Edgar Wood

Edgar Wood was an architect, artist, craftsman, conservationist and town planner. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, he had a national and international reputation and was regarded as the most important avant-garde architect in the north of England.

Wood was born into a wealthy Middleton family in 1860. From an early age he had a passion for art and spent hours sketching with his friend, Fred Jackson, who later became a prominent artist. Wood instead trained as an architect, though he viewed architecture as an “art”. He filled his buildings with beautiful furniture, stained glass and paintings, often of his own design or making. Jackson and Wood sometimes co-operated on painting murals for his buildings.

As an architect, Wood rejected large scale commercial practice and worked as an artist with a small number of assistants designing furniture, stained glass, sculpture, metal and plaster work as well as buildings. Many commissions were from friends and family in Middleton, Huddersfield and Hale. Influenced by the artistic and socialist writings of William Morris, he saw himself as an artisan serving the people of these localities.

Architecture was changing. The Victorian Gothic style was on the wane and architects were looking for a new way to design. Art Nouveau was a new style based on extended lines and sensuous curves. It was used for buildings, sculpture, painting and the graphic arts. Arts & Crafts, another approach, revived traditional building techniques to create beautiful yet practical buildings. It stressed honest craftsmanship, handmade quality and the importance of art in everyday life. Edgar Wood was a leading practitioner in both.

Wood’s early buildings revived vernacular features, crafts and techniques. They were richly detailed and very romantic. Later, his larger buildings took on strange Art Nouveau forms, confirming his avant-garde reputation. Gradually, a plainer style emerged with decoration carefully placed in specific places.

At the height of his fame, Wood worked with an Oldham architect, J. Henry Sellers, and created a series of radical new buildings of a type unseen before. With their flat reinforced concrete roofs and sometimes geometric patterns, they were among the first examples of “modern architecture” in Europe.

Edgar Wood constantly sought new architectural expression in practical and well planned buildings. Today, he is regarded as someone ahead of his time; for example, his avant-garde designs anticipate Expressionist architecture of the 1920s and Art Deco of the 1930s.

Arts & Crafts Church – 1899 architect Edgar Wood

Long Street Methodist Church & Schools are a striking complex of connected buildings arranged around a courtyard garden – the finest Arts and Crafts Methodist Church anywhere.

Edgar Wood’s church has a simple, strong and memorable appearance but with delicate surfaces where colour and texture prevail. Seen close up from the street, the church soars dramatically. It is built of subtly textured brickwork and almost identically coloured red Runcorn sandstone which runs organically up the building like no other. The organic looking tracery of the two large windows at each end of the church is un-mistakedly Art Nouveau and the one facing the road grows upwards to form a finial with a plant-like top. While recognisably a church, the design was the most the modern and forward-looking in England when built in 1899.

The internal styling is plain, simple and modern with a very controlled visual scene with the same stripy red sandstone and subtle header bond brickwork found outside. It is a very peaceful space, large but not overpowering. All the windows have plain leaded glass, so pure white light illuminates the church. However, little coloured Arts & Crafts leaded windows in the doors glow when the light catches them. The chancel is marked by a line of Art Nouveau fittings – a pulpit, lectern and font all connected by a matching stone chancel wall. Beyond this, the chancel is intimate with Art Nouveau pews, chairs and kneelers.

The open roof space is designed with alternating hammer beam and scissor trusses with the underside of the trusses catching the light from the windows. With a brilliant touch, Wood fixed small square timber caps to alternating trusses thereby giving the roof a rhythm drawing the eye along the nave and chancel to the windows at each end.

The church is a true expression of the Arts & Crafts – nothing is showy or pretentious and everything is harmonious save for the occasional modern alteration.

 

Arts & Crafts Church, School and Garden – 1899 architect Edgar Wood

Long Street Methodist Church & School are a striking complex of connected buildings arranged around an ‘outside room’ garden.  Across this space, Edgar Wood integrates a series of opposites – sacred and secular, expression and restraint, axial and informal, and, rational and romantic.  The plain and simple mass of the church contrasts with the complexity and richness of the school buildings where there is a unique character, somewhere between a formal composition and a romantic street scene.

Unfortunately, time has eroded the outstanding qualities of the garden and its buildings. To rectify this, Greater Manchester Building Preservation Trust and Arts & Crafts Awakening are pursuing heritage grants to restore the design to the designers intentions, as far as can be achieved. Once restored the garden will look something like this…

BEFORE
BEFORE
AFTER
AFTER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taken together, the Methodist church, school and garden are finest expression of Edgar Wood’s attempts to synthesize tradition and modernity. These artistic buildings and spaces feel simultaneously both ancient and modern, where the rational and romantic are harmoniously intergrated.

Edgar Wood Community Centre – 1899 architect Edgar Wood

The original Long Street Methodist Sunday School was a unique place of learning for people without weekday education. The design, which used the forms and materials of rural buildings, looked forward to a civilised future where natural beauty and education went together. It was published across Britain, Europe and USA for well over a decade as a progressive school design to be emulated.

Main hall (left) and lecture room (right)

The school comprises a beautiful group of Arts & Crafts buildings set around a garden. Contrasting with the adjacent brick church, the school facade is built in a light lime-washed render with stone and brick art nouveau detailing. The Main School, Infants Schoolroom, Ladies Room (teachers room) and Lecture Room are all individually expressed. However, they are all united with the church under a rustic stone flag roof, one of the biggest traditional roofs in the north of England.

Exhibition 2015 (2)
Ladies Room

Inside, the focal point of each room is an open roof structure which supports the exceptionally heavy roof.  The one in the Lecture Room has king post trusses with plant-like curving struts, an art nouveau touch. The romantic roof over the Ladies Parlour blends perfectly with the art nouveau chimney.

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School hall

By far the largest space is the School Hall where Edgar Wood installed six spectacular trusses that sit on long curved braces to gain the required width of the hall.

The school is owned by Greater Manchester Building Preservation Trust and supported by a lively group of volunteers who have formed a social enterprise to manage it’s future as a community and heritage facility. Restoration grants gave been submitted to three funding bodies to cover £500,000 of repair work.

Craft event in the lecture room
Craft event in the lecture room
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Community event in the hall

Ye Olde Boar’s Head P.H. – 1632

It is believed that Ye Olde Boar’s Head P.H. began life in the 1600s as a pair of clothiers houses on the road between Manchester and Rochdale. At that time, the textile industry was based in houses, where the upper rooms had long rows of windows illuminating the weaving loomshops. The houses were later combined to form an Inn serving travellers between the two towns and in the early 1700s, a Sessions Court house was added which later installed the old fireplace from Middleton Hall when it was demolished.The ‘Old Boar’ itself was almost demolished in the early twentieth century to build a Town Hall but the plan was thwarted by Edgar Wood and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

Middleton Archaeological Society is carrying out a study of the building.

Ye Olde Boar’s Head is a wonderfully rambling place. It is a timber framed building of the box-frame type, rare in Greater Manchester and Lancashire. Middleton Archaeological Society are begining a study on the building. The name remembers Middleton’s ancient Lords of the Manor, the Asshetons, who had a boar’s head as the family symbol. Being a pub, you can visit anytime it is open.

Jubilee Library – 1889 – Architect Laurence Booth with Edgar Wood

Long Street looks lovely in spring with the Jubilee Library cherry blossom out and the trees coming into leaf. This panorama shows how Middleton’s Jubilee Library was designed to respect the timber-framed Old Boar’s Head. The library is an early and unusual Arts & Crafts design and there is only one other listed Arts & Crafts library in England of such an early date.

The official architect was Laurence Booth, a good local designer then in his 50s who designed in the standard Victorian manner. He built nothing like this before or afterwards. Instead, the Library is in the early styling of Edgar Wood (aged 29 in 1889) and there are many clues that Wood was closely involved and was most likely the true designer or, at least co-designer.

The Library is full of Arts & Crafts features, like the traditional pegged oak construction used for all the timber work (which Mr. Booth complained about!) and the reinforced concrete construction of the first floor, so the interior looks a bit like a mill. Blending traditional handicrafts with modern methods like steel and reinforced concrete were very much Edgar Wood’s approach.

Edgar Wood’s father, T. B. Wood and his neighbours, the Schwabe family, were the principal leaders and funders of the scheme… so the pieces of the jigsaw quickly come together. The real architect, Edgar Wood, was hidden from view to avoid a controversy. He was such a divisive local designer as well as being the son of the main funder. In this way, Edgar Wood appears to have designed the town’s first public library creating a state of the art design some ten years before Arts & Crafts architecture began to take off.

A similar device was used in the design of Long Street Methodist, the Arts & Crafts Church, where Wood’s involvement over several years was kept secret and only revealed at the last minute in December 1898 after all the decisions had been made.

CLICK HERE to enlarge the photo.

36 Mellalieu Street – 1906 architect Edgar Wood

36 Mellalieu Street was Edgar Wood’s first house designed with a concrete flat roof that covered the whole building. It was drawn up in 1906, five years after he had begun experimenting with flat roofs and three years after he had first met J. Henry Sellers and they had begun on their ambitious project to create a new architecture for the new century.

Between 1907 and 1909, Edgar Wood designed similar-looking cubic houses of different sizes and types in Burnley, Heywood, Stafford, Sheffield and Hertfordshire. They were the first modern movement houses in the world and were highly influential.

When 36 Mellalieu Street was built in 1910, Edgar decided to leave off one of the two bay windows he originally planned and to give the detailing a vernacular character. Even so, it was the most modern town house in the country and its cubic form set the style for modern buildings for decades.

36 Mellalieu Street was restored to its original appearance in 2012 as part of the Edgar Wood and Middleton Heritage Initiative.

36 Mellalieu Street is listed Grade II by English Heritage.

St. Leonard’s Church – 1412

St Leonard's ChurchSt. Leonard’s or Middleton Parish Church on its hill above the town is by far the oldest building in the area and arguably the oldest in Greater Manchester. It was first established in Saxon times and was a safe haven for the Holy Island monks carrying Lindisfarne Gospels and the coffin of Saint Cuthbert escaping from the marauding Vikings around 880 A.D. The church was rebuilt in Norman times and then again in 1412 by Middleton’s Thomas Langley, Prince Bishop of Durham and Chancellor to Kings Henry IV, V and VI. Bishop Langley somewhat sentimentally retained some of the Norman detailing, notably in the tower arch.  In the early 1500s a clerestory was added which lightened the interior. The Reformation shortly afterwards destroyed much of the interior but several medival features survived, including Langley’s rood and parclose screens, misericords and the famous medieval ‘Flodden Window’. After the turmoil of the 1600s, the Geogians added a series of classical monuments in the 1700s but their balconies were all taken out by the Victorians who undertook sensitive alterations. Finally in the twentieth century, Edgar Wood restored the roof, added a boiler house and set the church on a route of sensitive change which involved installing beautiful stained glass and a choir practice room designed by the Arts & Crafts modernist architect George Pace. St. Leonard’s Church is listed Outstanding Grade I by English Heritage

Visit the St. Leonard’s Church web site

Queen Elizabeth Grammar School – 1586

Queen Elizabeth Grammar School was built in 1586 to replace the chantry school  at St. Leonard’s Church  which was abolished in the Reformation.  When it was built, there was no town of Middleton but a rural township with scattered buildings that spread across north Manchester as far as Bolton. Though one can find Grammar Schools of an earlier date than Middleton’s, we have yet to find an earlier one still with its original buildings. So we think this is the oldest surviving Grammar School in England. If we are wrong, please let us know!

IMGP2445 - Copy_procThe school had a link-up with Brazenose College, Oxford – students of the school could go onto the college. It was still in use in Victorian times and was the school attended by Edgar Wood – his initials in his characteristic script are scrawled on the walls in the building (something actually encouraged at the time).

The school now has several uses, including as a delightful venue for private receptions and parties.

The Old Grammar School is listed Outstanding Grade II* by English Heritage

Visit the Old Grammar School web site
Visit the Old Grammar School history web page

Elm Street School – 1909 architects Edgar Wood and Henry Sellers

Edgar Wood and J. Henry Sellers had met up in 1903 and quickly began working on a new type of ‘cubic’ architecture using reinforced concrete and to create buildings not possible with traditional roofs.

Elm Street School (now Elm Wood School) was designed as a ‘Board School’. However, it was radically different to the other schools of this type and is celebrated as a high point of Wood’s and Sellers’ Arts & Crafts modernism. It was one of just a handful of joint designs by the two architects, despite having worked together on the new style. Edgar Wood was extremely busy in 1908 and most likely he asked Sellers to help him with the design which he had recieved after much lobbying of the Middleton Education Committee.

Elm Street School is a symmetrical building using a motif of a rectangle and semicircle to shape a substantial garden at its centre. The rectangle and semicircle also shapes the architectural detailing and the constant reuse of these two shapes bestows a quiet unity to the design.

The semicircle is expressed as a concave single-storey limestone façade facing the garden and behind rises an impressive brick school hall with nine round-headed windows and short limestone-capped towers at each end. The height of the hall windows, which makes the interior so bright, is only possible  because flat concrete roofs are used on the surrounding classrooms. The main hall has a fine plaster ceiling decorated with a large rectangle and two semicircles in blue and yellow/orange, the original colours.

Two sides of the garden are enclosed by passageways with semicircular openings, which connect the school entrances to the road and provide shelter for the children. The garden is a safe place for young children to play and, like the garden at Long Street Methodist School, it shows that Edgar Wood wanted children to experience the beauty of nature.

Compare Elm Street School with the Long Street Methodist School? They look completely different yet are based on the same idea of a school set around an Arts & Crafts garden.

Elm Street School is still used as a school today. It has been renamed Elm Wood School in honour of its designer. The buildings are owned by Rochdale Council which, with the school, has carried out conservation work in recent years, including restoring the original windows.

Elm Street School is listed Outstanding Grade II* by English Heritage

Visit Elm Wood School web site

 

Tonge Hall – 1587

tonge-hall1Tonge Hall is generally regarded as one of the finest examples of Tudor architecture in the country and despite a devastating fire in 2007, still retains many of its original features, including carved oak beams,  inglenook fireplaces timber panelling and a wonderful spiral staircase. The building was heroically saved by Heritage Trust for the North West whose contracting arm undertook extremely skilful emergency conservation work after the fire – work beyond the ability of the majority of contractors.

C_71_article_1584357_image_list_image_list_item_0_image The work was planned and supervised by national conservation expert Alan Gardner who is a great supporter of Middleton’s ‘Golden Cluster’ of buildings. Great credit should also go to English Heritage, which provided the finance and to Rochdale Council which initially secured the site and has now taken over the ownership.  The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings has also contributed with money and support as has the local support group, Friends of Middleton View who are pushing for a conservation area. Tonge Hall now sits in a huge scaffold cage supporting and protecting it, while a long term scheme is drawn up by the  Council. Heritage Trust for the North West are keeping an eye on things in the meantime.

Listed Outstanding Grade II* by English Heritage

Visit conservation expert Alan Gardner’s web site
Visit Heritage Trust for the North West’s web site
Timber frame repairs undertaken by Heritage Trust for the North-West (copyright: Alan Gardner)

Tonge repair 3Tonge repair 2Tonge repairTonge repair 5Tonge repair 4

Redcroft & Fencegate – 1891 architect Edgar Wood

When Redcroft (left) and Fencegate (right) were built in 1891, they were the most modern pair of ‘semis’ in the country. They began a new phase of Arts & Crafts design which reworked the humble features of  farmhouses and cottages into new sophisticated architecture. Edgar Wood’s buildings had been hinting at this vernacular inspired style for several years. The problem was that few wealthy Victorian businessmen wanted their new home to look like a crumbling old cottage! Wood could only introduce a few features here and there so as not to be overruled by his clients.

However, with Redcroft and Fencegate, Edgar was both the client and the designer. He was free to design the house as he wished, save for the views of his supportive father who was paying for it as Edgar and Annie Wood’s wedding present – they were married that year. Edgar and Annie lived at Redcroft while the manager of his father’s mill, Mr. Wiggins, lived at Fencegate.

When building Redcroft, Edgar looked up at the just plastered ceiling and a large piece of wet plaster fell into his face. Plaster is extremely alkaline and he lost an eye in the accident. Had Edgar lost both eyes, his career would have ended immediately and the appearance of buildings fifty years hence might have looked rather different.

51 & 53 Rochdale Road – 1899 architect Edgar Wood

51-53 Rochdale Rd 7 1024_proc_proc_proc51 & 53 Rochdale Road are well preserved example of Arts and Crafts domestic architecture.  A picturesque quality is obtained through sensitive use of materials rather than irregular form. The form is blocky and efficient, with a grid-like arrangement of elements on the main facade.

Asymmetry is created simply by raising the bay window on the left hand side, so that it breaks the eaves.  Wood’s later designs, for example 36 Mellalieu Street nearby do a similar thing and both are examples of Wood changing his architectural expression from irregular forms to one where materials and formality increasingly play the dominant role.

 

Doors 51-53 Rochdale RoadThe building is one of the first polite architect-designed house designs to use common bricks to define the front elevation, something which, again, looked towards the future. Another interesting feature is the design of the two front doors, which anticipate Art Deco by some 25 years!

 

Briarhill & Hillcrest– 1892 architect Edgar Wood

Briarhill_procIn the early days of Arts & Crafts architecture, pioneers like Edgar Wood experimented with a variety of materials and forms, trying to find a new way in design. The semi-detached pair of houses on Rochdale Road, Middleton, Briarhill & Hillcrest, is one of these and represents an art nouveau ‘town’ approach to design in contrast to the vernacular revival ‘country’ approach of Redcroft & Fencegate next door.

Their appearance could not have been more different, with bright red Ruabon bricks, tall angular symmetry and pioneering Art Nouveau forms. This striking and original building, now considerably at risk in 2016, is one of the world’s first art nouveau buildings and takes no prisoners in its powerful expression. It was so advanced in its day that the design was published across Britain, Europe and USA and it set the trend for other ‘all red’ buildings.

Some people struggle to like it, though others adore its bold and uncompromising impact.The use of identically coloured red brick and terracotta was approved of by William Morris, where the smoky atmosphere required such materials. However, when it came to the roof, Edgar Wood did something no other architect had thought of, he mix five different types of slate from around the country, to create a mottled impressionistic surface – an idea transferred from the realm of painting to building.

EW Briarhill in USThe building was illustrated in the USA publication, American Architect and Building News a year later. This magazine was published in Boston and would have been admired by the early Arts and Crafts designers of the eastern States.

Briarhill 1980s
Briarhill 1980s

 

Original leaded lights
Original leaded lights
Two tulips are that is left
Two tulips are that is left
From the road
From the road
Scalloped walls
Scalloped walls
Arts & Crafts letter box
Arts & Crafts letter box
Art Nouveau hallway
Art Nouveau hallway

Hopwood Hall – 1400 to 1900s

Check out Andy Marshall’s Photos of Hopwood Hall

Hopwood Hall is one of the truly great buildings of Middleton but one which has sadly been left to rot under the custodianship of Rochdale M.B.C.  Recently, the Council has tried to make amends by providing security and undertaking urgent repairs. There is some hope, with the leadership of Hopwood Hall College and a host of volunteers, plans are being tentatively drawn up to save the building. Great credit should go to Mr. Bob Wall for his constant efforts on behalf of the building, to Andy Marshall, for his amazing photos and to conservation expert Alan Gardner whose advice and direction have been critical to saving the building.

Hopwood Hall is remembered by students of the old De La Salle art college of the 1980s – the chapel to the college is also a listed building but of a very different type, a modernist creation of the 1960s – famous for being Liverpool R.C. Cathedral in miniature.

Hopwood Hall is a building of many ages where the work of the medieval carpenter sits next to that of the modern builder. Its history is long and complex and the buildings ‘ramble’ like no other. Edgar Wood was a fan and around 1910 carried out a sensitive restoration which, in turn, complemented the characterful work by the architect Geoge Shaw of Saddleworth half a century earlier.  The interiors are rich in Jacobean panelling and plaster work but currently the floors are simply too rotten and dangerous to walk on. However, you can get a good view from Andy Marshall’s photos.

Visit conservation expert Alan Gardner’s web site

Listed Outstanding Grade II* by English Heritage