Roy Spence obituary

Other lives: Miner’s son, student activist and civil servant, with an interest in politics and culture

My father, Roy Spence, who has died aged 93, made a remarkable journey from miner’s son to senior civil servant.

Most of his distinguished career was spent with the Ministry of Transport: his proudest achievement was a series of urban transportation studies, whose products included the Newcastle Metro rail network and the Liverpool loop tunnel constructed beneath the city centre in the 1970s.

Roy was born in Ferryhill, County Durham, the only child of Lennie (nee Beckett) and Ernie Spence. His father was a horsekeeper, whose job of looking after the pit ponies was low in the pecking order of the coalmining industry. This made it all the more impressive that Roy passed the 11 plus – something he regarded as the first of several occasions when luck was on his side.

In 1942 he won a county scholarship to attend university. He was accepted to read mathematics at University College London, which had been evacuated to Bangor, North Wales. UCL moved back to London at the end of the war and Roy was awarded a first in 1945.

He fell in love with London, entering employment with Scientific Computing Service Ltd and in 1948 starting a PhD. He never completed this, instead becoming a founder member of the UCL Labour Society and joining the executive of the National Union of Students. This was an exciting time for the NUS and for Roy, with international conferences and a delegation to the Soviet Union. Throughout he avoided formal office, saying his role was to “represent the common man”.

Recognising the need to get a “proper job”, he joined the civil service in 1951 as a senior scientific officer in the Air Ministry, rising to the grade of deputy chief scientific officer by the time of his retirement in 1983.

He met Celia Price in 1954 and they married within a year, moving in 1957 to a new architect-designed Span development in Blackheath, south-east London, where they lived very happily for the rest of their lives. These were two more of what Roy considered his lucky breaks.

After retirement, Roy and Celia embarked on more than 20 years of travel throughout southern Europe and the Middle East, acquiring a detailed understanding (and extensive library) of architecture and history. After Celia’s death in 2013, Roy made regular trips to the British Museum for exhibitions and lectures.

He was fascinated by politics and current affairs. He used to recount how in 1945 he watched the results of the Labour election landslide with glee, while in 2015 he renewed his party membership the day after the leadership election.

He is survived by me, my sister, Janet, and four grandchildren.

Alan Spence

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Robin Spence obituary
Other lives: Talented architect who was greatly influenced by Mies van der Rohe

Robin Webster

18, Feb, 2018 @4:55 PM

Article image
Michael West obituary
Other lives: Architect and planner who co-ordinated the policies of London boroughs and worked in private practice

Chris Francis

05, Dec, 2019 @12:17 PM

Article image
Tricia Blakstad obituary
Other lives: Architecturally trained TV set designer whose experience of Alzheimer’s was featured on the Today programme

Matthew Blakstad

01, Nov, 2022 @6:35 PM

Article image
Jack Clafferty obituary
Other lives: Draughtsman who produced memorable images for the Troops Out Movement during the Troubles

Aisling Clafferty

06, Jan, 2022 @5:29 PM

Article image
Anthony Collier obituary
Other lives: Architect, teacher, entrepreneur and champion of the importance of art and design to communites

Rod Bugg

30, Jan, 2020 @6:27 PM

Article image
John Taylor obituary
Architect who developed a groundbreaking design for low-cost social housing in Sheffield

Johnny Blomfield

10, May, 2018 @11:51 AM

Article image
Leslie Fairweather obituary
Other lives: Managing director of the Architectural Press who was an expert on the design of prisons

Peter Carolin

18, Feb, 2018 @5:27 PM

Article image
Stephen Marks obituary
Other lives: Planning officer who oversaw the creation of conservation areas and increased the number of listed buildings in Westminster

Kate Macintosh

21, Jun, 2020 @11:39 AM

Article image
Alan Davidson obituary
Other lives: Architectural illustrator who pioneered the use of computers

Martha Wailes

12, Oct, 2018 @2:55 PM

Article image
Roger Kelly obituary
Other lives: Architect who gave priority to the environment

Tom Kelly

09, Aug, 2019 @3:35 PM