Dick Reid, carver in wood and stone hailed both for new work and for sumptuous restorations – obituary
Dick Reid, who has died aged 86, was an architectural carver in wood and stone celebrated for his superb eye and his ability to do both new design work and replicas of historic pieces without losing any of the quality of the originals; some compared him to Grinling Gibbons. Reid’s work may be seen at Windsor Castle, where he spent five years as a superintendent to the Royal Household during its restoration after the devastating fire of 1992; at Westminster Abbey, where nine memorials, including for Richard Dimbleby and Sir John Betjeman, bear witness to his skills as a letter-cutter; and York Minster, where he helped to repair the damage done to the south transept by the fire of 1984. One of his most important commissions was during the highly acclaimed restoration of Spencer House in St James’s, begun in 1987, when he supervised a team charged with replicating missing carved architectural detail.
The bulk of the restoration took 12 years, with another five years before Reid’s magnificent replica Carrara marble chimney pieces, six in all, were installed, one chimney alone taking 8,000 man-hours of work. The quality of the finished work is said to rival that produced in the 18th century.
Restoration work at Spencer House
A friend of Reid’s has described him as “a bit Dickensian, with bits of finger missing from various accidents, and with huge energy”. When he and a couple of assistants were doing research for a commission and decided they needed to go to the Capitoline Museum in Rome, they simply put a mattress in the back of his van and headed off, taking it in turns to drive.
Yet Reid became a craftsman almost by accident – chiefly due to being punished at school for bunking off football. Richard Reid was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on May 14 1934. At school he was expected to play football on Saturdays, but instead spent his time with a delivery crew from the Co-op, learning to drive their Bedford truck.
As a punishment he was made to do extra work, making stage scenery for school productions.
Reid at work
His work was spotted by Roger Hedley, the owner of a family wood carving and architectural sculpture firm, who took him on, aged 15, as an apprentice. He also attended Durham University Art School. After National Service in the Army, from 1955 to 1957, during which he obtained the rank of captain, he moved to York, and in 1958 set up his own workshop, first in Grape Lane and later in Fishergate.
Over the next 50 years he established an international reputation for new work and sumptuous conservation work in historic houses, halls and churches, ranging from items of furniture to coats of arms, and from chandeliers to cornices and fireplaces. A charismatic man who loved a good gossip, Reid was most proud of keeping traditional crafts alive by training and employing dozens of young craftsmen and women, many of whom have gone on to successful careers around the world. In the 1990s his workshop was the largest in Britain, with some 15 assistants and apprentices.
Before and after: work carried out by Reid and his team on columns at York Art GalleryCredit: crainger
In 1989 Reid was invited by the Prince of Wales to work with his new Institute of Architecture and he became a lecturer and Trustee of the Institute.
A founder member of the Crafts Council, he served as Training Co-ordinator of the Worshipful Company of Masons; as Master of the Art Workers’ Guild in London (2003-04) and Governor of the Merchant Adventurers in York. Dick Reid was appointed OBE in 2013 for services to Heritage and in 2016 was awarded the Duke of Gloucester Gold Medal for outstanding lifetime achievement in stonemasonry. He is survived by his wife, Buff, and by their two sons.
Dick Reid, born May 14 1934, died January 16 2021
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