Rory Young  1954 – 2023

The churches of Gloucestershire have lost a great champion in Rory Young, who died on 23rd February at the age of 68.

This is not the place for anything like a full account of his many talents, and of his deep understanding of building materials, form and ornament.

Rory Young 1954-2023

Many churches and churchyards contain examples of his work, or have benefited from his guidance, always given with a passionate desire to do the right thing in the best way. Just two local examples of his work might be quoted here.

To mark the Millennium, the congregation at St Cyr’s, Stinchcombe decided to commission a sculpture of their patron saint, to occupy an empty niche on the tower.  St Cyr was a Roman boy martyr – how should he be depicted in stone?

Rory’s approach, always, was to honour the building.  For him a new work of art must never draw attention to itself, must never say ‘look at me, I’m the new thing’.  As a recent obituary in the Daily Telegraph has said, he “avoided the traps of either pastiche or discordant modernism”.

Using his godson as a model, he created a work which is timeless, effortlessly fitting into the ensemble.  I photographed it from the fixing scaffold (a once-only opportunity, this!) and noted the slightly odd angle of the feet.  “That’s so they will look right at the ground”, Rory explained.   He had thought of everything, and agonised over details, until the composition was the very best he could create: anatomy, drapery, the position of the head, everything.

The Stinchcombe figure newly fixed, 2002

The Stinchcombe figure newly fixed, 2002

The recreated weasel at Cirencester
The recreated weasel at Cirencester

Look, too, at this weasel, carved for the south porch at Cirencester, his home church. Little might one guess the controversy this caused, with the conservation lobby arguing that the utterly deformed and eroded mediaeval stone should be left in situ.  Rory was himself a conservator to his fingertips, only discarding ancient material in the most exceptional circumstances. In the end the new carving won the day. With the aid of the most detailed building archaeology, he was able to recreate this lost design. From the tiny vestiges left, it could only have been a weasel like this. The scholarship and the creative genius, and finally his willingness to delegate the actual carving to a trusted fellow stonemason …  all so characteristic of Rory.

Rory was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer early in 2022. He lived his last year to the full and with a passion and energy that his countless friends will never forget. He leaves a huge legacy of learning , including film and voice recordings, and the most detailed records of his work, now in the Gloucestershire Archives.

His was a massive contribution to the conservation and adornment of our wonderful church buildings.   We salute his memory.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.