Obituary Ronald Leask, friba aa

Blundell’s owes much to the architect Ronald Leask (Petergate 1940-44), who died on 12th February 2010. At Blundell’s Ronald shone in many fields: hooker in the very successful rugger team of 1943; outstanding in the sculpture workshop under Willi Soukop and a star pupil in the Architectural Sixth of Professor JS Campbell.

Whilst at Blundell’s Ronald carved one of the figures which decorated the pulpit designed by Professor Campbell for the chancel of the chapel. He also carved the stone relief of rugger players, which is still on a wall overlooking Big Field. Regrettably, the first suffered in the iconoclastic period of the school’s history and became a garden ornament. A large nude statue by Ronald, destined for the school swimming pool, simply disappeared in that period.

Professor Campbell remained a major influence. On demobilisation from the Royal Marine commandos, in which Ronald has served as an instructor at the Cliff Assault and Small Boats training unit at St Ives, he worked for Professor Campbell for a year before entering the Architectural Association to complete his training. Many years later, Ronald was instrumental in arranging a major exhibition of Campbell’s work in London and Bristol, which clearly established Campbell as one of the leading architects in the Arts and Crafts movement.

Ronald Leask’s greatest work for Blundell’s was to design and supervise the construction of the new Big School, dining-hall and kitchens, which were opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1967. These buildings, between Petergate and North Close, are remarkable in that they are unmistakably modern whilst avoiding the drabness and severity of much of the architecture of the period. A fine sense of proportion and use of materials enable the buildings to fit happily into their major site and to harmonise with the surrounding buildings.

An architectural consultant, Raglan Squire (OB) has tended to get the credit for all this. He was in fact asked to design the buildings; but, too busy to accept the work, he recommended the firm of Nealon, Tanner and partners, in which Ronald Leask was a partner. It was not an easy project; there were differences of opinion about the design of Big School. But the result was a range of buildings of architectural distinction of which the school could be proud.

Some 25 years later in his retirement Ronald gave his services free of charge to help in reassembling and restoring the Gorton Altar in the chapel and redesigning the chancel. It was a complicated task in which many helped. Ronald added to his the task of restoring the stone carvings which had embellished Professor Campbell’s pulpit, and mounted them on pedestals outside the chapel overlooking Big School.

Ronald Leask’s connections with Blundell’s over a period of some 50 years were remarkable. He deserves to be remembered by the school with Gratitude.