Obituary Arthur Richard Blackford Pearce

This article, by Andrea Foster, was originally published in The North Devon Journal on Thurs 15th July 2010.

Campaigner to save the Tannery

A SOUTH Molton businessman who dedicated his life to preserving a local historic building, has died.

Arthur PearceArthur Richard Blackford Pearce, known as Dick, passed away peacefully at Eastleigh Care Home on Saturday, July 10, aged 81. He lived and worked in the town’s Tannery building for almost 75 years. Dick is survived by his wife of 48 years, Sue, and by son, Tom, and daughter, Catherine.

Sue described Dick’s passion for the Tannery as a “worthwhile life of endeavour.” She recounted how pivotal he was in protecting the Tannery buildings and the long family history that lay behind its transformation from busy tannery to the hive for local businesses it is today.

Dick’s grandfather Charles Pearce bought the Tannery in 1881 with his brother, Thomas. Dick’s father, Arthur, was a tea planter in Ceylon — now Sri Lanka — and it was there that Dick was born on April 12 1929. His family, including sister Phyllis, returned to the Tannery in North Devon in the 1930s when Dick was only seven years old. Phyllis went on to establish the well-known Phyllis Kitching School of Dancing while Dick dedicated the rest of his life to the Tannery.

In the early days it was a profitable business with real demand for leather but it suffered a steady decline over the years. As a result, in the 1960s, Dick took the decision to diversify and created a business selling beach products, including beach footwear, wet suits and surfboards.

Then, in the late 1980s, Dick and his wife Sue, began the process of transforming the Tannery into a busy, light industrial site for local businesses which it still is today.

Dick continued with his surfboard business for nearly 40 years. It is the last known manufacturer of the classic wooden surfboard that has seen a revival recently with the annual World Bellyboarding Championship in St Agnes, Cornwall. The competition is run in conjunction with the National Trust and the Lifeguard Association. Dick provided the prizes for the competitors, many of whom use surfboards that were made at the Tannery.

Dick continued making surfboards until he was 80 despite having had cancer for 10 years. It was only in the past year that he finally had to stop due to his illness.

Daughter Catherine remembers her father not just for his surfing legacy and hard work but for his other exploits over the years. She said: “He was such a colourful character and a real Devonian at heart. “I remember when he used to breed pigs which would regularly escape and we’d have to herd them up with corrugated iron sheets, or the times when it was snowing and cars would get stuck on the hill at the entrance to the Tannery and he and my brother Tom would go out time and again to help push them up.”

Dick’s wife added: “He loved a challenge, like the cutting and laying of a straight hedge. “He loved the countryside and family and local history and he wanted to save the Tannery — that was his life’s work. He was such a generous man. He would always turn himself inside out to help others. I had 48 years of fun and laughter with him and we often said to each other we could write a book about it all but nobody would believe it. Dick didn’t want world travel or anything like that. All he had and all he wanted was right here and he was a contented man. In the end there aren’t too many of them around, are there?”

The funeral service will take place tomorrow [16th July] at 11.30am at the North Devon Crematorium in Barnstaple.