Obituary: John Allen

MHA John Allen

Obituary: Patrick John Lory Allen (Hon. MA 2004) (1928 – 2017)


Mr John Allen, formerly Chairman of the Manor Hall and Sinclair House Committee, a friend to generations of past and present residents and staff of the Hall, and a keen supporter of the Hall’s traditions in music and drama, died suddenly at his home in Bridgwater on 5th August 2017 in his 90th year.

Born on 26th June 1928 in London, he was the son of a London-born engineer, who was by patrimony, a member of the Worshipful Company of Lightermen who had the right by custom and practice to load and unload vessels trading along the Thames at Wapping Old Stairs. His mother came from a distinguished Cornish family, long settled in the parish of St. Keverne where his remains are now interred. The Lory family’s most distinguished member, Commander William Lory RN (1794-1868), had an adventurous career which included suppressing smuggling on the Cornish coast, assisting in the uprising which led to Venezuela gaining independence from its colonial master, Spain, and discovering the Lory bird and the Lorikeet in Australia (members of the parrot family).

John Allen was an only child and his parents were in their late 30s at the time of his birth. Through their influence he remained deeply attached to his family’s history, to Cornwall and to the city of London. Whilst young, his father moved to Laddenvean, Wembdon Hill, Bridgwater, which remained his home for 80 years. The town and the Quantock Hills became closely entwined in his affections. He was educated at Dr Morgan’s Endowed Grammar School for Boys in Bridgwater, where his contemporaries included the Rt. Hon. Sir John Biffin PC MP (1930-2007), sometime Leader of the House of Commons, and Professor Peter Haggett CBE, of the Department  of Geography at the University of Bristol and sometime acting Vice-Chancellor.

Whilst still at school, Mr Allen became a founder member of the Bridgwater Arts Centre in Castle Street in 1946. It was the first Arts centre in Britain to open with Arts Council support, and with its theatre, green rooms and gallery, it soon established itself as a centre for classical music, drama and art for much of Somerset. John’s involvement lasted 70 years and latterly he served as its chairman. Through his involvement he became a lifelong friend of Peter Katin (1930-2015), the classical pianist acclaimed for his technical command of the instrument and for his interpretations of Chopin, Brahms and Rachmaninoff. It was through this friendship that Peter Katin gave one of the first concerts in the Great Hall of the University to raise funds for the Alumni Foundation.

After leaving school in 1948 Mr Allen became an articled clerk with Somerset County Court. In 1958 he left the Somerset Divisional Education Office to join the British Council’s recently opened offices in Exeter, moving to London in 1962 where his specific responsibilities included providing programmes for British Council scholars from overseas. In 1966 he moved to Bristol to continue this work as Deputy Regional Director. This brought him into close contact with the University. It was not the first connection that his family had had with the University. His great uncle, Dr Arthur George Bateman Lory (1866-1943) had studied and lectured at the Bristol Medical School in the 1880s and 1890s.

His arrival in Bristol coincided with the rapid expansion of the University and the increase in the number of overseas students, whom the University found impossible to house. In the 1960s, Colonel Sir Dermot Wilman Bart. (1918-1999), established the Overseas Welfare Extension Fund, and it was by drawing upon the monies available from the Fund that the British Council provided ten flats for married overseas postgraduates at the University who were to be British Council Scholars. They were built on a bomb site and a builder’s merchant’s yard between Richmond House and Manor House. The University, with monies from the Universities Grants Committee, agreed to match the funding provided and to enlarge the accommodation by providing flats for sixty second and third year undergraduates under the aegis of the Manor Hall Junior Common Room. The building was named after the formidable Mary Shearer, the Lady Sinclair of Cleeve (1895-1984), Chairman of the Manor Hall Committee. When it was opened in 1976 it was award a prestigious architectural prize which reflected the architectural standards of the day.

In 1976 Mr Allen was made Regional Director of the British Council for the South-West of England which included within its ambit the Universities of Bristol, Bath and Exeter, and was appointed a Council representation on the Manor Hall and Sinclair House Committee, on which he served, excluding a short break in the 1980s, for over thirty-five years, succeeding Mr Evan Cyril Wright (1924-2012), the former Registrar, as chairman in 2001.

Mr Allen worked closely with the University in running courses in medicine and education, many with the Dutch Ministry of Education. He took early retirement at the age of 55 in 1983 to help to look after his mother who was in failing health. Her sudden death shortly afterwards left him in the prime of his life without employment and as it was not then the British Council’s policy to re-engage its former officers, the Warden of Manor Hall subsequently asked him to resume his seat on the Hall Committee and his engagement in the life of the community.

He was deeply attached to the Liturgy of the Church of England as defined by the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible, he loved architecture of the Baroque and Classical period, the music of Handel, collected antiques, Georgian furniture and silver, and paintings. He loved gardens, good wine, good food and friendship, which in the University was largely maintained through his membership of the old staff Senior Common Room and the staff-student dining society, the MacInnes Club, based at Manor Hall, which went into abeyance when the Hall was refurbished in 2012-2013. He greatly lamented the loss of both institutions. He lectured widely and to acclaim to outside bodies on subjects such as “Georgian Domestic Interiors”, frequently claiming that this was the period of history in which he would have felt most at home.

In 1994 Mr Allen’s contribution to the work of the British Council in the South-West of England and to the University of Bristol in particular, was recognised by the award of the honorary degree of Master of Arts (honoris causa) and as a graduate of the University he was elected that summer as one of the Convocation Representatives on the Court of the University upon which he was to serve for twenty years.

Many years ago the Times High Education Supplement, in recording a European Symposium on Teacher Training organised by Mr Allen in Bath and Bristol for delegates from eighteen countries (1973), paid tribute to his ‘”charming erudition”. This was a quality which was immediately apparent to all who knew him and enjoyed his company and his fellowship. He embodied what it was to be a Christian, a scholar and a gentleman. He will be sadly missed. “We will not see his like again.” Our sympathies go out to his cousins, to his godson, and to all who loved him and counted him among their circle of friends.


Dr M. J. Crossley Evans MBE JP

September 2017