John was born in Birkenhead in 1935 (objects lent to exhibitions were credited ‘The Birkenhead Collection’) after attending Radley College. He was awarded a coveted National Service commission in the Gurkha Regiment and saw active service in Malaya.
He was a very keen rugby player and got an Oxford Blue while studying Law at Corpus Christi College and a cap for England against France in 1958. To keep fit he crewed in the America’s Cup, aboard Sovereign in 1964.
John settled in London to practice law, buying a shop and flat in Portobello Road. Inspired by his surroundings, he collected English 18th century glass, then developed a love of French Art Nouveau glass and soon his life was taken over by the Arts & Crafts movement.
He progressed to managing his own property company, whereby the funds came to assemble an ever-growing collection from Pugin to Miklos, working closely with Michael Whiteway, who located important pieces. John’s taste was very catholic but he favoured the designs of Christopher Dresser, AWN Pugin, William De Morgan, the Martin Brothers, the Whitefriars Glass Company and Hector Guimard. He enjoyed showing societies and collectors over the extensive apartment and refreshments would be served in his wife Takako’s award-winning roof garden.
He gave many pieces to national museums and contributed to, and helped organise group funding for the Gilbert Scott Hereford Screen, and the Salisbury Cross, together with Dresser silver teapots, now in prominent positions in the V&A.
John’s latest battle has been over the restoration of the Waterhouse cast iron railings surrounding the Natural History Museum. Restored sections are very visible and magnificent they are. His most significant gift to the nation has been his extensive tile collection, over 2000 tiles, with a generous endowment and a hefty catalogue to the Jackfield Tile Museum in Ironbridge – now the National Tile Museum. He always stayed at the unmodernised Tontine Inn with a magnificent view of Abraham Darby’s cast-iron bridge.
Deteriorating health inspired John to be practical and find new homes for his treasures. In 2014 he instigated a series of eight selling exhibitions at The Fine Art Society. He was very proud of the catalogues and they are his legacy.
Important objects were bought by museums, notably Pugin’s own dresser from Ramsgate, now in the V&A and magnificent Jeckyll sunflower fire-dogs, now in Glasgow, and the famous Martin Brothers crab for which museum funding is being sought.
He also founded the Notting Hill Gate Improvement Trust to conserve and improve the amenities. The most visual signs are the forest of newly planted trees and the Westbourne Grove piazza, with its award-winning toilets and flower shop. He tirelessly campaigned for the antique shops of Portobello Road against the invading chain stores.
A great British eccentric
Many readers will have had experiences with John Scott. I picture him dismounting from his old bicycle in Kensington Church Street, haranguing everyone and anyone on the state of the world while passing out printed information on his current project, a Union Jack proudly in his buttonhole.
He was truly a great British eccentric.
John Scott passed away peacefully in his sleep after a brief stay in a Kensington care home on January 13.