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John Robinson 1942 - 2018

John Robinson 1942 - 2018

There can be few projects or people in European and British maritime and industrial heritage preservation who have not benefited in some way from the life and work of John Robinson who was greatly loved across the entire maritime and industrial heritage community. The Maritime Heritage Trust has been hugely fortunate to have had his advice and hard work since the formation of Heritage Afloat in 1993.

John had a unique blend of lifelong intellectual and cultural curiosity, great practical skills as a sailor and Royal Naval Reserve officer, and a professionalism developed in the tough climate of competitive museum disciplines and funding. This was combined with  a real passion for keeping old ships and boats sailing, maintaining the skills needed to sustain them and the ability to present to new generations the cultural history of their creation. These gifts made him a natural to be one of the builders of the European Maritime Heritage network and his help and warm, encouraging input to groups in countries still discovering their past has been crucial. More recently with his wife, Lilia, who comes from a distinguished Italian naval family, he was a regular participant in Italian maritime historical events.  Wherever he got involved, John's readiness to help, friendliness, tact and well judged, but frank advice were warmly appreciated. 

In the UK, John was one of the heroes of the dark period of the 1970s and 80s when there was virtually no support or public funding for industrial or maritime heritage. He helped to develop Liverpool Maritime Museum which has shown how heritage can be a winner in urban regeneration. For 20 years from 1973 he managed the Science Museum Prism Fund which (pre HLF) was virtually the only source of support for individual, voluntary projects saving last survivors of Industrial Revolution technology at a time when nationalised industries were, as John put it, “tossing Brunel drawings into a skip”. John managed not only funding but gave advice and built relationships across the UK with our voluntary preservation movement – a great national achievement which others learn from. He also played a critical role in helping the new National Historic Ships become established and authoritative.

John's thirst and enthusiasm for keeping ships and boats moving will inspire into the future. He continued to advise projects in the Adriatic, Russia and the Nordic countries; he never stopped sailing and could often be seen in recent years crossing London with heavy baggage  en route to join a foreign sailing vessel on a long distance voyage. He truly upheld all the best features of the international life of the sea. We will miss him greatly and our sympathies go to Lilia and his family.