Trevor Proudfoot Obituary

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Trevor Proudfoot standing in a historic doorway. Image courtesy of Lewis Proudfoot.

By Lewis Proudfoot

Trevor James Proudfoot, who has died of cancer at the age of 65, was a stone mason and influential leader in the world of stone and plaster conservation. As the National Trust’s advisor for the conservation of stone and plaster since 1982, and managing director of his company Cliveden Conservation, Trevor leaves as his lasting legacy the innumerable sculptures, buildings and historic interiors that he has worked on during a career that spanned 45 years.

Trevor was born in 1954 at Herne Bay to Miriam (Nee Stopps) and Peter who ran the family printing firm, AJ Proudfoot and Son. The youngest of four children, Trevor was doted on by his three older sisters. He attended Vernon Holme and then Kent College where he excelled at athletics and rugby.

After a foundation year at Exeter School of Art, Trevor briefly attended Hull College of Art where he lived in Hayworth Hall, an old and crumbling stately home with an absentee American owner. It wasn’t meant to be, and he moved to London where he joined Hannah (Firmin, his first wife) who was studying at Chelsea School of Art.

In 1975, Trevor asked John Bysouth to train him as a stone mason at his yard in Tottenham, and by the age of 21 he had completed his apprenticeship and was beginning to work on masonry projects across London. His relationship with the National Trust (NT) began in 1979, when Bysouth’s were commissioned to restore the Bristol Cross at Stourhead. Trevor worked (with John’s sons Geoff and later David), to dismantle, repair and reinstate this decorative memorial cross. During the works, David Winfield, who was the NT’s first surveyor of Conservation, noted the young mason’s perfectionist approach to the craftsmanship of masonry and his evident passion for conservation and invited him to set up the NT’s statuary conservation workshop based at the Cliveden Estate in Berkshire in the early 1980s.

First with David Winfield, and later Nigel Seeley, Trevor was an inspiring and enthusiastic advocate for the Trust's pioneering conservation approach to maintenance and repair of its buildings, interiors, monuments and statuary. Working alongside Seeley, Trevor was instrumental in the restoration of all the plasterwork at Uppark after the fire ravaged the 17th-century house in 1989. This project established Trevor as a pioneer for the rediscovery of traditional skills as he and his team reintroduced the historic techniques of freehand modelling in the restoration of plaster ceilings. Much emphasis was placed on the conservation of as much of the original fabric rather than restoration—no matter how small the salvaged remains were—and Trevor and his team set out the hugely decorative ceilings on the ground under huge hangers before fixing in situ.

In the early 1990s the Trust agreed that the workshop should become independent, and Trevor developed Cliveden Conservation into a highly successful and award-winning business with two more flourishing workshops in Bath and Norfolk. Trevor’s lively personality, enthusiasm for conservation and generosity with his time and knowledge endeared him to the many architects, curators and country house owners he met throughout the UK and abroad. Practical and empathetic to all, he gained a reputation for undertaking the type of difficult job that many people would not, or simply could not, achieve, and Cliveden Conservation have been involved in some of the most prestigious conservation projects of the past 30 years with the National Trust, English Heritage, many Oxford colleges and for the Royal Household.

Trevor regularly taught NT staff and volunteers in the techniques of cleaning and conservation of stone and plaster. There are few National Trust properties which have not benefited from Trevor's advice, guidance, and advocacy for the highest practical standards of conservation treatment or specifications for lime mortars. Since 1990, he has also advised on the marble conservation at Aphrodisias, one of the oldest and most sacred archaeological sites in Turkey. He relished his yearly trips to the site, where he had the opportunity to get ‘back on the tools’, working with the local Turks and an international team of academics and conservators to restore and reinstate a multitude of architectural and sculptural artefacts.

Trevor leaves behind him a huge contribution to conservation and craftsmanship and countless friends and colleagues from the world of historic buildings and beyond. His three workshops and their teams of skilled and experienced conservators and craftspeople are testament to his enthusiasm and the encouragement he showed to inspire generations of conservators. His eldest son Lewis continues to lead the work of Cliveden Conservation as the company builds upon his legacy.

An incisive intelligence, mischievous sense of humour and a charming irreverence made Trevor exceptionally good company. A keen sportsman and rugby player well into his 50s, he will be remembered for his exuberance and huge personality which shone through even as he stoically battled with the painful and debilitating complications from the pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with in 2015.

Trevor is survived by his sons Lewis and Dorian, daughters Emily and Sophie, three sisters and dog Tigger.

Originally published in Icon News December 2019 issue 85 (https://icon.org.uk/)