JOHN SIMPSON: Obituary & Memorial Lecture


JOHN SIMPSON    1929-2013

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of John Simpson, former colleague and great friend to the Cheltenham Landscape Architecture course.


Born into a family of Yorkshire-Scots and Fenmen who had worked the land for generations, John had his forebears’ physical strength, stamina and singlemindedness. He also had a deep understanding of the land. He knew, as few of us do, the underlying structure of the physical world around us. He could read a landscape and be able to explain its formation and topography. It was no surprise therefore that he originally trained and qualified as a civil engineer and it was natural for him to be drawn to the hydrological side of the profession, spending a substantial time working on flood prevention and general restoration of the Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

In 1965 he was appointed to the Faculty of Environmental Studies of the Gloucestershire College of Art which was then located in the Pittville Pump Room and he brought his wide-ranging expertise in hydrology, construction and surveying skills to the students of Landscape Architecture as well as aspects of planning law. John eventually took on the role of running the Landscape course, effectively as Head of School, ensuring the four-year full-time course maintained its cohesion and necessary exemption from the intermediate examination of the Institute of Landscape Architects. At that time the President of this Institute was Bodfan Gruffydd who had in 1961 set up the course in Cheltenham, the first of its kind in Britain.

During the 1970s the course continued to expand and gained full Landscape Institute recognition. John was then a key member within a team of tutors and he maintained his subject currency through his regular consultancy work often with Bodfan Gruffydd’s practice office and mostly related to land surveying, reservoir design, drainage and planning enquiries. The course finally achieved CNAA honours degree status in 1980 which heralded a decade of curricular consolidation and international exchanges. Links with universities in Canada, Hungary and USA were established and John helped forge a special relationship in 1984 with Professor Michael Hodges of the University of Michigan Landscape Faculty, who for three years accompanied students for a term in our institution as well as accepting our staff and students in return visits.

John Simpson retired in 1989 – the year that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate awarded an ‘excellent rating’ on the Landscape course: a fitting conclusion to John’s contribution through the years but arguably, most of all, John will be remembered for the important work of admissions tutor to the course. Over a quarter of a century he was individually responsible for the processing of hundreds of applications and interviews of prospective students. In no small measure was the course in debt to John for this essential but barely acknowledged non-computerised administrative task, and many students no doubt, if asked, would declare that their choice for Landscape Architecture in Cheltenham was influenced by John’s warm and personal welcome.

John was a long-serving member of the Institute of Civil Engineers (56 years) and in retirement he continued to be actively interested in the projects on which he had worked, visiting old sites regularly, including Robinson’s Bin Brook, Cambridge, to check that water levels were not becoming dangerously high. There was always a quiet sense of satisfaction about him whenever the Great Ouse Flood Protection scheme proved resilient and much tutting as the rest of England disappeared, he thought entirely unnecessarily, under metres of flood water. As recently as 2011 and well into his 80s John volunteered his help to determine the flooding consequences of a  proposed gravel extraction in the Cotswolds and was seen hiking around the site with a dumpy level measuring heights and taking water-table readings down bore-holes.

In November 2012 a special recognition award was conferred on John for his unique contribution to the Landscape Architecture course, both in his working career described above and also in his continued support most visibly through his recent establishment of the University of Gloucestershire annual Bodfan Gruffydd prizes for outstanding student designs. He will be sadly missed.

Memorial Lecture

A fund is being set up by his daughter, Catherine, to honour John by means of an annual lecture focusing on civil engineering and its relationship to landscape design and planning. If you would like to make a donation to this fund, please send a cheque (payable to the University of Gloucestershire – John Simpson Fund) to the Cashier at the University of Gloucestershire, Clegg Building, Swindon Road, Cheltenham GL50 4AZ or donate by card to the university online here.

Bob Moore(


About gloscape

Landscape Architecture @ University of Gloucestershire

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