Edgar Wood - Architect



Portrait of Wood by his close friend Fred W. Jackson
It is shown with the permision of Roy Jackson.

What follows is extracted from The Edgar Wood Centre, Victoria Park, Manchester, a document prepared by John H. G. Archer, School of Architecture, University of Manchester, May 1987 and shown here with his permission.


"Edgar Wood (1860-1935) practised from Manchester about the turn of the century and gained a considerable reputation both in Britain and abroad, notably in Germany. British design was then of European significance. His work is principally domestic, but he designed several churches and small commercial buildings. He worked as an individual designer, mostly with only one assistant, and confined himself to the smaller type of building that he could control personally. Although he was active in Manchester for over twenty years, most of his work is in nearby towns, such as Rochdale, Oldham and Middleton (of which he was native), and in outlying districts such as Bramhall and Hale. He contributed to Manchester in various ways. He was a founder of the Northern Art Workers' Guild in 1896, one of the major provincial societies within the Arts and Crafts Movement; he was president of the Manchester Society of Architects from 1911-12; and he was instrumental in saving the colonnade of Manchester's first town hall, designed by Francis Goodwin, which stood in King Street and was demolished c. 1911.




Wood raised a public appeal and prepared a scheme for the re-erection of the colonnade in Platt Fields park, and when this was rejected he drew up another for a site in Heaton Park where the colonnade now stands, a magnificent Ionic wide screen and a fine parkland feature."

Edgar Wood was born on May 17, 1860. He was the sixth of eight children born to Thomas Broadbent Wood and Mary Wood. Only three of the children lived to adulthood. The family lived in Middleton and Wood's father was a mill owner, a Unitarian, a Liberal and had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian. Edgar was educated at the local Queen Elizabeth Grammar School (the photograph of the school, on the right, is shown with the permission of the Old Grammar School, Middleton, web site).


Views of the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Middleton

The direction of Edgar's life after school was a controversial subject in the Wood household. It had been assumed by his father that Edgar would enter the family cotton business but he had different ideas. Edgar's ambition was to be an artist. The difference in opinion was finally resolved in a compromise which saw Edgar agreeing to train as an architect.




So Edgar Wood started the process of becoming an architect articled to Mills and Murgatroyd, the Manchester architectural firm that was responsible for a number of prominent building in Manchester including London Road Station and the redesigned Royal Exchange (above). Perhaps the best way to judge how Wood felt about his years as a pupil can be gleaned from his own comments in a lecture he delivered in 1900 in Birmingham, "My earliest architectural years were passed in an atmosphere where beautiful creative powers as applied to building, and life in design generally, were drowned in the solemnity of commerce, tracing paper and the checking of quantities."

Edgar passed the qualifying examinations of the RIBA and became an Associate in 1885. He set up his own office in Middleton and his first commission seems to have been for a shelter and drinking fountain (below) paid for by his stepmother and placed in the Middleton market square to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee.

The Shelter and Drinking Fountain designed by Edgar Wood for Middleton

By 1892 it appears that his practice was flourishing and he moved into new premises at 78 Cross Street in the heart of Manchester. Ever the artist he would arrive at work wearing a large black cloak, lined with red silk, a flat, broad-brimmed hat and brandishing a silver handled cane. He said, "If an architect is not allowed to advertise his name he must advertise his personality."

John H. G. Archer says of Wood that, "Architecturally, Wood's sympathy lay with the progressive movement of the day, represented first by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement". Wood was a founder member of the Northern Art Worker's Guild and became it's Master in 1897. Wood practised in various crafts and he designed furniture, jewellery and metalwork. Archer adds, "In Wood's architecture the influences of both the Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau are clearly apparent, the former by his revival of the vernacular traditions of Lancashire and West Riding buildings, and the latter by his use of elongated forms and interwoven motifs."

John H. G. Archer divides Wood's career into "two broad phases"

The First Phase - 1887 -1903

The Front of the First Church of Christ Scientist The Long Street Wesleyan Church

During this period Wood's work ranged from small cottages such as those in Hilton Fold Lane, Middleton; large houses such as Banney Royd at Edgerton, Huddersfield; and 6 churches. The churches included the First Church of Christ Scientist, on Daisy Bank Road in Manchester (above left) and the Long Street Wesleyan Church in the center of Middleton (above right).

The Second Phase 1903 - c1921

This part of Wood's career is much influenced by his interest in the work of James Henry Seller which led to the two men collaborating in an informal partnership. The two shared the office at 78 Cross Street but each continued to be responsible for his own work. Archer says of this period, "Previous to this Wood's work had been strongly inclined to the romantic and the picturesque but after 1903, perhaps as a result of mature reflection on his experience, perhaps through his meeting with Sellers, a stronger element of rationality entered his work and its character became more restrained.

During this phase of Wood's career he adopted a relatively new development in building construction, reinforced concrete. This material was invented in 1849 but was not employed in the construction of buildings until the mid 1890s. It was Sellers who was the motivation to use this material. He had constructed two buildings in Oldham using it. The first was built in Lowside, Oldham in 1900 and the second was a large office building in King Street, Oldham that was completed in 1907. Wood used reinforced concrete in a series of building, the first being a house in Mellalieu Street, Middleton, not too far from his Long Street Church.


One of the uses of reinforced concrete was in the construction of a flat roof. This kind of roof freed the architect from the restrictions set by a pitched roof thereby allowing for the design of irregular shaped buildings.

Other houses followed both small and large and it was during this period that he built a house for his own use called Royd House. The house sits beside Hale Road, in Hale, Cheshire, not far from the town center. The house was built in 1914. It reflects the sort of freedom of shape that a flat roof affords the designer.

Wood's father died in 1909 and the inheritence was sufficient to change Wood's outlook on his practice. No longer was he constrained by a financial imperative. He travelled more and it would seem that, whilst the collaboration between he and Sellers continued, a great deal of the responsibility fell on Sellers' shoulders. In 1908 the practice designed a pair of schools in Middleton, one in Elm Street


the other in Durnford Street.


The Elm Street School is still in operation but the Durnford Street School is mostly abandoned and in May of 2000 was up for sale. Only one small section of the Durnford building was being used as an adult education center.  It has since been demolished.

In 1913 the practice built 39 houses for the Fairfield Tennant's Association. It was a housing development on Fairfield Avenue and Broadway close to the Moravian Settlement in Fairfield, Manchester.

 

The outbreak of The Great War in 1914 brought building construction to something of a halt but Wood and Sellers continued to work together until Wood retired in 1921. The last building that he worked on was a house in Heywood, Manchester called Edgecroft. Wood moved to Monte Calvario, near Imperia, on the Italian Riviera to live in a house that he had designed. He spent his retirement travelling, painting and designing a garden for his retirement home.



Edgar Wood died on October 12, 1935 at Monte Calvario and he is buried at Diano Maria.

Some years after his death the grave became overgrown and neglected but thanks to an Italian branch of the Lion's Club the grave was restored. A visitor to the site reported that: "There is now an impressive marble slab on the grave, so much more fitting

"His memorial," says John H. G. Archer, "is his work, sixty buildings and designs which faithfully record his vision, endeavour and vivid personality."