Edgar Wood

Edgar Wood

"Edgar Wood (1860-1935) practised architecture 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."

 

Views of the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Middleton

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, above, is shown with the permission of the Old Grammar School, Middleton, web site). 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.

The Royal Exchange Building in Manchester

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 (left). 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."

The Shelter and Drinking Fountain designed by Edgar Wood for Middleton

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 (above) paid for by his stepmother and placed in the Middleton market square to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee. 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."

Long Street Church, Middleton

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."

There are many examples of Wood's work in Middleton from the steps he designed for Jubilee Park to the Long Street Church to Elm Street School. His work is dotted around the town.

 

The portrait of Edgar Wood is shown with the permision of Roy Jackson.
The photograph of the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School is shown with the permission of the Old Grammar School, Middleton, web site