Intrepid explorers have tracked down one of the last buildings that Edgar Wood designed. It was a modification and large extension to a Victorian house. Here is a painting by the owner. More information will follow.
This was a day trip organised by the Friends of The Edgar Wood Centre in Middleton to see some Arts & Crafts highlights. We all met at the Arts and Crafts Church and boarded a coach bound for the mecca for northern Arts & Crafts… The lake District.
We then travelled to the highlight of our trip, Blackwell, Windermere built between 1898 and 1900, a masterpiece designed by Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott. With a rather chequered history it has somehow managed to retain many of its original features and is considered to be the best example of its type open to the public.
After a brief introduction from a local guide we enjoyed a light lunch before wandering at will to admire the very fine craftsmanship not only of the building but also the contents. Built as a holiday home for Sir Edward Holt, a brewing magnate it has magnificent views over the lake.
Our next stop was at Broad Leys now the headquarters of the Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club but designed by Charles FA Voysey as a large house, again in the Arts & Crafts style.
Finally we enjoyed a walk round the gardens and refreshments at Brockhall Visitor Centre (below) although none of us ventured onto the aerial walkways and runway. Comments like ‘It’s too busy’, ‘I’m not prepared to queue’, ‘We haven’t got time’ were uttered at regular intervals!
Our thanks to Christine and Geoff for their hard work in organising such an excellent day.
Middleton Garden of Remembrance is highlighted by English Heritage in its annual review of listings across the country. The garden and loggia are one of only a handful of Arts and Crafts inspired war memorials.
The whole report can be viewed here…
James William Booth (1867-1953) Booth was a leading member of the Staithes Group. He studied at Manchester School of Art under Elias Bancroft. He was a friend of Fred Jackson. Bancroft and Jackson visited Whitby and Hinderwell to paint and Booth followed. He initially shared a studio with Laura and Harold Knight in Staithes. Booth was a member of the Manchester Academy and the Royal Cambrian Academy.
Frederick William Jackson was born in 1859 at Middleton Junction. He was one of three children, and his father worked as a photographer in Oldham. His two brothers were Vincent Jackson, a musician trained at Leipzig Conservatoire, and Charles Arthur Jackson, who was an art dealer and owned a gallery at 7 Police Street, Manchester. Charles gave considerable support to Frederick during his career, helping with both money and materials. Many of Jackson’s pictures bear labels inscribed with the address of his brother’s gallery.
Jackson had relatively little formal training. His interest in painting was evident from an early age: as a boy, he went on sketching tours with his friend, the future architect, Edgar Wood. After leaving school, he attended evening classes at Oldham School of Art, where he studied painting under John Houghton Hague. (William Stott of Oldham was another of Hague’s pupils).
John Houghton Hague’s brother, Joshua Anderson Hague, was the leader of a group of young artists known as the ‘Manchester School’. Nearly all these artists had been trained at Manchester Academy of Fine Art and they met together in Wales at the studio of the self- taught, Joseph Knight, in the early 1870’s. They were influenced by the Barbizon School of painters and by Israels, Mauve and Maris, and they made a number of trips to Brittany between 1871 and 1878. The group was making, a considerable impact in the mid 1870’s and Jackson was drawn towards them, being influenced by their choice of subject matter and style of tonal painting. Academy where he attended life classes for six months. In 1880, he went to live in North Wales, where the artists H. Clarence Whaite, Joshua Anderson Hague and Edward Norbury were planning to found the Royal Cambrian Academy. He joined the already considerable number of Manchester artists living in the Conway Valley.
The 1880’s was an important decade for Jackson. He was made a member of the Arts Club in 1879 and a member of the Limners Club in 1880-1. Following the Manchester Academy exhibitions of 1880 and 1881, he was elected a member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Art. Over the next few years, he exhibited a good deal of his work, including two coast scenes at the Paris Salon in 1884 and “two splendid landscapes” there in 1885. In 1886, he became a founder member of the New English Art Club. He did not join its ten more progressive members (including Sickert and Steer) who worked in an Impressionistic as opposed to Barbizon inspired manner, and he did not exhibit at their separate exhibition of 1898 entitled ‘The London Impressionists’. In 1894, Jackson became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists. Throughout the ’90’s, and probably through his friendship with Edgar Wood, he became involved in the Arts and Crafts Movement. It was at this point that he did a number of mural paintings. His affinity with the Movement is evident in other areas of his work – his wash drawings to illustrate works by local dialect writers, Ben Brierley and Samual Laycock for example and his oil paintings of hand spinning and handloom weaving.
Returning from Wales, he went to Paris where he studied under Lefebvre and Boulanger. He remained in France for four or five years. It is most unlikely that he was influenced by those masters who taught him in Paris – they worked in a meticulous and academic style favoured by conservative French art lovers of the day, and totally alien to his own approach. At this time, Rochdale born Edward Stott was also in Paris, Studying under Carolus Duran, and Oldham-born William Stott and Henry Herbert La Thangue were studying under J. L. Gerome. During this period, the work of the Barbizon school painters was being hung in the Salon and Impressionism was at its height – with the stir it had caused still very much in evidence! (The first Impressionist Exhibition had been held in 1874 and the last was to be held in 1886).
After completing his studies in Paris, Jackson visited several European countries, spending most of his time in Italy, in Capri, Venice, Florence and Rome. He also visited Morocco before returning to England. He settled at Ivy Cottage, Hinderwell near Whitby, marrying Carrie Hodgeson, the daughter of a Yorkshire farmer. From there he exhibited frequently at the Manchester Academy and at the annual exhibition of the Yorkshire Union of Artists, as well as in London.
After 1900, Jackson travelled to Russia, France and Italy and, as some of his contemporaries noted, his late landscapes executed in these included some of his finest work. Jackson was liked and respected in his day and praised as an artist. It was generally felt that he could have achieved the distinction of R.A. had it not been for his reticence and modesty. He died in 1918 aged 59 and was buried in his native Middleton.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 of Bury who won the competition for designing the library. However, he built nothing like it before or afterwards. Instead, the building is in Edgar Wood’s early Arts & Crafts style (he was aged 29 in 1889).
Edgar Wood’s father and his main client (Schwabe) were the two principal funders of the library and many of the other large funders were also Edgar Wood clients. We think that Laurence Booth was a front to hide Edgar’s involvement as he could not have fairly competed and it would have have been controversial for him to do so. There are many clues in the surviving records that this was the case and that Edgar Wood was indeed the true designer.
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. Consequently, the Library is now firmly on the Edgar Wood heritage trail!
Edgar Wood’s avant garde buildings were very contentious locally and he had to take a very low profile in the design of publicly funded buildings. Similar methods were used to hide his involvement in the design of Long Street Methodist, the Arts & Crafts Church, when he was only revealed as architect at the last minute in December 1898 after all the decisions had been made. Likewise, he was hidden from view in the restoration of the Parish Church and, as one of the leading town planners of England, we also think he was the hidden designer of Alkrington Garden Village. The official designer, Thomas Adams, would have known Edgar as they were both involved in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire.
The Library is full of Arts & Crafts features, like the traditional pegged oak construction used for the timber work (which Mr. Booth complained about!). The reinforced concrete construction of the first floor is another Arts & Crafts experimental feature. Blending traditional handicrafts with modern methods like reinforced concrete were very much Edgar Wood’s approach. Later on, he became famous for his flat concrete roofs and for pioneering modern design.
CLICK HERE to enlarge the photo.
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 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
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!
The 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
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
Tonge 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.
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
Timber frame repairs undertaken by Heritage Trust for the North-West (copyright: Alan Gardner)
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 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.
The 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!
In 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.
The 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.
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.
Listed Outstanding Grade II* by English Heritage