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.