Obituary: Martin Lance Wakelin CMLI 1948-2012

Obituary: Martin Lance Wakelin CMLI 1948-2012

Martin Wakelin died on 19 August after a long and dignified battle with multiple sclerosis, write Jo Watkins and Tim Gale.

He devoted his career to the landscapes and people of Essex and many members of the profession will have known him through his work as landscape strategist at Essex County Council. He embodied all the good qualities of a Landscape Architect working in local government – a deep knowledge and appreciation of the place and a clear understanding of how to get things done.

Martin was born in Cardiff in 1948, the eldest son of two architects.  He studied landscape architecture at Leeds Polytechnic in the first full intake of that course under Peter Forest, Bill Cairns and Peter Smith. 

When Martin qualified, he landed his first job at Basildon Development Corporation where he had a pivotal role in planning and implementing a landscape infrastructure for the New Town. Mature plane trees throughout Basildon were his, including the mile-long avenue planted for the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday. 

When the Development Corporation was wound up in the mid 1980s Martin joined Essex County Council as a landscape planner. He worked across the county in development control and the execution of public projects, including an early task with John Hunter to reinvent the beautiful medieval garden at Cressing Temple. However his greatest passion was advocating open space for biodiversity and recreation. Outcomes included projects in the Pitsea marshes, Davy Down, and Wat Tyler Country Park. After he retired Martin seized the opportunity to get involved with numerous community groups and served on several landscape trusts. He was elected to his local village council at Great Burstead in 2008.

Martin made a mark on people’s lives – designer, planner, organiser, friend, advisor, doer.  His skills and qualities were a multitude. He was vigorous, courageous and committed to innovation.

A manifestation of his courage was how uninhibited he was by rank, protocol, or the risk that his life-long stammer would steal the words from his mouth. If there was something that needed to be said, he would stand up and say it, however long it took, however big the audience, whomsoever the personage. (As one colleague has written, ‘He was not a county council type of man at all.’) He felt compelled to find improved solutions and engage with new subjects – he was a nonconformist, seeking his own truth, not an establishment thinker. In his work, he often broke open a fresh angle and urged colleagues and partners to come and meet him there.  He was energised by new approaches – to design, to community engagement, to green policies, and especially to the positives that could be generated from the genius loci of the abandoned places and despoiled dumps of the unromantic northern banks of the Thames estuary – focusing his attention just where many others turned away.

In all parts of his life, Martin relished challenging and provoking with new ideas or contrary opinions – he knew what the grit in an oyster could bring forth. When he was proved right there would be a raised-eyebrow smile to say, ‘You see!’ Yet a deep-woven strand of honorable modesty made him keep his role from sight.   

He was a great supporter of the landscape profession, using his influence to raise the profile of landscape within Essex , and to get people to understand that this was important.  He commissioned landscape practices to work alongside him and it is testament to his work and character that more than 200 friends and former colleagues attended his funeral.  Afterwards everyone gathered for tea at one of his own creations, Wat Tyler Country Park in Basildon.

Martin leaves his wife – Christine Townley, executive director of the Construction Youth Trust – and daughter Megan.

With thanks to Martin’s brother, Peter Wakelin.




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