Michael Gray

VISITORS to Marlborough often remark what a pretty and historic town centre it is implying that the town was always thus.

In reality it could have looked very different if the 1960s and 1970s planners, developers and local Government officials had had their way.

There may have been no arch at Hillier’s Yard or the frontage of Waitrose would have looked very different and certainly no Merchant’s House.

That is all in part to the tireless work of Michael Gray (1942-2018), who sadly passed away last month after a short illness. It was his efforts that helped to prevent the town from being trashed in the name of progress.

Michael was Marlborough through and through with family roots reaching back into the town’s past. with the Duck family.

At school he courted his future wife Jenny and eventual mother to their three sons.

His parents ran a toyshop in the town but rather than follow into the trade Michael left Marlborough Grammar School to work as a clerk in a Bristol law firm.

In Bristol he found the law not to his liking with history and heritage being his first love.

And so he entered the antiques trade and it was then he became one of the guardians of the town’s architectural past.

A man ahead of his time, a campaigner and a man with an infectious enthusiasm for conservation of the town’s heritage.

His friend John Sykes said: “I knew Michael for a long time as we were involved with the civic society.

“It was in 1990 when four us to looked at the lovely old house owned by WH Smith and wondered what we could do with it as we didn’t have half a million to buy it.

“Michael managed to persuade the town council who had just sold some development land for £2m to invest in the Merchant’s House.

“I’m glad to say they have never regretted the decision and the project (thanks to Michael in many ways) is thriving.

“It is a very well known place for visitors of regional and national importance and Michael did an enormous amount to search out the right sort of artifacts to go in the house when we had the money.”

John said that Michael insisted on making the contents of the Merchant’s House as genuine as possible with very few reproductions.

“It really paid off as visitors really appreciate the interior of the house,” said John, “he really was an integral part of the whole project and as a result he is a great loss.”

Michael’s knowledge of antiques, history and the town’s past meant that the museum and house were to benefit.

“He was a great campaigner,” continued John, “he felt there was so much good architecture that it shouldn’t be pulled down. In the 1960s there was a problem with heritage being lost.

“The civic society was very strong in the 1970s and he was an important part of that movement to conserve the heritage of Marlborough and as a result the town you see today is in part due to his work.”