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Christopher Gibbs by Christopher Purvis

From service at Clifton Hampden 29 Sept.

Christopher Gibbs

29 July 1938 – 29 July 2018


There are two windows in the south aisle of Clifton Hampden church which Christopher Gibbs designed in memory of his mother.  They comprise pieces of ancient glass that he had gathered together over the years: fascinating faces of people, beautiful scenery, horses, cows.  The little scenes are separated from each other by plain glass.  There is something about Christopher in these windows: not only are they beautiful, as everything he designed was beautiful; but they are also in a sense a reflection of his life, with its many different compartments, distinct scenes of people and places. Only some of those compartments were covered in the obituaries in the national newspapers.


He loved the church at Clifton Hampden and all that it meant, the associations with family members over several generations.  He loved not only the physical building but also the familiar hymns and psalms, the Book of Common Prayer.  In the spring you can see the snowdrops and cyclamen which he planted under the great cedar brought as a seedling from Lebanon by his great great uncle near the graves of family and the memorials to his dear friends Mrs Wagland and Les Webb.  (He would telephone Martin Drew from Morocco to talk about the splitting and planting of snowdrops – he was missing them there.)  Over the wall is the Manor garden into which he threw enormous effort, enthusiasm as well as all his skill in garden design (as he was to again at El Foolk his beautiful house in Tangier looking over the straits of Gibraltar).  


Within only a few weeks of his leaving Little Place Cottage, into which he had moved after selling the Manor but where he found himself spending little time, he was saying that he could not imagine not having a base in Clifton Hampden.  He then embarked on his final building project, the restoration of Bridge End Cottage and the creation of its delightful hexagonal bedroom.  In a further demonstration of his commitment to the village a few years ago Christopher made a very generous gift of the wharf and the recreation ground to the specially created Clifton Hampden Village Charity.


He also cared deeply for Dorchester Abbey; as vice-president of the Friends of the Abbey he helped to raise the £4 million for the major work that was carried out 15 years ago and he strongly influenced what was done with the money.  He was responsible for securing the two largest gifts.  The transformation of the building that went pari passu with the fundraising is a wonderful reflection of his aesthetic. 


There were other great projects around buildings in which he played a key role. He adored Tyntesfield, the great house near Bristol built by William Gibbs in the middle of the nineteenth century; and he worked tirelessly to ensure that it was acquired by the National Trust.  In the last few years the acquisition of Wentworth Woodhouse, a great house in Yorkshire, was a project close to his heart. 


But it was not just places that were special to Christopher – it was also people. Indeed the places were often special because of the people.  He wrote beautifully (not bad for someone chucked out of Eton, as the memorial in the field below the Manor testifies) and he gave touching eulogies for many of his friends: about Eric Oliver working in the barn behind Ridges, his dear friend Candida Lycett Green and her love of the Vale of the White Horse and Valentine Fleming, husband of his beloved twin, tending the woods at Stonewall. 


There was never a weekend that he spent in Clifton Hampden when he did not come and see my mother when she was alive, even when she had Alzheimer’s.  In more recent years every telephone call from Tangier ended with him asking, “How is everything at CH?  And is so-and-so all right?” 


His care for his fellow human beings went far and wide.  As chairman of his friend Paul Getty’s charitable trust he oversaw the distribution of some £60 million in grants to charitable causes.  He had the keenest interest in those dealing with social causes, the homeless, those in prison, those with drug and alcohol problems. He paid particular interest to charities in Morocco; and Tangier always had a special place in his heart, the home of many dear friends.


At Christopher’s funeral in Tangier moving Islamic prayers were said by his Muslim friends and Christian refugees from sub-Saharan Africa sang with deep feeling around his graveside.


There are many pictures in the window of Christopher's life: Clifton Hampden,Tangier, family, friends, writing, gardens and interiors he designed, as well as all the things for which he was better known – as an antiques dealer, inveterate collector, bibliophile and one of the most knowledgeable connoisseurs and protectors of his generation of the artistic treasures of this country.  He will be missed by all whose lives he touched in each of the window panes.  


Christopher Purvis 

Owner of originalChristopher Purvis
Date29 Sep 2018
Linked toChristopher Henry Gibbs

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