It is with the greatest sadness and sense of loss that we announce the sudden death on 6 November 2016 of Martyn Heighton, our Director and stalwart pillar of the maritime heritage community.
National Historic Ships UK is a government funded, independent organization which gives objective advice to UK governments and local authorities, funding bodies, and the historic ships sector on all matters relating to historic vessels in the UK. It is successor to the advisory committee on National Historic Ships, set up as a non-departmental advisory body in July 2006. In turn, that organization followed on from the National Historic Ships Committee, which emerged from a seminar held in 1991 to discuss the problems facing the preservation of historic ships and vessels in the UK and the evident neglect of this important part of our heritage. In February 2005, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport announced funding for this body which heralded the appointment of Martyn as its first Head of Secretariat in December of that year. He became Secretary and Director in September 2007.
NHS–UK has gone from strength to strength under Martyn’s dynamic leadership with the provision of advice to Government, funding bodies including the Heritage Lottery Fund, and vessel owners as well as the continued maintenance of the National Historic Ships Registers including the National Historic Fleet. Martyn was directly responsible for introducing a small grants scheme and other funding links, together with the annual photography competition, the Marsh Christian Trust volunteer awards, the Shipshape Network and associated projects.
Leicester born and educated, he studied at St John’s College, Cambridge and the University of Leeds. His early career included teaching history at Harrogate Grammar School before serving in several roles in the Oxfordshire Museum Service. His later career fitted him out perfectly for the NHS-UK role and it must be said that his experience in maritime heritage is second to none: the former CEO of the Mary Rose Trust, Trustee and Executive of SS Great Britain and Director of Leisure for Bristol’s Historic Harbour, the Matthew project, and organizer of the first ‘International Festival of the Sea’ which Bristol hosted in 1996. He also led the Merseyside Maritime Museum development in the early 1980s as part of the regeneration of Albert Dock in Liverpool. After Mary Rose he joined the management board of the National Trust where amongst other matters he led the successful bid to purchase Tyntesfield in Somerset, home to the Gibbs family which owned the ss Great Britain for most of its working life. He co-ordinated a large portfolio including extensive Trust holdings in Wales and Western England and led their national programme to celebrate ‘SeaBritain 2005’ and a range of projects throughout the South West commemorating the 200th anniversary of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s birth in 2006 before joining the Historic Ships Advisory Committee based at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
Complimenting Martyn’s work with NHS–UK he was also Trustee and Chair of the Technical Committee for the HMS Victory Preservation Company, Trustee of HMS Caroline, Trustee of Lakeland Arts Trust, a member of the Cutty Sark Advisory Committee, served on the Council of the Society for Nautical Research and was a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights.
Martyn developed many friendships throughout the historic ships community, including colleagues at Royal Museums Greenwich where NHS-UK offices are based. He has also been a valued member of the UK Maritime Heritage Forum planning committee since this annual gathering first started in 2008. Thanks in large part to Martyn’s enthusiasm and guidance, this forum has developed into a unique coming-together of people from right across the maritime heritage sector, including those involved with historic vessels.
He leaves his wife, Evelyn and two sons. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time. He will be much missed by all his team at NHS-UK who are being ably supported by members of the Council. We will continue to deliver our services over the coming weeks as Martyn would have wished.
National Historic Ships UK