Northern Architectural Association: An Historical Sketch 1924

Joseph Oswald FRIBA – A Past President

edited by Bob Giddings January 2018

j-oswaldThe Northern Architectural Association was founded in 1858 by twenty-seven Architects practising in Newcastle, Sunderland, Durham, Darlington, North Shields, South Shields and Alnwick, who met to protest against a flagrant instance of unfair conditions sought to be imposed in connection with a local competition (for the Mechanics’ Institute at South Shields).

These gentlemen embraced the opportunity of forming themselves into a society to promote union amongst its members, the elevation of the profession, uniformity of practice and the general advancement of the art and science of architecture.

At the date mentioned a few similar provincial societies existed but some of them have changed their names since, whereas the NAA has preserved its title and identity continuously throughout its career. So it is both in fact and name one of the senior provincial societies now allied with the RIBA.

The first president was John Dobson (see past presidents) an architect of much more than merely local fame, whose works in the North of England were numerous and distinguished. He held office until his death in 1865, aged 77. In the inaugural address, written by John Dobson and read at the first formal meeting of the Association, on the 19th April, 1859, he gave some interesting particulars of his apprenticeship, completed in 1809, and of his early career as the first exclusively professional architect in Newcastle. All his predecessors had more or less associated themselves with the actual business of a builder. At the time referred to, Mr Dobson in Northumberland, and Mr Ignatius Bonomi in Durham, were the only really professional architects between York and Edinburgh. Mr Bonomi also acted as a county surveyor for Durham. He died in 1869. He was an honorary member of the NAA, elected 19th July 1859, on the same day as Richard Grainger, the creator of modern Newcastle, who died in 1861. These two gentlemen were the first to be elected honorary members of the NAA. Those so honoured have not been numerous, but Sir George Gilbert Scott was one.

Papers were read in those early days on very practical topics, such as ‘ The Evils of our Present Practice, and the best way to remedy them’, on ‘The Duties of Architects’, and ‘The Momentous Sanitary Question’. These were all printed in the ‘Proceedings’ of the Association, which, unfortunately, ceased to be published after 1862. In these early days, too, annual excursions (see About) were made to places of interest in the neighbourhood. These pleasant and profitable outings have been continued to the present time with comparatively few intermissions. During the first decade of the life of the Association, ‘Annual’ dinners appear to have been held, but apparently not with strict regularity. For many years they ceased to occur, but of late the custom of holding them has been revived with much acceptance and on a larger scale.

As early as 1860, the NAA interested itself in the scheme for architectural examinations proposed to be established by the RIBA, and since 1862 the Architects’ Benevolent Society has continuously received the support of the NAA.

The proposal to form an alliance of the various similar societies then existing in the Kingdom emanated from the NAA as far back as 1860. It drafted the scheme upon the lines of which the Architectural Alliance, as it was called, was subsequently established, and maintained for many years. It consisted of nine societies: one in London, two in Scotland, and six in England. The Architectural Alliance, it is true, in name exists no longer, but its place is more than filled by that wider alliance which has been established between the RIBA and various architectural societies throughout Great Britain, Ireland and the Dominions.

The NAA was, it is believed, the first (for it did so in 1861) to formulate a Scale of Professional Charges, which with modifications, is still in its general lines, the recognised scale of the profession.

The NAA was also, from its outset, active in offering suggestions to the promoters of competitions, now the general policy of the RIBA. The result has been the amelioration, at least, of many evils.

The byelaws of local authorities have, when opportunities arose, received attention and criticism from the Association. In pre-war times, such byelaws appeared in many cases to be conceived with the object of retarding building development, but it is to be hoped that the lessons taught by the war, and by legislation preceding it, will put an end to all objectionable restrictions in future, although signs of the contrary are already beginning to appear.

The enthusiasm of youth having tended to decline in the lapse of years, the Association showed some signs of languishing, but in 1884, on the appointment of Mr Frank West Rich as secretary, new energy was infused into its affairs. About the same time, a paper was read before it entitled ‘Suggestions for making the Association more generally useful’. Many of these suggestions were accepted con amore by the members as desirable innovations. Amongst them were the holding of more frequent meetings, indoor during winter and outdoor during summer; the encouragement of students by the offer of prizes for studies of old work, etc.; the formation of a library; and the acquisition of a more convenient place of meeting than had hitherto been available. Up to that time, the indoor meetings had taken place in the keep of the castle, by kind permission of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries, and a good many years were yet to elapse before a change of venue became feasible. Then the Association migrated from one rendezvous to another until, as will be subsequently related, the premises were acquired that the Association now owns and occupies. A revision of the rules of the Association obviously became necessary, and was effected in 1885. In later years, further revisions of the rules took place to meet the growing requirements of the Association in 1894, 1911, and 1921. Among the results of the re-examination of the Association were a steady increase in the number of members and in the attendance at meetings and an augmented interest in all its doings. Thenceforward, the annual addresses of successive presidents were printed and circulated, as also the annual reports of the Association.

In or about 1887, a bill for the registration of architects was introduced into Parliament, and the Association cordially supported it, regretting that the RIBA did not initiate the movement for it. Notwithstanding this, and perhaps to some extent on account of it, the Association entered into alliance with the RIBA in April1889, being among the first of the provincial societies to do so, and the president, Mr EJ Hansom, was elected on to the RIBA council. He reported the surprise of his colleagues on that council when he presented a very outspoken resolution passed by the NAA in favour of registration and condemning the luke-warm attitude of the RIBA towards it. In its report, dated March 1891, the NAA deplored the action of the RIBA in opposing the progress of the movement towards Registration, but the difference of opinion between the two bodies did not interfere with their friendly relationships, and the Institute commenced to send down to Newcastle for exhibition a selection from the drawings received in competition for the RIBA prizes. This valuable privilege has been extended to the Association by the Institute year by year until the present time.

In1893, Mr Rich retired from office as secretary, after holding it for nine years. Throughout the fourteen years he held the secretaryship he exerted himself largely towards the encouragement of students and the advancement of their education. In this, he was cordially assisted by Mr William Glover, who was destined to become the most conspicuous benefactor to the Association. This gentleman had been elected a member in 1881, and took an active interest in the affairs of the Association, with the result that he attained the presidential chair in 1889 and held it for two years. He left Newcastle at the end of 1901 in order to reside in the south of England, whence he came. On his departure from the north, the NAA presented him with a silver inkstand and an illuminated address. In 1897, Mr Glover had presented the presidential badge and from time to time many other gifts, including substantial donations of money towards the library and students’ prize funds, etc. In1903 and 1904, Mr Glover presented £2,000 of Consols. It was due to this munificence that the Association was able, in 1905, to purchase the premises No. 6, Higham Place, Newcastle, for its permanent abode, besides establishing for the benefit of the younger members, the Glover travelling studentship and medal. When he died on the 23rd of January, 1912, aged 82, it was found that he had made bequests to the Association totalling ultimately probably from £3,000 to £4,000 in Consols, (partly subject to an existing life interest) in trust to apply the income therefrom for educational purposes in connection with architecture or between such education and benevolence. Mr Glover also left large benefactions to the Architects’ Benevolent Society, associating these with the name of the NAA.

The outbreak of war in 1914 put a stop to practically all the ordinary operations of the Association, although the president, during its continuance, Mr R Burns Dick addressed the members at one meeting in each year and at the beginning of 1919 issued a printed appeal in lieu of a presidential address, calling upon members to rally round him and resume the work of the Association at the commencement of a new era. During the war at least 85 members, associates and students served in various military and naval capacities. Of these the following lost their lives: JB Cubey, GE Hunter, AE Lowes, PG Graham, I Henderson, GP Boyd, WR Isherwood, AW Wilkinson, TJ Waller and WNJ Moscrop (see World War I).

Mention has been made of the Association’s approbation, as far back as 1860, of the RIBA’s scheme for Architectural examinations. These having been established, in the course of years one of them was held for the first time in Newcastle under the management of the NAA in 1893, succeeded by others in1899, 1904, 1907, 1910 and 1911.

The NAA always advocated that the Durham College of Science, now named the Armstrong College, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, should make arrangements to supplement the partial education that architects’ pupils receive in the offices of their principals, and various schemes in this direction were suggested from time to time, culminating in 1922-3 in the formulation of a School of Architecture (with a degree and diploma course) at the College, which is part of the University of Durham. The NAA has afforded financial assistance thereto by contributing £500, derived partly from accumulated surplus income arising out of the Glover educational fund, and partly from subscription by individual members. In addition the college is to receive £50 per annum out of the income of the Glover fund (see Glover Medal); which became the Glover Prize. Over the years, the prize money has increased and is now available to Northumbria University School of Architecture as well as Newcastle University. The future of the School is looked forward to with hope and interest.

As a step in the desired direction, lectures given before the Association during the last winter session have been delivered at the Armstrong College and thrown open to the public. It is believed this will arouse more general interest in Architecture, and conduce to the welfare of the Association by extending its sphere of influence.

The Association library could scarcely be held to exist in 1886, when the first librarian, Mr WH Knowles was appointed, but under his care and that of his successors, Mr HC Charlewood (1895-1906), the late Mr James Bruce (1907-1918) and the present librarian Mr FN Weightman, it has prospered and become a very important asset of the Association. It has since been donated to the Robinson Library at Newcastle University (see Books)

A ‘Students’ Sketching Club’, in connection with the Association was founded in 1890, and carried on with varying degrees of enthusiasm and success for twenty-four years until the outbreak of war in 1914. One of the Club’s prominent features was a long series of annual social gatherings (exhibitions, conversazioni, and smoking concerts) held from 1891 onwards. Other clubs for conducting students’ classes were also formed. Since the war, the functions of these have become merged in the ‘NAA Club’. This organisation deals largely with the social side of professional life, collaborates with the Association itself in arranging programmes of indoor and outdoor meetings, etc., and in advising and encouraging the younger men in the pursuit of their studies, relieving in these ways the officials of the parent association ie the RIBA from a great deal of what may termed ‘internal’ work, and thus leaving them more at liberty to devote closer attention to professional subjects arising in regions of possibly wider importance. (see Records).