1920 Arts and Crafts house with a large garden in Kent, which became the centre of a very happy family life.

For her thesis, she chose Anthony Salvin, one of the most important of the early Goths, who worked for a large number of royal and aristocratic patrons, restoring medieval castles in a witty and scholarly manner. She was fortunate in having as her supervisor Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, one of the pioneering writers who in the 1950s awoke the British to their valuable and fast-disappearing legacy of Victorian buildings, and who was the first chairman of the Victorian Society, founded in 1958.

The work on Salvin and Pevsner's advocacy together enlisted Allibone's support for the society, which campaigns to save threatened buildings of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and for the next 30 years her enthusiasm and businesslike approach were to be of enormous benefit. She was a hard- working committee member, never afraid to fight for a cause or a building in which she believed. Moreover, as a former secretary of the society said, while there were always plenty of members who would point out what needed doing, Jill Allibone would do something herself to help.

Her doctoral thesis was published in 1987, as Anthony Salvin, Pioneer of Gothic Revival Architecture 1799-1881, an exhaustive study of a very successful practitioner, responsible amongst other things for Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire (1831-38), and the restoration in 1854-65 of Alnwick Castle for the Duke of Northumberland.

In 1990, she combined two of her enthusiasms, in George Devey: Architect 1820-1886, an account of an architect who adapted the traditional Kentish Wealden style for his buildings, thus creating an authentic vernacular style. A number of these were in Kent, including Betteshanger Manor (1856- 82), and additions to Walmer Castle (1871-72), but his extensive practice also included Ascott House in Buckinghamshire (1870-84) for Leopold de Rothschild and Killarney House in Kerry for Lord Kenmare (1877-79). She catalogued the Devey drawings for the British Architectural Library, and wrote the catalogue. Her interest in both architecture and the law came together in the essays she contributed to The Inns of Court (1996), to accompany photographs by Helene Binet.

Despite her roles as architectural historian and devoted mother and grandmother, for over 20 years Jill Allibone was a member of the South Westminster Bench. A fellow JP remembers her as a "fiercely independent colleague with a somewhat forbidding manner", but whose procedure was always correct, and her dealings with those in the dock both tough and fair. Behind this sometimes uncompromising exterior was a woman of many interests and enthusiasms, which she would always share with colleagues, whether on the Bench or as architectural historians, devoted to her family, her dogs, and an equally formidable parrot.

To her work she added two other enthusiasms, for the countryside and buildings of Kent, where she was a member of the Kent Buildings Preservation Trust, and recently for an endangered building type - the mausoleum. On a visit to a family grave in Whitstable, Kent, she was struck by the condition of a magnificent tomb, designed by Charles Barry junior in 1875, for Wynn Ellis, a major benefactor to the National Gallery. This led her to look seriously at the plight of these architecturally significant monuments, often erected by families which had since disappeared. With other architectural historians she set up a charitable Mausolea and Monuments Trust, finally constituted in 1997, which now owns and preserves some six of these monuments.

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