Born: April 5, 1950;

Died: July 2, 2022.

“THE past is a foreign country. They do things differently there,” wrote L.P. Hartley at the beginning of his classic novel, The Go-Between. The past is, indeed, a foreign country.

But some individuals – such as Roger Guthrie, the archivist and architectural conservationist, who has died, from cancer, at the age of 72 – ensured that the past is a not a foreign country marooned by the mists of the accumulating years, and that it can be visited, understood, and enjoyed.

Guthrie was a leading member of the Glasgow conservation movement. A Robin Hood-like figure who energetically strove to protect the city’s architectural heritage from being erased and replaced by the concrete carbuncles that cropped up far too often in the 1970s.

His ultimate mission was to save venerable old buildings, though when he failed to do so he would not easily accept defeat. Not when a crowbar was at hand.

Armed with such an implement, he would pounce on a padlock, then traverse the hallowed ground where some architectural marvel of Glasgow’s past was gloomily awaiting the wrecker’s ball. He would only leave such a location when he had captured for posterity a plaster moulding or fragment of statuary.

Unsurprisingly, this newspaper would come to refer to him with some degree of regard as a “guerrilla conservationist” – though he was also adept at using official means to stave off the encroachment of the philistines who were keen to herald in a blank-slate future filled with blank-faced buildings.

One of his most notable achievements was helping to save listed buildings in the Merchant City. In 1981 he raised a series of objections to a plan by Marks & Spencer to demolish buildings on Virginia and Wilson Streets, adjoining its Argyle Street site.

The council approved the scheme and only a public inquiry by the Scottish Office led to the buildings being saved.

Such deeds as these led to Guthrie being celebrated as “the conscience of the city”.

A slightly less reverential turn of phrase was once used by friend and former Labour Hillhead councillor, Kenneth Burns, who said: “There’s not a skip in Glasgow that Roger doesn’t know about.” Indeed, he accumulated a fine collection of bricks and mortar bric-a-brac which he kept in a massive storage warehouse near the Clyde.

Its historical importance was emphasised when an Alexander “Greek” Thomson exhibition was held in Glasgow some years ago, and much of the material on display came from Guthrie’s private collection.

Roger Guthrie was born in Glasgow in 1950. His father was an engineering inspector, who, in later years helped his son with his covert salvage operations.

His mother, Helen (née Patton), was the secretary to an ironfounder who lived in a Mackintosh house in Kilmacolm.

Roger and his younger sister, Fiona, grew up in Hyndland, in Glasgow’s west end. For a period he worked as a clippie on the buses, though he was eventually accepted as a student at the Glasgow School of Art. During this period he was also apprenticed to a firm of architects.

After three years he left without a degree having (rather ironically for what was to follow) failed his history of architecture exam.

In 1977 he was employed by Lanarkshire Health Board’s estates department, concluding his career there 20 years later as an estates officer.

But his real passion was for Glasgow history, in its most three-dimensional form. This unstinting dedication was rewarded with a job in the Glasgow City Archives at the Mitchell Library, where his expertise made him an invaluable member of staff.

Those who regularly visited the archives grew to rely on the hirsute chap with the encyclopaedic knowledge of his home town’s architectural heritage.

Guthrie was also one of the founding members of the Alexander Thomson Society in 1991. He continued to be an active member until the start of the pandemic.

His walking tours of the city garnered him more fame amongst the architectural fraternity. These included trips to Thomson’s Sixty Steps in the West End, plus more exotic expeditions to Cove and Kilcreggan where the architect had built villas.

There were also walking tours he led for the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis, of which he was a trustee and board member.

A testament to his deep and practical knowledge of Glasgow architecture is the gate which he designed for the Necropolis, which was based on some ironwork that he had salvaged. He took a keen pleasure in combining both his imagination and historical expertise to forge something new, yet also deeply traditional.

Because of his passion for old buildings, many people in Glasgow were surprised that he could also find time for romance. One friend even joked: “When he lived with his mother, he didn’t bring home girls – just huge lumps of stonework.”

In 1992 he married Rachel (née Pateman), a piano teacher and organist. They met on a Saturday afternoon when she was delivering books about Glasgow’s history that she had co-written to the New Glasgow Society shop where Guthrie was helping out. They married in Oxford in 1992, though they later amicably separated.

Another interest was real ale, and Guthrie was an active member of Camra, travelling near and far for a tipple, visiting beer festivals across the UK. A favourite was the festival in Liverpool, as it took place in a cathedral crypt.

He is survived by daughters, Eilidh, who works for a learning disabilities charity, and Alice, who works in marketing. Both have their late father’s enthusiasm for the gems of Glasgow’s architectural heritage.