Death of master carpenter has 'left a hole at the heart' of Weald and Downland Living Museum

"Roger was a champion. A champion in more than one way. Quite simply Roger built the museum."

Friday, 21st May 2021, 2:55 pm
Updated Friday, 21st May 2021, 2:56 pm
After a three-year trip by bike to India, Roger famously saw a flier about the embryonic museum project in a layby whilst visiting family in 1968.
After a three-year trip by bike to India, Roger famously saw a flier about the embryonic museum project in a layby whilst visiting family in 1968.

Tributes have been paid to Roger Champion the former master carpenter at the Weald and Downland Living Museum, who has died aged 82.

Roger, who was in the role for more than 35 years, died peacefully at St Richard’s Hospital on Tuesday (May 18).

"It is with great sadness that we share the news with our community of the passing of Roger Champion," a spokesperson for the museum said.

If you would like to share your condolences or memories of Roger, please email them to [email protected] who will share them with Roger’s family and friends

"A hole has been left at the heart of the Weald & Downland Living Museum.

"As you look around you can see Roger’s work across the whole of the museum, from the vast majority of the timber frames on the site to the 247 beautiful items of furniture seen in almost every building that he also made. It has been the work of a lifetime.

"Roger trained as an instrument and tool-maker. After a three-year trip by bike to India, he famously saw a flier about the embryonic museum project in a layby whilst visiting family in 1968."

The museum said Roger, characteristically, considered the museum project to be ‘a daft idea’ but nevertheless wrote to museum founder Roy Armstrong to see how he could get involved.

"He was offered a job at the museum, with the understanding that they couldn’t pay him! Roger was master carpenter at the museum from 1968 until his retirement in 2003.

"Actually he probably retired three times, and then he returned as a volunteer. One of his earliest projects was the dismantling of Pendean farmhouse, near Midhurst, and not long afterwards he was asked to undertake the repair and restoration work on the timber frame of Bayleaf farmhouse, the iconic Wealden hall house at the centre of the museum."

With a 'delightful and distinctive' personality, Roger was remembered as 'unpretentious'.

"But he had a unique way of putting things which could be mischievous and often humorous: he was an incredibly talented craftsman and master carpenter.

"He has often said that a disadvantage of working on the same site for so long is that you are surrounded by your mistakes, or at least things you would do differently later on.

"He was generally not one for giving formal talks, or any self-promotion, yet generously shared his knowledge and understanding of timber-framed buildings widely.

"His late wife, Heather, also worked at the museum for many years and alongside Roger in a variety of roles prior to her untimely death."

Roger’s 'superb craftsmanship' has been widely recognised outside the museum, with the 2012 Sussex Heritage Person of the Year (Sussex Heritage Trust) being awarded to Roger and in 2015 the Balfour of Burleigh tercentenary prize for exceptional achievement in crafts in 2015.

"Some of you will have seen his recent furniture exhibition ‘Just Champion’ showcased at the museum in 2019.

"He was also an artist, with an amazing eye for detail and creativity which created some beautiful items.

"Roger inspired and supported a generation of timber-framers and people interested in timber framing, directly through conversations and seeing his work, as well as indirectly by the presence of his work in the existence of the museum.

"This significant legacy will continue to have a lasting impact at the Weald & Downland Living Museum long into the future, and touch the lives of many people in ways that he will never know.

"Rest in peace Roger; you will continue to be a living memory at the museum, never forgotten, literally part of the furniture.

"With love and appreciation from your family at the Weald & Downland Living Museum."

If you would like to share your condolences or memories of Roger, please email them to [email protected] who will share them with Roger’s family and friends.