Obituary - Hugh Adams CWCB 1943-2019
Written by Nigel Whitehead, Past Prime Warden, and Merv Allen, Liveryman and Master of the Wessex Guild.
Past Prime Warden Hugh Adams CWCB, who has died aged 76, was the principal link between the Company and its Craft. He was without question an exceptional man and probably the only Liveryman who was as well known among working smiths as among other members of the Company.
He was born and lived in Harrow where despite the war-time bombing he had a comfortable upbringing, thanks to his father’s business. Early school days were followed by boarding at “one of Britain’s lesser known” public schools where he developed a love of hockey and cricket which never left him.
At 16 Hugh embarked on a City & Guilds’ course in carpentry and it was during this time he spent a holiday in France on a boat on the Seine with Rupert, a friend from his school days. Later, Hugh joined Rupert in the Parachute Regiment in which, after training at Aldershot, he served in places including Bahrain and Borneo and saw active service in Cyprus. He enjoyed his time in the army where he made many friends. He kept in touch with Rupert and only last year they had a wonderful time together with Rupert’s brother Nigel – also a great friend of Hugh’s.
In 1964, while still serving in the Army, Hugh met Sylvia in a mental hospital! Apparently Sylvia had gone to the social club at the hospital and Hugh was there to play hockey with a friend. As soon as Hugh set eyes on Sylvia he declared “that’s the girl I’m going to marry” and the rest is history. After marrying they settled in Harrow where their two daughters Jane and Sarah were born.
Having left the Army Hugh began work as a carpenter, forming Adams’ Enterprises but still attending night school and finding time to spend with his family. His daughters’ memory of their father is one of joy, of a man always willing to join in and support them in their own interests. Despite the many demands on his time Hugh would always find time to play games with his five grandchildren just as he had done with his daughters.
Another great love of Hugh’s was his local pub where he made many friends. He was a regular and it was through his many contacts there that he secured most of his work. When he had an accident and was unable to work for almost eight months his friends kept his business ticking over for him, for which the family will be forever grateful.
Hugh often related that his avowed intent on becoming Prime Warden was to meet as many blacksmiths as he could during and after his term of office. In pursuit of this goal he rarely missed an opportunity to represent the WCB and offer friendship and support to legions of professional and amateur blacksmiths at their forges, county shows and a wide range of craft events.
From Shetland to Cornwall, from the West of Wales to the far reaches of Norfolk, often accompanied by his wife Sylvie, Hugh traversed the country and throughout the years his reputation grew as a confident, trusty adviser and to many he became a close friend.
Although he did get his hands dirty on a few occasions Hugh never pretended to be skilled in the ways of the craft. In fact, as Blacksmiths Guild Life Member Norman Rose AWCB once remarked after Hugh attempted to forge a small item under Norman’s instruction, “Hugh, as a blacksmith you’d make a bloody good bricklayer”!
Hugh’s knowledge of the trials and tribulations of the working smith are legendary. As a non-smith it was remarkable how he could communicate his previous life experiences using humour and diplomacy to help and encourage those at the beginning of their careers and others who may have been going through a difficult period in their lives.
Hugh often took delight in reporting that during his time on the WCB Craft Committee he had met many great blacksmiths of the recent past. When discussing this, particularly with student smiths, the modesty of his language was always used to provide testimony to what could be achieved and inspire confidence.
A facet of blacksmithing that gave Hugh particular gratification was the prizes awarded to young craftsmen at the South of England Show. These included the metalwork section in the Young Craftsman of the Year competition and the Hugh Adams Cup awarded annually to a Camelia Botnar Foundation student.
Hugh’s energy and enthusiasm for the Worshipful Company, the Blacksmiths Guild and blacksmithing events around the country seemed to know no bounds and he attended as many events as he could. This sometimes involved traveling great distances and being accommodated overnight in premises that were often somewhat less than salubrious!
His attendance at county shows was always greatly appreciated by the organisers and competitors. In his impeccably smart attire complete with WCB tie and blazer badge he gladly took on the role as speech maker and prize presenter. During the days, Hugh was invariably on hand to talk to the public and his skill in describing and selling the works on display certainly helped in putting money into the pockets of the smiths.
Amongst the many prestigious events that were privileged to be graced by Hugh’s involvement were: numerous BABA events around the country, the 2004 Shetland Anchor Project, the International Blacksmithing Festival at the Devon County Showground in 2014, almost every Blacksmiths Guild AGM from 2000 to 2018 plus the Blacksmiths Guild 50th anniversary celebrations.
The passing of Hugh is an immeasurable loss to the blacksmithing community but his role and influence on the craft will long be cherished.