About Gus Astley

Who was this man who inspired the thought about giving students free money for their hard work?

Many members of the Institute will remember Gus Astley with great affection and admiration. To others, Gus will be perhaps be no more than a name from the Institute’s past – so it is appropriate to paint a brief word picture of a greatly missed colleague and celebrate the Awards set up in his memory.Gus died in 2003 after a long and painful illness, which he bore with great courage and good grace. Up to that point he has been Membership Secretary for the Association of Conservation Officers, a role he took up with the establishment of IHBC in 1997. In that post he came into contact many aspiring and fledgling conservation professionals and Gus was always provided a great source of encouragement and wise council. His tireless work both organisations also included for a time Assistant Editorship of Context.Gus was tremendously proud of having been a SPAB Lethaby and Sir Banister Fletcher Scholar, but his wide range of talents also extended to scout leader; Morris dancer; choir member; lecturer; Welsh speaker; calligrapher; raconteur; real ale drinker; and bow-tie wearer. Gus always had a very gentle, persuasive and caring manner. The notes of his job interview for Bath City Council in 1989 recorded his appearance as ‘Relaxed – bow tie’ – the very essence of Gus.He was an early adopter of cutting-edge IT, with the foresight and talent to grasp the potential of new technology when devising an excellent electronic database of Bath’s listed buildings (when such things were quite novel), but a man who always carried his copious IHBC filing system around in a battered Waitrose carrier bag.

A very gentle, charming and caring manner did not disguise a persuasive, passionately committed enthusiast but also a very practical conservation professional who set very high standards wherever he worked – Gus stood for quality. In Bath, one has only to look at the detailing and overall excellence of important buildings such as the former Empire Hotel, the Old Police Station and the Thermae Bath Spa to see the very real and practical results of his influence. Gus was also instrumental in the painstaking restoration of Prior Park after its devastating fire and was brilliant at public inquiries.

He always gave his time and advice generously and with much good humour to the fellow professionals. I am sure this is why so many IHBC members contributed so generously to the memorial fund established in his memory and which enabled the annual Gus Astley Student Awards to be launched at the IHBC Annual School in Guidford in 2007.

This annual award scheme recognises outstanding examples of under-graduate or post-graduate coursework relating to historic environment conservation, thereby furthering those aspects of the Institute close to Gus’s heart:

the promotion of best practice;
raising of professional standards, and
assisting others in the early stages of their careers.

The Institute is especially keen to reach people very early in their career, such as undergraduates. Sean O’Reilly, the IHBC Director highlights that there is

'a growing awareness of how historic environment conservation, for all its challenges, is both a good career move and a practical way to address climate change. Conservation is about the future we want, not just the legacy we enjoy.’

It is hoped the “Astleys” will build on their early promise, annually enabling the outstanding work of students to be recognised and possibly published and also promoting this to a wider audience through assistance to students with attendance at and presentation to the Annual School.

Details of the criteria for the annual Gus Astley Student Awards can be accessed here.

Bob Kindred MBEChair of the Gus Astley Trustees