Obituary: John Wakely

Robert John Angel Wakely
(OC 1938-1944)

Born 10 June 1927, died 17 December 2020

RJA (John) Wakely was born in London in 1927, when his father Rev R Angel Wakely was Minister at Brondesbury Park Congregational Church in north west London.  After his father’s move to North Finchley in 1935, he attended local schools before boarding at Caterham from 1938 to 1944.  Meanwhile the family moved to Nottingham when his father became Minister of Castlegate Church in the city.  John’s best subjects at school were physics and drawing and, after some discussion with the headmaster Dr Hall, it was decided that he would leave school after matriculation at 17 to take up training as an architect.  He volunteered for National Service and was allowed to complete his first year at Nottingham School of Architecture before being called up soon after VE Day in 1945.  He trained as an engineer and draughtsman in the Royal Engineers before embarking for Germany where his work included repurposing army barracks into married quarters.

On leave from the army he attended the church youth club where he met his future wife Sheila; they made lifelong friendships there, with many reunions over the years.  After being demobbed John resumed his architectural studies.  Gaining his architecture diploma in 1952 he began work with Derbyshire County Council on the new schools being built for the postwar baby boom generation.  John and Sheila were married at Castlegate in September 1952.  In 1955 he moved to Hertfordshire County Architects’ Department and a house in Ware, where they stayed for the next 60 years, becoming heavily involved in the life of Ware Congregational Church which became Leaside URC/Methodist Church.

John went on to design several schools in Hertfordshire, the library block at Hatfield Polytechnic, Ashwood Care Home in Ware and, the highlight of his career, the College of Further Education in St Albans, which won an RIBA Bronze Medal for Design Merit in 1960.  When plans were approved in 2003 to build a block of flats on the site, John and his colleagues campaigned for the original integrity of the college blocks to be preserved, eventually securing Grade II listing by Historic England. Now converted to flats, the college site retains his skilful grouping around courts and the use of light and space which were praised in Pevsner’s Buildings of England.

His former colleague John Buxton reflected: “John was liked by all of us in the office for his gentleness, also admired for his architectural skills.  It was always a pleasure to assist him on his projects and seek his advice.”

John’s beloved wife Sheila was diagnosed with lung cancer and she died less than two weeks before him in December 2020.  He was indeed a man of great integrity, faith and concern for others, seemingly perfectly content in whatever he was doing.  Friends have spoken of his infectious laugh, a twinkle in his eye, his deep faith, his genuine caring and concern for people, his good sense and the huge contribution he made to the church community.

Written by his son and daughter, Robert Wakely and Susan Reynard