taking our culture forward

Architectural historian Peter Kelly receives the RBV cultural award

Thu, 21 Jan 2021


The Manx New Year Honour of the RBV – or Reih Bleeaney Vanannan to give it its full title – has been awarded to architectural historian, Peter Kelly, for his lifelong contribution to Manx cultural heritage.

Peter is a well-known figure not only within Manx antiquarian and heritage circles, but also within the wider community. He is recognised far and wide for his research, writing and case-work for the Isle of Man Victorian Society, for his tireless support for the protection and preservation of the architectural heritage of the Island, and he is in great demand for his entertaining and knowledgeable talks.

Spreading the word, no matter who the audience, has always been central to his work. Peter has taught formal classes, given countless lectures and guided tours, written booklets and newspaper articles, produced broadcasts for radio, and has been invited to appear on radio and television programmes that promote the Isle of Man and our cultural heritage, predominantly on a voluntary basis.

The year 2020 saw two milestones in what has been a lifelong passion for Peter: 60 years since an exhibition of Edwardian postcards at the Manx Museum coaxed him into the library where he has researched Manx buildings ever since, and 40 years since he penned the first newsletter for the Isle of Man Victorian Society, which he continues to this day.

It was in 1975 that Peter was contacted by The Victorian Society of London, who asked him to assist them with a visit to the Isle of Man – he agreed, launching into what were then pioneering guided tours which inspired him to become Founding Chairman of the Isle of Man Victorian Society a year later.

Always conscious of reaching new audiences, Peter has authored booklets on Old Kirk Braddan, St Mary of the Isle, St Thomas’ Murals and two on Onchan. He has written various articles and series for newspapers and journals over the years, including the weekly ‘Victorian Where is It?’ column in the Manx Star, ‘The Streets, Roads and Squares of Douglas’ in the Isle of Man Examiner (1999), articles on architectural subjects in Manx Life, The Manxman, The Manx Church Leader and Context, the journal of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation. More recently, through his work for the Alliance of Building Conservation, he has contributed to the popular ‘Buildings at Risk’ series, launched in 2016.

Peter’s voice is well-known not only on Manx Radio, where he has been a contributor for many decades – most notably as presenter of the long-running ‘Kelly’s Eye’ alongside the late David Callister – but also on BBC television and radio (World Service, BBC Radio Scotland, etc), Border Television and Channel 4.

The list of societies that Peter has been involved with is also long and varied. As a young man, he joined the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, the Manx Conservation Council, and the Friends of Manx Museum. He is a past Chairman and President of the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside, and currently acts as their adviser. He was a founder member of the Friends of Onchan’s Heritage and has been its Conservation Officer for 30 years. Between 1987 and 2002, he was a Tynwald-appointed member of The Advisory Council on Planning and the Environment, which involved writing up to one thousand letters per year on planning applications, as well as attending Reviews and Appeals. He is also a former President of the World Manx Association.

In 1985, Peter was appointed Secretary of the Manx Heritage Foundation (now trading as Culture Vannin), and Co-ordinator for the Manx Heritage Year which took place in 1986. His inspirational work that year resulted in the formation of many of today’s heritage trusts. When he retired as Secretary, he was appointed Honorary Heritage Consultant until his final retirement from the Foundation after 20 years of continuous service.

In 1998 Peter was awarded the MBE for his services to conservation and the community. He was appointed Captain of the Parish of Onchan in 2011 and plays an important role in keeping their website current.

Of all his achievements, it is his work on the built heritage of the Island that Peter is best known for. He is known internationally as an expert on Baillie Scott’s work in the Isle of Man, and has lectured both here and in the UK on his designs. It is fitting that Peter has selected the Baillie Scott Village Hall in Onchan, also known as Onchan Parish Hall, as the recipient of the cheque for £500 that accompanies the award.

The award ceremony itself has had to be delayed until after the circuit-breaker lockdown and will take place later in the year.

The selection panel, comprising representatives from Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh, Yn Chruinnaght, Manx National Heritage, IOM Arts Council and Culture Vannin, was delighted to name Peter Kelly ‘Manannan’s Choice of the Year’ in recognition of his lifelong dedication to the Island’s cultural heritage, in particular the built heritage, noting that much would have been lost – both in terms of knowledge and buildings – without his remarkable contribution.