Roy Butlin was born in Liverpool in 1938, and between 1949 and 1956 was a pupil at the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys. From 1956 to 1960 he was employed as a research chemist at Peter Spence and Sons, Widnes, where he investigated formulations for dehydrogenation catalysts for the petroleum industry.
From 1956-61 he studied part-time at Liverpool College of Technology (now Liverpool John Moores University) for qualifications of the Royal Institute of Chemistry. On the basis of his work and study experience he was admitted as a Ministry of Aviation Ph.D. student at UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology), where from 1961 to 1964 he undertook research on the inhibition of flame propagation by gaseous halogen compounds, supervised by Dr. R. Simmons, and for which he was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Manchester in 1966.
From 1964-1966 he was B. P. Research Fellow at the University of Essex, moving in 1966 to become Senior Scientific Officer and subsequently Principal Scientific Officer at the Fire Research Station at Borehamwood, where he headed research teams investigating, inter alia, flame extinguishing using foam compounds and propagation through flammable dust suspensions, together with the venting of domestic gas explosions to quantify the effect on structure and determine pressure time profiles. He remained in this post until 1976, when he transferred as a Principal Scientific Officer to the Department of the Environment (London), where he was responsible for research contracts by Research Associations (CIRIA, TRADA, BSRIA) associated with buildings affected by air pollution, and was also engaged in the production of a national report on the disposal of toxic waste in landfill sites.
The last major move of his scientific career - from 1978-1997- was as Principal Scientific Officer at the Building Research Establishment, Garston. There his range of responsibilities included: setting up a U. K. national programme on the effects of air pollution on buildings and building materials; Chairing the Building Effects Review Group (BERG) sub-committee and the National Materials Exposure Programme; representing the U.K. on an UNECE task force on air pollution and materials; Heading the Weathering Science Section and subsequently the Heritage Support Service; and liaising with a large group of graduate and postgraduate researchers working on stone decay and conservation, historic mortars, the states of preservation of Scottish stone monuments, graffiti removal, and applying of fractal dimension to decay problems, polishable limestones, and quantification of the effects of gaseous and particulate pollutants and climate change materials. One of the postgraduate students that he helped said that Roy was 'a respected giant in the field of stone deterioration, nationally and internationally, and I certainly have him to thank for helping to initiate my collaboration with BRE in the early days of my heritage research'. His other activities included membership of the BSI committee for the maintenance of historic buildings; Honorary Research Fellow status at De Montfort and Bournemouth universities, supervision of national and international research contracts, and extensive lecturing invitations and publication.
His publication topics included: shock wave studies in nitrogen; oxidation of ammonia in shock waves, dust air-flames and explosibility; limestone decay; acid deposition and stone; degradation of building materials at Lincoln Cathedral; preservative treatment on historic building; aspects of the National Materials Exposure Programme; and comparison of traditional and modern treatment for conserving stone.
As a young man Roy developed an outstanding interest and talent in music, singing as a bass in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral choir from c.1957 to 1964, and this interest and talent was nurtured and developed for the rest of his life. He and his wife Sheila first met at a ballroom dancing school in Liverpool, and they enjoyed over fifty happy and devoted years of married life, and a family of two children (Andrew and Helen) and four grandchildren (Ben, Esme, Joseph and Marshall). They were active in a range of church and other community activities in St Albans for nearly forty years. Roy retired in 1998, and having already translated part of his continuing singing career into more formal study, obtained a B. A. in Opera Studies (from Rose Bruford College in Kent, affiliated to the University of Manchester) in 1998. He then produced a research thesis on 'The Perception and Reception of English Opera from "Ivanhoe" to "Peter Grimes"', for which he was awarded an M. Phil. degree from the Open University in 2009. His distinguished choral and solo singing career continued to almost the end of his life, with performances ranging from early modern classical to Benjamin Britten opera, and including oratorio and more popular lighter pieces. His role, with Sheila, in organizing annual Christian Aid concerts, is gratefully and affectionately remembered by the community in St Albans. He was also an active supporter of and fund-raiser for the Friends of the Church of St Ledgers in Ashby St. Ledgers, Northamptonshire, a village in which the Butlin family has strong and deep historical roots.
His wife Sheila, his children and grandchildren, brothers, and wider family, to whom he was devoted, have happy and loving memories of him. Gifted with abundant scientific and artistic ability, much generosity, and an infectiously dry Liverpudlian sense of humour, his contributions to the well-being of others will forever be in the minds of those privileged to have known him.
Robin Butlin, Emeritus Professor of Geography and Visiting Research Fellow, University of Leeds