Friday, December 16, 2005

Randoll Coate - Labyrinthologist

Randoll Coate, the labyrinthologist who died on December 2 aged 96, became a designer of elaborate symbolic garden mazes after retiring from the Foreign Office; there are examples of his work in Buenos Aires and at Blenheim Palace.

Coate saw the maze as a paradigm of life and as a reflection of human longing to reduce life's confusions. Working alone and in partnership with the maze designer Adrian Fisher, he created more than 50 mazes around the world.

In Britain he designed (with Fisher) the Archbishop's Maze at Greys Court, near Henley, created to commemorate the maze metaphor Robert Runcie employed in his enthronement address when he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1980.

Other creations include the Marlborough Maze at Blenheim, the Roxburgh Maze at Floors Castle (with Adrian Fisher), and the Sun Maze and Lunar Labyrinth at Longleat. He designed the Millennium Maze for the Borghese Gardens in Rome, and the memorial maze in Buenos Aires for his friend Jorge Luis Borges, inspired by the writer's short story The Garden of Forking Paths, and in which Coate used smooth stones to pick out in Braille the blind writer's celebrated quote that a book and a labyrinth are one and the same.

At Varmlands Saby, Falconberg, in Sweden, he created an Egg Maze, symbolising the Garden of Eden and featuring separate entrances and paths for men and women who meet up at Adam's rib at the maze's centre.

The son of an expatriate businessman, Gilbert Randoll Coate was born in Lausanne on October 8 1909. From the College de Lausanne, he won a scholarship to read French and German at Oriel College, Oxford.

During the Second World War, in 1941, Coate particpated in "Operation Archery", a commando raid on the port of Vaagso in Norway. Later, after being parachuted into Greece, he was captured by partisans with whom he was supposed to make contact; they threatened to execute him as a German spy until he showed them a small medallion with the Lord's Prayer engraved on it in Greek. This saved his life, and he remained with the partisans, joining their fight to liberate Kalamata, the most southerly town in Greece; he was mentioned in dispatches. In 1949 he published a book about Mount Athos.

Towards the end of the war Coate helped to co-ordinate the military campaigns in Italy and the south of France. With the return of peace he joined the consular service of the Foreign Office, serving in Salonika, Leopoldville, Rome, the Hague, Buenos Aires, Stockholm and Brussels. His final posting was as First Secretary in the embassy in Oslo.

After taking early retirement in 1967, Coate devoted himself to his true passion of designing symbolic mazes. His first commission was a 57x29-metre 3,000 bush yew hedge in a private garden in Gloucestershire laid out in the form of a giant footprint scaled to the size of a man as tall as the Eiffel Tower, one toe of the labyrinth forming a small island in the adjacent river. He was co-author, with Adrian Fisher and Graham Burgess, of A Celebration of Mazes (1984).
Randoll Coate was appointed MVO in 1966 and a Chevalier de l'Ordre de Leopold in 1965.
He married, in 1955, Pamela Dugdale Moore, a painter, in the Benedictine Abbey of Pluscarden in Moray, where he was later received into the Roman Catholic Church and where he is buried. His wife and two daughters survive him.


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