Paul Aitkenhead was brought up in a 17th century house in the Lancashire town of Mellor. His childhood prompted two of the great loves of his adult life: architecture and the Lancashire County Cricket Club.
Educated at Ellesmere College in Shropshire, he went on to train in hotel management. Stints in hotels in Edinburgh and Eastbourne were followed by the move to London, more specifically to Burton Court: he never left Chelsea again. By the early 1980s, he had switched from hotels to insurance, working for Standard Life. Through sheer doggedness, he was more successful than his contemporaries.
However, he took to going to Lord’s when sales meetings were taking place and was eventually fired.
Disenchanted with corporate life, he wafted around Chelsea for about ten years, adopting one scheme after another. One idea was to bring horse racing to Hyde Park. Although he found little enthusiasm for this plan, he did somehow manage to propose it to HRH the Princess Royal. His next move was to DEFRA and finally to the Royal Courts of Justice where he was a Judge’s clerk until a year before his death.
Paul’s love of architecture, a subject about which he was hugely knowledgeable, was accompanied by a love of detail. It was the details of Chelsea that became his focus as a member both of the Chelsea Society’s Council from 2012 to 2017 and of its planning committee. Indeed, it was his idea for the Society to award an annual prize for architectural excellence in Chelsea. Had he been on the judging panel, he would probably have favoured anything resembling a Palladian villa or a Georgian Manor House. He did not consider progress – in any form – a good thing.
To this end, he was frequently spotted (in his uniform of Puffa jacket – or safari jacket in summer – and bobble hat) walking around the Borough taking notes and of matters that he felt should demand the attention of the Society. Latterly, he focused on street furniture on the King’s Road: in some places in too great abundance and in others, not enough. Were you to ask him he could talk you down the entire road, noting each and every bus stop, bench and bin. He was also a keen photographer and the moment the editorial for the Annual Report was decided he would travel around Chelsea toking all the relevant shots, one of which made it onto the cover of the 2012 report.
Probably Paul’s most intense love was reserved for the game of cricket. He was a member of the MCC and played, with great pride, for The Antelopians. He could, and would, talk for hours about cricket and was always somewhat incredulous and amused at the lack of knowledge of others concerning his beloved teams. It was easy to tell when Lancashire had beaten, well anyone, but especially Yorkshire. The smile on his face lasted for days.
When not watching cricket, or visiting the stately homes of the Home Counties, Paul was to be found in some of the more obscure music venues listening to his heroes of progressive rock. In fact, the last gig he went to was a fortnight before he died. He managed to persuade one of the nurses at Trinity Hospice to take him to hear some esoteric band who were playing at Under The Bridge at Stamford Bridge.
I suspect he wasn’t entirely truthful about what the concert was, so she wrapped him up in a blanket and put him in a wheelchair and took him there. He loved it: she didn’t!
Paul was an obsessive collector (the word hoarder might also be applicable) of many things and his Draycott Avenue flat was literally crammed with his collections. His main obsessions were antique books, sports memorabilia, vinyl records and CDs. His flat was not large and so the different collections were stacked in a myriad of piles, and his kitchen bore more than a passing resemblance to the most crowded orchid house at Kew. It might have looked like chaos to the outsider, but when Paul wanted a particular edition of a particular book, the instruction of fourth pile from the left, sixth book from the bottom, always yielded the subject of his search.
He treated his books with a reverence that was reserved only for his collections and spent hours not to mention a fair amount of money – having tattered, antique books restored. Once restored, he would commission a bespoke cover, to ensure they were never damaged again.
Paul was also known as a collector of antiquarian umbrellas. He could be found in pursuit of umbrellas at, for instance, Criterion Auctions in Upper Street, Islington and, when they needed repairs, he took them to that famous shop in New Oxford Street/High Holborn which has been selling walking sticks and the like since the 19th century.
Paul was a very private man who fought his cancer with every fibre. He bore all the curve balls that his cancer threw him (and it threw a couple) with dignity and fortitude. He died, very peacefully, in the Trinity Hospice. As his brother, Clive, so accurately stated, “He was of a forgotten era.”