We were very sad to learn of the passing of John Graham on Sunday 11th July 2021.
Our tribute is written by Moira Jones.
John was born and grew up in Manchester.
He was Vice chair of Harlow Civic Society for several years, Sir Frederick Gibberd’s partner, and a significant figure in the history of Harlow. John worked with Gibberd in the Harlow office for 27 years.
In 1955 John was a member of Harlow Art Trust, which had been set up when Henry Moore’s Family Group was commissioned for Harlow, and in 1965 John and David Roberts became Sir Fred’s partners. John was moved to the Town Centre section and worked on the Market Square, which included the memorial clock on the blue and white striped background. He also planned the Rows.
His next work included the Sports Centre and the Town Hall with its outlook pavilion (both sadly demolished), but his Willow Beauty is still functioning. Then his work took him to Old Harlow, with many restorations and a few new buildings, but never demolition. This took over 12 years, when finally the traffic was banned from the High Street and his paving installed. This work received a Civic Trust Award in 1971 and in 1975 one of only 20 European Architecture Heritage Awards. He converted the late 19th Century Maltings and schoolhouse into a campus for the University of Newfoundland, which received a Civic Trust commendation. Then he worked in Bush Fair with Alistair McCowan.
In 1965 Gibberd became a Royal Academician and began a collection of watercolours and drawings by living British artists(some were donated). They are now on the walls of the Gibberd Gallery in the Civic Centre, which John helped to create.
The Harvey Centre took seven years in the building and was approved in 1974 and first opened in 1978. The opening was completed in 1981. This was the culmination of Frederick Gibberd’s Master Plan.
Next came the Longmans building at Harlow Town station which John and Sir Fred designed and which FG considered to be the best building in Harlow. It was planned to be the gateway to the Town from the station, but was later also demolished.
John retired from the Practice in 1980 after the dissolution of Harlow Development Corporation. He then opened an Art Gallery in the Town Centre, in FG’s old office, which featured St Ives painters, thus setting up John Graham Fine Arts. The Gallery closed in 1985 and some of the collection is now in his house, looking onto Harlow Common, which he rebuilt and lived in from 1960.
John was sad that his favourite buildings had disappeared, together with the long upper pool of the Water Gardens and the major town space in the Civic Square, which was, among other things designed to be an exhibition space, but he managed to negotiate the Gibberd Gallery as a replacement. This was opened in 2004.
In his last years John took an interest in Harlow’s redevelopment, particularly making suggestions for the Market Square, and hoping for a revival of his Winter Gardens plan. He found it depressing to tour Harlow after many of its best buildings were gone. He was a fine artist, and promoted jazz concerts at the Arc and exhibitions in the Gibberd Gallery.
He was married to Brit, a Swedish singer, for 54 years. She predeceased him. The Swedes have a saying for the recently deceased, that they ‘have gone out of time’. John has now ‘gone out of time’.
His book ‘Annia Regilla, her Cenotaph’ was published in 2016.