Edgar Wood’s architecture constantly anticipated future trends. His design moved through art nouveau, Jacobean, vernacular, expressionist and finally art deco phases – an evolution traced in his Middleton buildings. He became England’s uncontested pioneer of modern design and flat roofed buildings.
Edgar Wood worked like an artist with a small number of assistants designing buildings, furniture, stained glass, sculpture, metal and plaster work. Many commissions came from friends and family in Middleton, Rochdale, Oldham, Huddersfield, Hale and Stockport. Influenced by the artistic and socialist writings of William Morris, he saw himself as an artisan serving the people of these localities.
In the 1880s, art nouveau was a new graphic style based on extended lines and sensuous curves. Edgar Wood was the first in Europe to develop it into an architectural expression, emphasizing verticality and bright colour in his designs. The Arts & Crafts, on the other hand, revived traditional building techniques to create beautiful yet practical buildings and Edgar Wood also pioneered also using vernacular and Jacobean features.
As his work matured in the 1890s, Edgar Wood started designing strictly ‘plan first’. He also kept his elevations very plain, allowing the surface quality and colour of the materials give the building is character. In these and other ways, Edgar Wood anticipated modern design approaches. Around 1900, his buildings took on expressionist forms, confirming his avant-garde reputation and art nouveau sensibility.
At the height of his fame around 1903, Wood joined up with J. Henry Sellers to create buildings with flat reinforced concrete roofs, cubic forms and geometric patterns. They were the first examples of art deco architecture in Europe.
Edgar Wood also pioneered garden suburb town planning and the conservation of old buildings. He seemed to be everywhere shaping the future of Middleton, but always quietly in the background. He carefully preserved the medieval Church of St. Leonard introducing art workers like Christopher Whall to enrich its interior. As a result, St. Leonard’s is now the last unrestored medieval church in the Manchester area because of this. It overlooks Jubilee Park where an art deco staircase and fountain was built to frame its tower. This was Edgar Wood’s and Europe’s first art deco design. Wood’s conservation activities also saved the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, the oldest school in the county and Ye Olde Boar’s Head P.H. – the oldest pub in Manchester.
A lifetime of commitment by Edgar Wood, his family, friends and followers resulted in the unique Middleton ‘Golden Cluster’ of Arts & Crafts heritage. In 1922 he retired to Italy to paint, where he died in 1935.