Saturday 16th February 2013

Warwick Leadlay (1929-2013) RIP

After a long and valiant fight against cancer, Warwick died peacefully at about noon today surrounded by his family. He opened the Gallery in 1974 and his name lives on above the door.


Warwick Leadlay, our founder, died on Saturday 16 February 2013 at the age of 83. I think that is how he would have put it: plainly, accurately and honestly, though I suspect, had he dictated it, he might have insisted on two – or even three – exclamation marks to emphasise the importance of the occasion. With his passing another particle of an era, another of the old boys of the old school, has gone. Refreshingly un-reconstructed, delightfully non-P.C., they lent to Greenwich in particular, and to life in general, a character which has all but disappeared with the turning of the new century.

Warwick would remind anyone who asked that he was from Scarborough. That bathing place in the North Riding of Yorkshire was of great importance to his identity, but in fact he was actually born far away in Ewhurst, Surrey where his father, William ‘Billy’ Leadlay, a woodwork teacher, had migrated in search of work during the depressed years of the late 1920s. The house where he was born still stands and to this day bears the same name that his father gave it -  ‘Windy Ridge’. This was either after Willie Riley’s classic Yorkshire novel ‘Windyridge’, published in 1912, or else, tantalisingly, in honour of Warwick Windridge Armstrong, captain of the Australian cricket team who in 1921 ‘whitewashed’ England in the Ashes that year. Certainly that larger than life maverick of a man – otherwise known as the ‘Big Ship” - is the one who gave Warwick his (chosen) name.

Around 1931, when he was just three years old, his father was involved in a fatal road accident and his mother took him back 'home' to Scarborough. Life was not easy, though he never laboured the detail of the hardships he endured. Of the anecdotes he gave me of these early years, the most humerous was his account of climbing into the Sitwells' house that was boarded up one summer in his youth, and of how he rummaged around therein. He was very shamefaced about the whole episode, but equally tickled and told the tale with a characteristic twinkle. I imagine he was especially glad - and lucky - that Miss Edith was not at home at the time. In due course he attended the Boys’ High School, where he excelled at mathematics in particular, a fact he reminded me of on almost every day during our business life together. He remained a loyal Old Scarborian all his life, attending reunions whenever he could. 

In the late 1940s he took up an apprenticeship with the G.P.O. His training course provided him with a passport back south, and led him – so far as I know – in the late 1940s/early 1950s, to London. He settled first in the bedsits of Earls Court, sharing digs with fellow Scarborians, most notably young Maurice Johnson, upon whom he pulled the rank of being a year to the day younger than himself (or was it the other way round?), and some others who had come to take up places at the Royal College of Art; all of whom he kept in contact throughout his life. He rose through the ranks of the G.P.O., at one time Senior Superindendant, managing 400 operators, with many of whom he had  - and kept up - a personal contact.

His work led him to south-east London where in the mid-1950s he chose to settle, first in a tiny flat in the Paragon, then in Paragon Cottage itself, both of which premises were then newly Grade I listed. He married in March 1962 and a couple of years later he and his wife Julia together with his eldest daughter Isabel moved into 10 Pond Road, where his son Jerome and younger daughter Susannah were subsequently born. Here the Leadlays remained until the early 1990s when, after the tragic and untimely death of Julia in October 1990, he moved again, no longer wishing to live in a house inhabited by memories of her. His new home was the ultimate for an Englishman - Starborough Castle, near Edenbridge on the Kent/Surrey border. Here, happy in his element, he remained, building, improving and every summer throwing a lavish party accompanied by the sweet sounds of jazz floating over his moat. He sold up in 2003 largely because his eyesight had so declined that he was obliged to surrender his driving licence. He could, he said, drive to the end of his driveway, but must then hitch-hike to the railway station, and that was no way to go on at his age. It made sense to return to the bosom of Greenwich once again, and so he purchased 14 Luton Place, a lovely Georgian town house nestled between Hyde Vale and Royal Hill in the best part of town. Like all his other dwellings, he made his own - warm, comfortable, inviting and full of gems.

Exactly when Warwick began his collecting is unspecified, but there are more than one or two anecdotes of his returning to the office after lunch clutching some trove that he had found on the market stalls, so improving the hour. He tended to focus on Kent and south-east London in particular, but his collection also benefitted by his habit of always bidding on the last lot of an auction when most of the room had left, often as not thereby taking home with him a curio. For a man with such complex visual afflictions he had a jolly good eye. He was industrious, too. The top floor of his house in Pond Road was, as I remember, converted into a workshop cum studio, a large plan chest in one corner, a 'Morso' guillotine and sundry framing kit in the other.

He remained with the Post Office long enough to see it transformed into BT, but then in June 1983 chose early retirement and devoted himself more whole-heartedly to the Gallery that he had opened in July 1974 at 5 Nelson Road in the heart of Greenwich. That, along with travel, became his twin passions - though I must not omit mention of JAZZ. He visited many a far flung place, especially enjoying Singapore and the Far East, but wherever he went, however remote the spot, he always seemed to find a telephone to call the Gallery. International calls were expensive, so the conversation was always brief and to the point: 'Have you taken any money?'

One way or another we must have done - goodness knows how - because the Gallery has survived recession after recession, double-dipped with choc-on-top and all, and continues to thrive to this day. I joined Warwick in business in 1978, having answered his small advertisment for an 'ARTISTICALLY TALENTED YOUNG MAN WANTED FOR WORK IN GALLERY' - theoretically an illegal form of words since the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, though I doubt whether he would have been deterred by it, even if he was aware of its existence. At the interview I seem to remember impressing him by my ability to recognise the likes of Rowlandson and John Speed; likewise, he warmed to my apparent willingness to work for £30 a week including every other Saturday. Thus, I was employed as his manager for twenty years, until in November 1998, we formed a partnership, an act of generosity for which I am forever indebted. Warwick finally and formerly retired from the Gallery in September 2010, but of course continued to visit regularly, eying the walls critically and (occasionally) nodding his approval. His name will live on above the door, such is the goodwill it evokes.

I have searched about for a single word that best described Warwick; I found it, I think, in Mensch. A curious word, but one still in common use in America today, it stems from German/Yiddish and refers to, indeed is reserved for, 'a person of integrity and honour; someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character'. 


Warwick, you were a real Mensch !!!


Brian Peter Warwick Leadlay: 29.11.1929 - 16.2.2013.

Please, if anyone who reads this has any comment to make on my text, any amendment, correction or reminiscence to add, do let them get in touch by whatever means and I will be pleased to publish the same. Contact us

Ant Cross, 26.2.13.


Back to blog