Obituary: Robert Meadows
Robert Meadows, one of the founder members of the Ladbroke Association, was born on 30 October 1915 and died on 28 August 2009.. He was a highly distinguished man: one of the seminal figures in the development of the discipline of urban design, and a founder member in the 1970s of the still influential Urban Design Group, born out of a concern that architects were thinking too much in terms of individual buildings and not of the wider urban environment. He also helped start the post-graduate Diploma in Urban Design at what is now the University of Westminster. As the Ladbroke Estate is a striking example of early urban design, our present Association is itself a fitting memorial to him.
Tribute by the Hon. President of the Association (Sir Angus Stirling) in 2009
Robert Meadows was not only a founder member of the Ladbroke Association. He was in many ways the person above all others who brought a professional approach to the Association’s purposes from the beginning. An architect himself, it was Robert who voluntarily undertook the essential role of going in person to the Kensington Town Hall and scrutinising every planning application within the Ladbroke Conservation Area that it was the Committee’s job to consider and comment upon.
From its inception the Association had no intention of adopting a “preservation at all costs” policy. It set out to preserve the character and features of this beautiful part of London, with its mid-19th century-designed lay-out of terraces, fine town houses, pairs of villas, wide streets, trees, open spaces and communal gardens. But it also took account of the validity of well-thought-out adaptation and change that respected these qualities. Robert Meadows attended the very first meeting of the newly-formed Association, in our own house in Ladbroke Grove, in 1964. He was instrumental in creating the principles by which it has operated ever since. He had a wonderfully sensitive, acute appreciation of what seemed allowable and what should be properly resisted.
It was in large part due to Robert’s experience and good sense, combined with professional understanding of architectural design and planning, that the Borough Council’s planning department came to respect the Ladbroke Association’s contribution. Indeed, as time went on the Council looked to the Association, and to Robert in particular, for their comments on applications within the Ladbroke Conservation Area. That it retains its special and much valued character today owes a great deal to Robert’s judgment and wisdom.
It is hard to think of the Association without Robert Meadows. He served on its Committee for more than 40 years. Early on he had to undergo a serious operation for the removal of a brain tumour. Fortunately it was benign, and Robert returned to the fray with undiminished zest.
This memoir of his work for the Association would be incomplete without a vignette of him as a person. Robert was quietly-spoken almost to the point of diffidence. His whole personality was one of consideration for others; he radiated kindness and was more of a listener than a speaker. At the same time, he possessed an unmistakeable gravitas and authority. He had a particularly attractive voice, and his opinions always carried weight.
All this he combined with a lovely sense of often rather puckish humour, and a rather wry outlook on the world around him. He used to come out regularly with observations that could be gently mischievous, always dismantling any signs of pomposity, and laughter was never far away.
The Ladbroke Association would not have established its place in the community or achieved half as much without Robert. He will be warmly remembered for his untiring commitment to this part of London which was his home, and as a real friend and counsellor.
Angus Stirling 2010
Reprint from Ladbroke News of Winter 2009/10