Context 165 - August 2020

C O N T E X T 1 6 5 : A U G U S T 2 0 2 0 9 Obituary Michael Munt, historic building conservationist Michael Munt was born in Thurrock and grew up near the Thames in Essex. He started his working life as a trainee planner in the Borough of Newham. He worked at Cambridge in the early 1970s after qualifying in planning, and went on to Suffolk County Council. In 1984/5 he joined Essex County Council’s historic buildings and conservation section, where he remained until the early 1990s. He then moved to Mid Suffolk District Council and was instrumental in setting up its conservation team. In 2001 he left MSDC and soon after joined the East of England branch of English Heritage (now Historic England), becoming its historic areas advisor for Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk. Michael was a hugely talented designer and natural ambassador for building conservation and the creative arts, reaching many through his argument, and always capturing the essence and spirit in a deceptively clear way. He was a skilled artist, at ease providing sketch alternatives for either new build or listed buildings proposals. These were often so good that the architect/ agent would simply copy them and use them on their amended application. Michael would see the bigger picture when dealing with sensitive planning issues. Despite being an authority on classical architecture, Michael’s interest lay primarily towards the vernacular, more humble parts of our historic environment, championing anything from a locally important Victorian school through to a timber- framed building affected by a new runway at Stansted. All had their value. He was particularly keen on the collective values of a place, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. At the Architectural Association’s building conservation course in 1991–93 Michael wrote his dissertation on weatherboard, and became the only expert in this much neglected topic. Essex County Council used this dissertation to provide a guidance leaflet on weatherboard. Colleagues would delight in Michael’s passion and knowledge. His wry smile and gentle manner were a great cover for someone who spoke boldly for heritage of all kinds. He was a man of principle. In 2001 he resigned from Mid Suffolk District Council following its refusal to prosecute against unauthorised works on a Grade I listed building. There were other factors that had contributed towards his decision, but this was the final straw. He valued craftsmanship, past and present, and was keen to applaud the skills of contemporary craftsmen and women. He was a patient teacher, happy to give advice when asked and adding much to the experience of planning officers who worked with him. He was a member of the Suffolk Historic Buildings Group and spoke at events for them and others, including the IHBC, on design and architectural detail. He wrote articles, including one in Context championing manufacturing plants in East Anglia. In 2012 he retired from English Heritage, graciously stepping aside and allowing a colleague to take over the role of the newly amalgamated historic places advisor. Michael loved East Anglia, and in particular Essex, a county that he had spent much of his life in and which, in his own words, had ‘brought us Silver End and Bataville as well as Ravilious, Bawden and Grayson Perry’. In retirement, he spent increasing time caring for his wife. In 2018, he left Suffolk and returned to the Essex estuary town of Wivenhoe, in part to be closer to his two sons and their families. He was back, albeit all too briefly. Paul Skeet A watercolour by Michael Munt of the Electric Palace Cinema, Harwich. He was heavily involved in the restoration of this Grade II* listed building.