A Birmingham doctor, archaeologist, and conservationist, who helped reveal and save some of the region’s most important history, has died aged 88.
Dr Robert Hetherington spent most of his working life in Birmingham as a geriatrician, but over the years his archaeological expertise was crucial to the understanding of Birmingham’s 19th century courtyards, medieval archaeology in Digbeth, and Sarehole Mill, where he played a key advisory part in its restoration and re-opening in 1969.
In the early 1960s he worked with Birmingham Rotunda architect James A Roberts in the excavation of West Bromwich Manor House and he was responsible for the discovery of the Roman road through the Weoley Hill area of Birmingham.
Dr Hetherington became an active urban conservationist in the 1960s when the concept was scarcely known and in 1961 he was vital in seeing off a Birmingham City Council scheme to build 7,000 houses on Green Belt land in Wythall.
This earned him the treasured epithet from then Labour council leader Alderman Harry Watton of “a long haired intellectual”.
He also invoked new legislation to help prevent the destruction of Kings Norton village green and, working with Birmingham Victorian Society in the 1970s, he was involved in the successful campaign to save the Victorian GPO building and the unsuccessful fight to save the Victorian Reference Library.
Noted architect Alan Crawford, who was chairman of the Birmingham Victorian Society in the 1970s, said Dr Hetherington’s thorough knowledge would have made him an ideal chairman, and he was a crucial asset for the group. He said: “He was a charismatic figure in a sense that he knew an enormous amount. Intellectuals often seem to have a steam in them, and he was steaming away all the time.
“He provided the Victorian Society with a stock of knowledge that was absolutely crucial in the early days. Now more is known but he was absolutely the source of information for the group in the early days.”
Birmingham historian Prof Carl Chinn deemed Dr Hetherington “a resourceful, dedicated and most determined researcher and chronicler”.
Dr Hetherington’s wife, Winifred, an artist, died in April this year. He leaves a daughter, Julia, a son, Peter, and five grandchildren.