Robert (Bob) William Allen
the land of make believe
My late father was a wonderful man, and to this day I can't still believe he's not with me any more. As a child, I found that he indulged my wild imagination, spending hours writing stories and illustrating them with me. We lost ourselves in our make-believe worlds, and it never seemed a chore to him, no matter how tired or busy he was. I even thought he could do real magic until I was about 10 years old, and even now I sometimes wonder if he really could magic eggs from my ears after all!
I remember him taking me to see 'The Neverending Story' at the cinema (or the 'pictures' as we used to call it) when I was only four years old, back when the 1980s weren't afraid to make children's films that were quite scary. I cried and cried but when he tried to take me out of the cinema I cried even harder. I was mesmorised by the film and decided that when I grew up I wanted to be a dragon, just like Valcor from the film.
I know now that sadly, not everyone had such a doting father like I did, and it makes me cherish my lucky childhood memories even more so.
My father was a fairly quiet man, and if you didn't take the time to get to know him you might have missed his quiet sense of humour. He seemed fairly conservative but I know that before he settled down he had many travels with friends in the seventies, hitch-hiking across Canada, Sweden and even as far as Beirut.
My father (right) and lifelong friend Ian Rowden (left) monkeying around
becoming an architect
As a schoolboy my father was in awe of the Royal Albert Bridge which joins Cornwall and Devon over the river Tamar. Built by engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it inspired my father to become an architect. He was told categorically by his teacher 'Allen, you'll never make an architect' which I expect spurred him on all the more.
On returning from his travels and meeting my mother, my father settled into work as an architectural technician and later realised his childhood dream by studying architecture at Oxford Poly as a mature student. He embarked on a successful career in London and Swindon (where I was born) before we moved to Cornwall in search of a less stressful way of life.
BASSET mines, marriots section
My father standing in front of Marriots shaft, one of the many Cornish mines he restored and made safe for the public to visit during the 1990s
Living in Cornwall led my father to work on very diverse projects from the Mineral Tramways trail between Portreath and Devoran, including the consolidation and repair of numerous engine houses, to the transformation of Penlee Museum and Gallery in Penzance. In his office above St. Ives Guild Hall he created stunning modern residences in clifftop locations and completed numerous sympathetic renovation schemes in the town centre.
He appreciated the history of once prosperous mining towns like Redruth, and when others ran it down he would tell me 'when you next walk through Redruth just look up, there are some amazing buildings, truly beautiful'.
He once saved an old, derelict building in the centre of Redruth from being demolished. It was going to be turned into another car park. Instead, my father made designs to repair it and got planning to turn it into a public garden area. With the old stone walls of the building left alone to encase the garden, it's a charming, subtle addition to the town's centre. I think it's beautiful place and when I lived in Redruth, I often sat there on a sunny day.
For as long as I can remember my father was always sketching. Cornish mines were often the subject of his pencil sketches and watercolour paintings that he made during the 1990s. In what may seem to some a barren, abandoned landscape of the Pool, Redruth and Carn Brea area, my father saw a certain beauty which he captured in his work. Often painted in situ, be it a sunrise, sunset or a foreboding sky full of rainclouds, he painted moments that could not be captured by a photograph. He never tried to sell his work, it was purely for his own artistic pursuits.
engine house watercolour
Watercolour by Bob Allen, 1990
engine house watercolour
Watercolour by Bob Allen, circa 1990
CARN BREA LANDSCAPE watercolour
Watercolour by Bob Allen, 1990
As much as I loved his watercolours, I also loved his sketches, which often showed wonky little cornish cottages, harbour scenes and engine houses.
Pencil sketch of Cornish cottages, Pool
South Crofty Mine, Cornwall (left). Window detail from a derelict building, right.
Cornish seascape, most likely the Helford area
Cornish coastal houses, 1990
Pencil sketch at Godrevy, long before it became food and drink establishment 'The Rockpool' as it's known today
Pencil study, most likely working out composition and tone for a watercolour piece
The pump and whim at South Wheal Francis, Basset Mines, 1990
Cornish country lanes (most likely Carn Brea area, I think) 1990
Cornish cottages, Carn Brea
I'm not unique in the fact that I've lost a parent to a terminal illness. But nothing prepares you for it when it actually happens. Aged 64, far too soon, my father passed away with retirement just out of life's reach. Unbelievably, he coped with it very well and always remained positive. He made the best of the time he had left. And even when he could barely hold a pen any longer, or able to verbally communicate very well, his humour still shone through.
His last sketchbook contained illustrated characters conjured up from the mundane things in his room. To me, he seemed to be poking fun at the illness that claimed his body, a way of saying 'I'm still here!'
Characters like Radiator Dog, Battery Bob, Pedal Bin Laden and Simmbad made me laugh out loud. That pleased him very much and we'd go through his sketchbook over and over so we could laugh together without the need for talking.
'My father's illustrations of Radiator Dog' and 'Battery Bob', 2012
My father's illustrations of 'Pedal Bin Laden' and 'Simmbad', 2012
You can read more about my father's last sketchbook 'The Adventures of Radiator Dog & Friends' on my blog post ...
As my father's illness worsened and he had to give up on his architectural career, he still managed to focus his efforts into achieving his lifelong dream. Ever since he decided upon becoming an architect, he hoped that one day he would design his own house. 'Hakey Bay' is a beautiful property overlooking St. Ives Bay, and I'm so pleased that he was able to see it completed.
In contrast to all the restoration work he completed, the last property he designed was a modern, open plan house in Sennen called the 'Sharks Fin'. The design of the building makes best of the spectacular views to from Sennen Beach to Cape Cornwall.
The last property my father designed. Photo courtesy of Chris Strike (RA Design).
I'm incredibly proud of my father and I always will be. Not just because of his achievements, but simply for being the kind, gentle, patient person that he was. If you can achieve that in life, you're on the right track.
my father and i
Sharing a moment together, 2003. Photo by John Berryman.