RW Sampson’s lasting legacy is set in stone

Rev Robin Laird at the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of R W Sampson's birthday. Ref shs 09-

Rev Robin Laird at the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of R W Sampson's birthday. Ref shs 09-16TI 2370. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

The legacy of a famous Sidmouth architect has been enshrined in stone to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth.

RW Sampson is considered responsible for shaping the architectural landscape of the town over the course of 40 years, including the building of the Victoria Hotel and houses across the valley.

A memorial in his name was unveiled by the Sampson Society on Monday outside what is now the Manor Pavilion Arts Centre. Sampson worked in the building for many years.

The project has taken the society four years to complete and has been praised by living relatives of the architect.

Dr Robert Gilchrist, one of Sampson’s three grandsons, and his wife, Elisabeth, travelled from Banbury, Oxfordshire, for the ceremony, which was held on what would have been the architect’s 150th birthday.

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Dr Gilchrist, 83, said: “It is extraordinary. I knew him when he was quite old, but we have seen his work. The houses were absolutely beautiful and the Victoria Hotel is his magnum opus.”

The Sampson Society’s initial plan was to pay homage to the architect with a life-size bronze statue.

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Derek Parry, chairman of the Sampson Society, thanked the Sid Vale Association’s (SVA) Keith Owen Fund for assisting with the project’s funding.

He said: “It means we have the memorial without significant damage to the society’s own funds.”

The memorial is made of Devon limestone, which was transported from Stoneycombe Quarry and crafted by Crediton stonemason Simon Stevens.

Project manager Michael Gordon-Lee called the stone a piece of ‘urban serendipity’ after a long search to find the perfect shape.

The former landscape architect said: “We didn’t want a memorial that looked like a gravestone. His buildings seem to fit into the valley and to the sites that he built. Whatever memorial we had, we wanted to carry that sentiment through. It is a memorial in respect of all the work he did.”

The ceremony was attended by guests from the SVA, Sidmouth Town Council and the Royal Institute for British Architects (RIBA).

Jonathan Ball, council member for RIBA, said: “The future has one place to come from - and that is the past. The significance of days like today are that, for one moment, you feel like you’re looking backward at the past and looking forward to the future simultaneously. Sampson created this sense of place and created this charm.”

The Reverend Robin Laird led the proceedings, before the ribbon was cut by Sylvia Brownlee, author of Sampson’s Sidmouth.

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