Dorothy Brown MBE died suddenly on Tuesday 8 October in Bristol, aged 86. She was a long-term supporter of BBPT and a tireless campaigner for old buildings in Bristol, finding new uses for empty or derelict properties. Her dedication to the conservation cause was recognized with the award in 1988 of the MBE and in 1991 her receiving an honorary degree from the University of Bristol.
Dorothy established the Bristol Visual and Environmental Group in 1971, primarily to stop the demolition by Bristol City Council of around 400 historic buildings in the central areas of Bristol, which had been approved in the 1966 Development Plan – mostly to accommodate urban throughways and comprehensive redevelopment, then all the rage. Dorothy, who was instrumental in their listing, managed to save most of them, including the 18th-century Brunswick Square in St Paul’s, via many public inquiries. However, it was her work at Acton Court in South Gloucestershire that brought her to national attention.
When Dorothy first found Acton Court in the early ‘80s, it was in such bad condition that parts of it were held up with scaffolding. Her involvement most probably saved the house from demolition and was certainly instrumental in its recognition as one of the most important Tudor buildings in the country. The house had belonged to the Poyntz Family, who built a large addition to the house to provide accommodation for Henry VIII, when he visited the family in the 16th Century. It is largely this addition, containing an important frieze by Holbein, that survives today. On behalf of BVEG’s building preservation trust, Dorothy bought the house at auction in 1984 and immediately set about urgently needed repairs to prevent the building deteriorating any further, under the direction of a Bristol architect, the late Peter Ware. She then managed to persuade English Heritage to become interested in it and recognise its importance. Duly listed Grade I, Acton Court is now in the care of the Rosehill Trust. It provides for the house to be open to the public for a period during the summer months each year. Further information here
After securing the future of Acton Court, Dorothy turned her interest to Frome in Somerset where she came to the rescue of an important 15th – 17thC wool merchant’s house together with a 17thC storehouse in the garden, with the support of the Frome Historic Buildings Trust. Meanwhile, back in Bristol, Dorothy helped found the city council’s Conservation Advisory Panel, whose meetings she attended and enlivened, right up until her death.
In her book on Acton Court she wrote “… I’d like to emphasise that there are still amazing old buildings and gardens waiting to be discovered by those who value such things and that local history is emerging all the time to the delight of the large number of people who enjoy history and archaeology”.
Those who met and knew Dorothy will treasure their memories of her. Her unstinting campaigning and enthusiastic interest in caring for our history, while at the same time finding new uses for old buildings, was – and remains – an inspiration.
Her husband Tom pre-deceased her by six years. She is survived by her children – Mike, Hugh, Jo, Guy and Jenny – and five grandchildren.
Publications by Dorothy Brown include:
“Rediscovering Acton Court and the Poyntz Family”. Further information here
“Canons’ Marsh” – published 1988.
“Avon Heritage – The North: The Vale and the Forest” – published 1979 – ISBN 0-9504648 3 X
“Just look at Bristol!” – published 1976 – ISBN 0-9504648 0 5
“Bristol and How it Grew” – published 1975 – ISBN 0-9504648 2 1