On Saturday 5th October 2013 at the Farnham Pottery, Lady Jan Verney was the guest of honour at a very special lunch party held at the Farnham Pottery. The occasion, hosted by the Farnham Building Preservation Trust, was part of the celebrations of the centenary of the birth of Sir John Verney, Bt, MC, TD, 1913-1993, distinguished soldier, writer, artist and conservationist, who lived in Farnham from 1944 to 1977. There were over 100 specially invited guests present, including a large group of the Verney family representing four generations, as well as many of the people who had known and worked with John Verney in Farnham.
John Verney’s work as an ardent conservationist had a very great influence in Farnham and had it not been for him, many buildings which are treasured today as part of the town’s exceptional architectural heritage might no longer exist. He was a man who devoted himself to the service of his fellow citizens, and he left Farnham with friends in every walk of life.
He was a chairman of the Farnham Society, and in 1968 he founded the Farnham Building Preservation Trust, which in its 45 years of existence has saved many important Farnham buildings large and small. In 1969 he led the campaign to save the Maltings from demolition, and from 1968 until 1974 he was an Independent member of what was then Farnham Urban District Council, until it was replaced by Waverley.
Martin Lloyd, chairman of the Farnham Trust, said that he was honoured and delighted to welcome Lady Verney to the lunch party, together with members of her family. He recalled some of the many restoration projects undertaken in Farnham by the trust since its foundation, including saving the Farnham Pottery from demolition, which had been the trust’s biggest project to date, and he described some of the important and influential work the trust continues to do today.
The next speaker was Laurence Kinney, a founder member of the Farnham Trust, who recalled Sir John’s sense of humour and his essential fairness even to those with whom he had not always seen eye to eye. Juliet Verney, one of Sir John’s daughters, spoke next, with a tribute to the way her mother had efficiently managed a large house and six children so that her husband was free to carry on with all his work, his painting, and his many interests.
Finally, architect Michael Blower, President of the Farnham Trust, spoke of some of the work he had done with John Verney. He had served as a member of a working party led by John Verney which had the task of identifying the many Farnham buildings of historical or architectural importance which had been missed when the Statutory List was introduced in 1947. Michael Blower recalled John Verney’s determination to save the Farnham Maltings, and his complaint that those who hesitated were “a hotbed of cold feet”. With typical farsightedness, he had been concerned as early as the 1970s about the preservation of the unique buildings at the Farnham Pottery, which were deteriorating, and Michael Blower described how eventually, in 1998, when the buildings were at imminent risk of demolition by developers, the Farnham Trust was able to step in, acquire them, and carry out a careful restoration.
The speeches were followed by two presentations by the Farnham Trust to the new owners of the Farnham Pottery, Guy and Elaine Hains. The first, presented by Dennis Pratt, treasurer of the Trust, was a watercolour painting of the pottery done by John Verney in 1946. The second, presented by past trustee Denise Todd, was a collection of items of the highly prized greenware produced by the pottery in the past. These had been purchased through the generosity of Langley Potters, a Buckinghamshire group who had for several years donated the proceeds of their annual sales.
Many parts of the Farnham Pottery buildings were opened to visitors for the occasion although building work was in progress. Thanks to the Farnham Trust and their successors Guy and Elaine Hains, the buildings are safely rescued and being used in ways which are appropriate to their unique character. It was therefore fitting and symbolic of his work that the centenary lunch honouring Sir John Verney was held at the pottery which he had loved and had been so anxious to save.