Obituary: Architect who worked on Buckingham Palace, dies at 91

Norfolk architect Graham Keith has died aged 91

Norfolk architect Graham Keith has died aged 91 - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

The architect behind a number of interiors at some of the country’s most famous landmarks - such as Buckingham Palace and the Ministry of Defence – has died at the age of 91. 

Graham Keith, of Ashdown Court, Cromer, was not only involved with many well-known locations across both the county and the country, but was also “admired and feared” for his knowledge of the industry. 

As well as designing kitchens at London’s Buckingham Palace and the MOD’s Main Building in Whitehall, he also designed a studio at St James's Palace, the roof of St Paul’s Cathedral, and more locally a new dining room and kitchen at Gresham's School, Holt, and staff accommodation at Norwich Cathedral. 

And his expertise meant he was often called upon as an expert witness and arbitrator – both “admired and feared” according to a former colleague – in building and architectural court cases. 

Born Graham Alistair Keith on October 25, 1930, in Wolverhampton, he attended local schools St Chad's College and Wolverhampton College of Art, before becoming a student at Birmingham School of Architecture. 

During his final period of National Service he became Lance Corporal, Trade Architectural Draughtsman, before moving to live with his parents in Overstrand, near Cromer, where the family had holidayed since 1945.  

His first job as an architect was at Norwich City Council’s architect department office during the late 1950s. He then moved to Feilden+Mawson (F+M) in the city until his retirement in 1995.  

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In 1960, he married wife Sheila nee Easton. For 50 years, they lived in Thorpe Hamlet, Norwich, and had four children; Robin, Mary, Alistair, and James. In 2010, the couple moved to Cromer. Mrs Keith died in 2018.  

His family described him as “interested and interesting”. Paying tribute, they said: “He was gentle and genial but firm, knowledgeable on most subjects, creative with a sense of humour, and had a strong sense of family. 

“He was also meticulously meticulous to the point of pedantry, and while he maintained firm boundaries for his children within that he wanted to maintain the magic of childhood through games and activities. 

A toilet cartoon drawn by Graham Keith

A toilet cartoon drawn by Graham Keith - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

“There were the dark moods at times, that seem to plague many creative people, but he was still child at heart – at times childlike but not childish. 

“People who knew him would often say he was amiable, generous, and very accommodating.” 

A physically active individual, he ran multiple half marathons, completed long-distance swimming challenges and sponsored cycle rides, enjoyed long walks with the Rambler’s Society, and walked Peddars Way and Offa’s Dyke. 

And with Mrs Keith, he completed two long distance cycle rides; Barmouth to Great Yarmouth and Bournemouth to Tweedmouth. He documented the latter trip in a self-published book illustrated with his own cartoons. 

A keen artist, Mr Keith worked in painting, drawing, printmaking, and ceramics, among other materials, and contributed many illustrations and cartoons to the in-house magazine at F+M.  

A member of the Thorpe Hamlet Residents Association, he contributed his cartographic skills for the Memories of Thorpe Hamlet book published in 2004 and for the information map at the Rosary Cemetery. 

During his retirement, he completed a foundation course and BA in Visual Studies at Norwich School of Art and Design, graduating in 2004. He then embarked on an MA but stopped following Mrs Keith’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. 

One of Graham Keith's beloved Christmas card designs

One of Graham Keith's beloved Christmas card designs - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

His family recalled many special memories. 

An accomplished pianist, his playing was remembered drifting up the stairs while the youngest members of the family slept. 

“We will also remember him for his hats. Especially the black Santa hat emblazoned with ‘bah humbug’, proudly worn each Christmas. His unique, homemade Christmas cards were also a highlight for many.  

“He made furniture for the home, including shelves, desks, dining tables, slot-together camping furniture, and toys for the children including a doll house, fortress, and a small sailing dinghy in which he would take the children out onto the Broads." 

Other treasured memories included books of empty crossword grids next to ticked clues, family romps over Mousehold Heath, sledging on St James’s Hill, camping trips to West Runton and Wells, and Mr Keith’s Scotch pancakes. 

“He never cooked apart from these and we would sing songs in celebration on the days he made them. He always made an extra one for the cat.” 

Friends at Cromer's North Lodge Park Tea Rooms also paid tribute. They said: “He was a true gentleman, humorous, quick witted, kind, had a great sense of fun, and was loyal. He was always full of smiles and was applauded for his cheerful banter.” 

An extract from when Graham Keith wrote to the Eastern Daily Press

An extract from when Graham Keith wrote to the Eastern Daily Press to complain about the early arrival of Father Christmas in Norwich department stores - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

One of his proudest accomplishments was as chief steward at St Andrew’s Hall for Norwich Philharmonic Society, where he was introduced to Princess Michael of Kent. He was also one of the first school governors for a newly established Ofsted during the early 1990s. 

Finally, Mr Keith was a man of many nicknames; From his childhood tag of "Midge" and "Mij", to “Noddy”, then "Mr Saga" as he travelled around the world during retirement, to the family’s personal name for him of “Grimbo”. Both his children and four grandchildren referred to his jokes as  “Grimbo groaners”.  

Mr Keith died on December 12 at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital following a short illness. 

His funeral will be held at Cromer Crematorium on Friday, January 21 at 2pm. Donations in his memory will be collected for the Architects Benevolent Society, payable at the service or sent via Fox’s Funeral Service, 10 Canada Road, Cromer, NR27 9AH or online at www.absnet.org.uk/get-involved/donate