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Dr Richard Morris

In Memoriam

RKMWe were saddened to hear of the death at the end of January of former colleague Dr Richard Morris, Research Associate and Reader in History of Art from 1974 until 2001.

Richard was an architectural historian and buildings archaeologist who played a significant role in the establishment of the department and its international reputation for the architectural history of England during the middle ages and the early modern period. He developed the Warwick Mouldings Archive, a paper archive of full-size moulding profiles from numerous standing structures and some archaeological collections, mainly in England and Wales. His recent publications covered such sites as Chepstow Castle, Coventry St Mary’s Cathedral Priory, Eynsham Abbey, Kenilworth Castle, Sherborne Abbey, Stoneleigh Abbey, Tewkesbury Abbey and Tintern Abbey.


Memories

Julian Gardner, Founding Professor of History of Art at Warwick:
Warwick University as it existed in the autumn of 1974 is now scarcely imaginable. The newly-born History of Art department was established in the pristine Engineering building. Richard arrived in the first year and swiftly became the column around which the new group gravitated. Previously he had been a lecturer at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, and something of that frontier spirit returned to Warwick with him. Anthea Callen and Michael Rosenthal arrived a year later, Paul Hills the following autumn, the year after the department migrated to the second floor of the Humanities building - where it remained for thirty years. Louise Campbell also joined us then. Our splendid first secretary Joyce had earlier worked, appropriately enough, for the Probation Service. Then the University effectively existed on two sites, the Science block and the Arts and Humanities building on the lower site, beside the university playing fields, now lost forever beneath multi-storey car parks, and the administration in temporary (although extraordinarily long-lasting) huts at Gibbet Hill. Minibuses ferried students and teachers from one muddy location to the other. This transport system was important, for Richard swiftly commandeered university buses for his weekly trips to study medieval architecture in the neighbourhood (a very flexible term) of Warwick. He had joined the department from Victoria with the specific role of giving students a thorough grounding in medieval architecture. One of the founding ambitions of the Department was to study buildings and objects in their original contexts, as far as was possible, with the further aim of preparing all the students for the Venice term in their third year. Richard was in his element, and the dawn starts of his longer excursions became proverbial – sleepy students stumbling after a bus which was already revving up to set off. After a year or so of using university drivers for these trips, Richard decided that it was much more efficient if he also drove the bus, and many will recall the occasionally white-knuckle rides to remote churches and, increasingly, castles which formed part of the course. Generations of students will have particular memories of these early trips, either inching along the freezing service galleries of cathedrals and abbeys like Worcester or Richard’s beloved Tewkesbury, or wind-blown harangues on the roofs of Lincoln or Lichfield. Over the years he developed a series of sliding templates, each larger than its predecessor, to take accurate full-scale profiles. A Gloucestershire man born and bred, he was perennially fascinated by the development of gothic architecture in the West of England during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Already at the Courtauld Institute, where I first met him, when he was writing his doctoral thesis on Decorated Architecture in Herefordshire with Peter Kidson, his knowledge of ballflower ornament was legendary. Canada had convinced him that he was a teacher, but, as he always said, it was Warwick which gave him the outstanding opportunity to teach medieval architecture from the original standing buildings themselves.

He arrived at Warwick for interview in late Spring 1973, was given the job, and immediately bought a house in Kenilworth a couple of miles from the university campus. He also managed to measure its rooms, and when he returned that summer from Canada with Jenny and their small children, he brought with him his favourite Canadian wall-papers to decorate the new family home. For many years he was a familiar sight cycling daily to campus from Kenilworth. In those early days, long before the computer or the digital image, lectures were organized with 2 projectors using glass slides. A projectionist tended these temperamental machines from a booth at the back of the lecture hall. The Department at Warwick was initially well-known for the high proportion of colour slides in its Slide Library, in contrast to the monochrome which was the norm. Teaching at the Courtauld Institute before the establishment of the Warwick department I had become increasingly disillusioned by the way in which teaching never took place in front of original paintings or buildings. It was to be an article of faith at Warwick that we looked, as far as was possible, at the real thing. That was the reason for the Venice term and equally it inspired Richard’s architectural courses. For this reason Warwick explored its artistic hinterland very thoroughly and here Richard was a tireless pioneer.

His own doctoral work was on Decorated architecture, that variant of cathedral gothic of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries in which English architects and their startlingly innovative designs were to lead European architectural development. The impact of English church-building reached from Prague to Tarragona, and Richard characteristically retained an abiding affection for Spanish architecture. His methodology involved the scrupulous and imaginative study of architectural moulding forms and their formal and historical development. Most of his research papers were illumined by his own carefully measured drawings of moulding profiles. At Warwick he established the Warwick Mouldings Archive which subsequently became a computerised archive of moulding profile drawings which has now become a valuable and important national resource. He wrote seminal papers on the architecture and patronage of Tewkesbury Abbey and the powerful Despenser family, important local patrons of architecture and doomed royal favourites. Richard also wrote a path-breaking discussion of the Plantagenet royal family’s enthusiasm for Arthurian mythology, which coloured the reigns of Edward I and his successors. Partly on account of this he led excursions to Edward I’s gaunt and menacing castles in Wales. Round tables and the striped walls of Caernarvon Castle all came under the lens. Latterly too his interests in vernacular architecture expanded significantly. Kenilworth Castle itself became an absorbing passion and he wrote the exemplary guidebook to the ruins.

Richard became a Senior Lecturer in 1979 and a Reader in 1995. He served as Head of Department, and on a considerable number of outside bodies, mainly concerned with the study and preservation of English medieval and Renaissance architecture. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and later became a member of their Executive Committee. A fine obituary by one of Richard’s former Ph.D students Linda Monckton appears in Salon, the Society’s on-line Newsletter (no.334, 19th. January 2015). He was a long-term member of the cathedral Fabric Committees at Hereford and Lichfield, an archaeological consultant to Tewkesbury Abbey, and a Council member of the Ancient Monuments Society. He was hugely generous with his time, and had an infectious enthusiasm for the research interests of others. He was nationally known as the person to consult if a fragment of a traceried window or a battered block of stone with a fragmentary moulding profile had come to light in an archaeological dig, or a gothic column based needed dating. In all this he was characteristically altruistic, invariably perceptive and always immensely helpful.

Richard was a wonderful colleague, candid, unfailingly cheerful, utterly dependable and always with the best interests of his students closest to his heart. Generations of Warwick art history students still regale each other with some memorable experience on a rain-drenched excursion to the West Country, or a freezing inspection of the upper levels of Lincoln cathedral warmed only by Richard’s incandescent enthusiasm.

Emeritus Professor Louise Campbell, Lecturer in Art History at Warwick 1977 - 2014:
I think that the first thing Richard Morris said to me when I arrived at Warwick was to enquire whether I had a driving licence. His eyebrows shot up when I said that I did not.

It became clear that getting out and looking at buildings, measuring them, photographing them and getting a feel of them was Richard’s passion. For me, until then a rather theory- and desk- bound architectural historian, this was salutary. I soon acquired that licence, and (although I preferred asking a university driver to drive the minibus rather than taking the wheel) began leading student trips myself. Happily, the timetable in those relaxed days allowed us to earmark Fridays for trips. Such were Richard’s powers of persuasion that staff and students were sometimes cajoled into making expeditions on Bank Holiday Mondays as well. Liverpool and Port Sunlight were our destinations one year, much to the astonishment of locals who considered that public holidays were a chance to take it easy.

Richard’s practical approach to learning about buildings, and his fascination with the superb examples which lay under our nose - Warwick Castle, Kenilworth Castle, and the Beauchamp Chapel in St Mary’s Warwick - was infectious. The contributions made by Richard and by Anthea Callen to the first- year Media and Techniques course (later known as Making and Meaning) were highly original, and encouraged all of us to think about works of art as physical objects. The experience led many of our graduates into successful careers in restoration, the conservation of historic buildings and the heritage sector.

Although I approached architectural history from the other end of the historical spectrum as it were, I found much to admire and learn from Richard’s way of doing things. And it was probably Richard’s zeal for investigating local buildings which stimulated me to begin thinking seriously about Coventry’s post-war architecture.

Serendipitously, in the 1990s we found ourselves working on different phases of Coventry’s religious architecture, Richard with the team of archaeologists and specialists in historic buildings who excavated the remains of St Mary’s cathedral priory, and displayed their finds in the Priory Visitors’ Centre, and I on the inception and design of Basil Spence’s new cathedral. Richard was delighted when in 2003 my colleagues at the RCAHMS in Edinburgh unearthed the survey of the site of the first cathedral carried out by Spence’s office staff in the early 1950s (and which seems to have been dealt with discreetly in order not to delay the start of work on the new one!). We both served on Coventry’s Diocesan Advisory Committee, Richard as advisor on medieval churches, I on modern. While I sometimes felt worn down by the insistence of the clergy members that mission should take precedence over aesthetic or historical concerns, Richard had far more stamina. He would argue his corner tirelessly and persuasively - and usually won.

I am sad that such an energetic and passionate architectural historian is no longer with us. His legacy to the department and the profession will be a lasting one.

Paul Hills, Lecturer in Art History at Warwick, 1976-98:
Other colleagues of Richard in the first quarter-century of the Art History department at Warwick have written of his distinction as an architectural historian, his legendary site visits, and his selfless devotion to his students. Rather than reiterate these truths, I would like to draw upon a couple of memories. The first is of attending one of Richard’s classes in “Media and Techniques”, a course that he played a great part in shaping. We passed from hand to hand fragments of brick and tile, as well as all manner of stones. Under Richard’s expert guidance we noted their colour, their weight, their hardness or porosity. We learnt to detect the telltale signs of age and recognized how clay was moulded or stone was cut. Richard divulged the far-flung locations in which he had picked up each fragment and explained their regional variations. That uniquely tactile class was typical of his hands-on approach to studying and teaching architectural history. It was a brilliant method.

The other memory dates from the early 1990s when Richard came to Venice to help with the teaching there for a week or two. Joining his tours of Venice’s medieval and Renaissance churches and palaces – buildings I thought I knew well – Richard’s penetrating observations opened my eyes to many an overlooked feature. On several occasions as we stood on the fondamenta, he was so keen to get a better view of a crocket or hanging cusp on an upper storey that he took several steps backwards without a glance behind him. The students and I were on tenterhooks fearing that our architectural maestro might trip or slide on the green steps and tumble ignominiously into the canal. Fortunately no such immersion took place, but there were several narrow escapes. Naturally, Richard carried on undaunted.

Richard was always a supportive and loyal colleague. He cared passionately for his subject and enlarged our understanding. His teaching, his warmth and enthusiasm, will be remembered fondly by many generations of students.

Jenny Alexander, Fellow Researcher in Medieval Art and Architecture:
Working with Richard on site was always an adventure, whether it involved scaling scaffolding at Kenilworth Castle in freezing rain in February, or balancing on a ladder on a ledge in Lincoln Cathedral the shared experience of discovering something new about the history of the site always compensated for the discomforts. Despite the limitations of the HSE, or Richard’s increasing battle with his illness, the work went on virtually to the end, and he taught us all to look more closely, to regard the building as the document and to find new ways of studying it. I first met Richard on one of his Warwick Study Trips when he signed out a Warwick mini-bus and took a set of students from all over the UK to France and visited a host of buildings and sites in Burgundy and the Loire. For all that accommodation might be student hostels, or the horrors of municipal campsites, there were some very good restaurants, or lorry-driver spots with great food to compensate and his enthusiasm for all the aspects was truly infectious. Whether the problem was a broken windscreen (fixed with plastic sheet and gaffer tape) or a recalcitrant key-holder, Richard sorted it out and the trip continued. We are all the richer from having worked or studied with him.

Almudena Cros Gutierrez, Warwick BA (Hons) 1994-1997, MA Venice and Europe (1999), PhD (2008):
I had the pleasure of having Richard Morris as a lecturer in my first and second year during my undergraduate degree (1994-1997). His lecture on the Classical Orders of Architecture was the very first lecture of my undergraduate course. I was shocked to be told to write an essay due the following week on this subject- it forced me to find my way to (and through) the Library and to compose my very first Art History essay. Like all other freshmen, I managed to produce this essay within 6 days, which Richard thoroughly marked in record-breaking time to ensure his students understood how to write academic papers. I then signed up for his Monastery and Cathedral course, and for his Englishman's Home in the second year. When I chose an essay topic on Santiago de Compostela and Conques, Richard made me believe I could read French, and I realised I could (he gave me no option, since all the bibliography for Conques was in French).

Without him, I would have never gotten far in my passion for medieval art and architecture, and I would not have discovered and appreciated later buildings such as those designed by Edwin Lutyens. I currently teach at an American University in Madrid, and when my students roll their eyes at the thought of having to write an essay, I always mention what Richard demanded of us on the very first day and how we all succeeded. Furthermore, only Richard could have made me write an essay on the decorative use of bricks, which I actually ended up finding a seriously interesting topic- and I currently introduce my undergraduate students to a Richard Morris 'brick appreciation short course'.

Richard took us on incredible and rather crazy trips all over England, sometimes trespassing on private land in order to look at some medieval mouldings. He disregarded all (or most) Health and Safety rules in our field trips to make sure we saw whatever he wanted us to see. A force of Nature, he was impervious to the weather and to the freezing cold in those buildings or ruins in the middle of nowhere , he took us to Paris, drove us over cattle grids, made us jump over fences and get the lady of the Manor to come out yelling to throw us out of her land ... you name it. It was also an enriching experience to have Richard in both my undergraduate and my Master's Venice Term. His energetic walks around Venice pointing at medieval buildings, and his explanations of later Renaissance architecture in Mantua and other locations helped us all to understand further the history and singularity of the Veneto region.

He was one of the most committed teachers in the Department, and he was always enthusiastic about showing us how to take moulding profiles. He empowered his students, believing in their potential from the very first day and ensuring he was available to guide them through the assignments in his courses. His generous nature and willingness to help meant that he wrote references on my behalf when I needed grants for my PhD, even though I was not doing it under his direction.

Rest In Peace, the truly wonderful Dr. Richard Morris. He was an exemplary and inspirational lecturer, and he has left his mark in my approach to teaching.



Obituaries

Journal of the British Archaeological Association
27 November 2015

Richard K. Morris (1943–2015) 

 

The Guardian
29 January 2015

History of Art Other Lives - Richard Morris 

 

Kenilworth Weekly News
26 January 2015

Tributes to 'calm and courageous' Kenilworth historian


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