Sir John Smith, CH 1923 – 2007

Sir John Smith, founder of the Landmark Trust has had such wonderful and comprehensive obituaries in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian and best of all in The Independent, that I shall not repeat what they have done so well. Instead I shall relate one or two more or less relevant memories.

One day John Smith looked out of his bedroom window at Shottesbrooke Park where he lived and saw a man walking his dog in the field below. This was not allowed so he rushed down to reprimand the trespasser, but the man so charmed him that soon they were swapping stories about World War II in which they had both been airmen and trespassing was forgotten. If he can charm me under these circumstances he can charm anyone John thought, and on the spot offered him a job as administrator in the Landmark Trust, a job he (Bill Williams) kept for many years.

Part of John Smith’s talent was to have a brilliant idea and then to act upon it. When he was on the Buildings Committee of the National Trust he noticed that many good small buildings that were too small to open to the public or had no endowment, were left to moulder. At the same time the National Trust discussed a plan for increasing its income by taking on the tail ends of expensive leases and re-letting them at a profit. The National Trust turned the idea down. John Smith took it on for the Landmark Trust and being a charity and untaxed, money came rolling in for him to spend on buildings in need.

He had a seeing eye. To be shown round a building by him was an educational experience of a high order if sometimes a humiliating one when he listed a dozen faults, and as many successes that had gone un-noticed.

An unlikely episode was in 1965 he became MP for the Cities of London and Westminster. Parliament was having one of its periodical heart-searchings about the House of Lords. There were some good debates but if you were in the gallery and saw the chamber fill up you would know that John Smith was about to speak. His ideas were more original and more succinctly put than those of any other MP. But politics were not for him. He was overwhelmed by the correspondence his constituents demanded of him and he retired after five years.

By the time the Lutyens Trust approached the Landmark Trust for Goddards John Smith had retired from being chairman, but he left the Landmark with an unparalleled reputation for good and sensitive restorations carried out with good effect at Goddards.