WORKING in miniature was “like knitting in metal” for talented great-grandfather John Watkins.
The 87-year-old metalworker, of Highworth, spent his retirement creating gates, staircases and balconies for miniature versions of Versailles Palace, Hampton Court Palace and Britannia House, which can be seen in art galleries and museums across the world.
John, who died peacefully at Great Western Hospital earlier this week, made 1/12 replicas and always said he enjoyed his work.
His son, Martin, 54, of Stratton, said: “He was incredibly modest. When people started asking he would tell them what he did but he would never brag about it.
“In the model of the Versailles balcony he needed a gargoyle face in the middle, which ended up being the face of my youngest son’s Robin Hood figure of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
“It was the working out he liked as much as the physical making of it.”
John, who worked as an air frames engineer in the Second World War, taught metalwork in South Wales for 30 years before moving to Swindon with his wife Valerie after he retired in the 1980s.
He met miniature palace creators Kevin Mulvany and his wife Susie, and later started creating the ironwork for them.
“He never said no to anything. They would take months to make these things, the best part of a year sometimes,” said Kevin. “He had a phrase, he said it was like knitting in metal because it is so complex and the patterns are so intricate.
“He was probably unique in terms of what he did because he took the skills of traditional ironwork which he learnt as a younger man and brought that into the world of miniatures.”
John worked on the ironwork for replicas of Buckingham Palace which is in a gallery in Tokyo; Hampton Court Palace and Fontainebleau, which are both in Florida; Britannia House which is in Berlin; the Palace of Versailles, which is in Santa Monica, and Spencer House which is in a museum in Kentucky.
The miniature palaces have appeared on Blue Peter four times and have also made an appearance on News at 10.
“There will never be anyone like him and he was such a lovely man,” said Kevin.“He was funny and caring and his wife Valerie was always by his side.”
Valerie, his wife of 57 years, used to stand next to the palaces while John took photographs so he could work out the scale when he got home.
She said: “I have known John since school days. He was just a boy in the school.
“In 1946 the war was over and he had come back and I went to a dance. I wasn’t keen on going but I went and who should be there but John.”
“I liked his quiet disposition. He was a very quiet person and he had patience galore,”she said.
“I used to panic and he would say calm down, that’s the sort of person he was.”
Martin is their only child and they have three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
The funeral will be on July 1 at 10.30am at Kingsdown Crematorium. Family flowers only but donations can be made to the RNLI.