Monday, 28 March 2011

Harry Mann, Architect - Part II

Henry William Mann was born in December 1883, the second son of Frederick and Caroline. Frederick was a school master and the family lived in the tied school house on Newland Street, Witham. Mann’s oldest brother Frank followed his father into teaching and it can be assumed from the fact that he is listed as such in the 1901 census whilst living in the same house, taught either at the same school or at least locally. By 1901 Henry, or Harry as he was known and often listed, is noted as an Architect's Apprentice. At this time it was common practice for an architect in spe to be articled to a local office and undertake exams at the Architectural Association school in London.

During 1900 Frank Whitmore joined Essex County Council as the principal architect for the county. Whilst not a remarkable architect Whitmore was very competent and a number of his buildings still exist. He was the archetypal provincial architect that helped to create buildings to house institutions of power and develop a new county vernacular. His buildings included offices for the council as well as residential projects, such as a series of villas on Tower Avenue, Chelmsford. The majority of Whitmore’s work are essays in “fine brick and stone detailing” and are characteristic of the early Edwardian period. There are leanings towards the arts and crafts movement, without being swept away with the rural idyll. There are hints towards some of the more modernist leanings of the likes of Lutyens, but these are scarce. The majority are unremarkable but not at all displeasing buildings.

Coinciding with Whitmore’s appointment Harry Mann took up a position as assistant architect. The position was similar to that of an understudy at this time, a chance for the aspiring architect to learn their trade. It is evident from Mann’s work that he learned a great deal from Whitmore.

The first piece that can be attributed to Mann in the Essex Records Office (ERO) is an extension to Collingwood House in Witham which was submitted to Witham Urban District Council in March 1911. The remit was for a night nursery into the first floor, with a ground floor that would accommodate and enhance the addition of a conservatory on the north-west side of the property. Clearly no wishing to stray too far from his teaching Mann’s response was as one would expect, competent and conformist. However, it is beautifully executed. The ground floor, in particular the north-west elevation, has a pair of double-doored entrances with stilted arches. The rise of the arch is filled with small panes of glass. The slightly exaggerated keystone, a common feature in designs of this period, crowns but does not overpower the rest of the piece. Whitmore had used a similar effect on his design for the county offices in 1909, so it is perhaps not unusual that Mann opted for something similar.

It would seem that the net example of Mann’s work held at the ERO was a complete project. It is the garage designed for  Mr. J. Glover on Newland Street. This again displays a proficient execution of the commission, heavily dependent on the style of his master. It uses very similar detailing to the extension to Collingwood House, including the glass-filled rise. Ginetta House, as it has come to be known, is a building that is pleasing to the eye but that does not overwhelm one with a sense of coherent style. Whitmore was clearly a guiding example for Mann and this is still evident in the final piece of his work available at the ERO.

The alteration made at Chipping Hill, Witham for a T. Cullen Esq. is another example of a well executed but ultimately uninspiring piece of work. Unfortunately, these three pieces are the only evidence of Harry Mann’s work. They are not world changing, nor would they ever have been expected to be. Mann was shaping up to be a very good provincial architect. He was able to create designs that fitted in with the surrounding style, as one would expect from an apprenticeship that consisted of alterations to existing properties. He was also able to progress to complete builds, carrying over the style ethos of the County Architect with great precision.
Frank Whitmore retired in 1914 and was replaced by George Topham Forrest. It is unclear at what point in 1914 this change occurred but it is possible that Mann would have been under Forrest for a time. It may only be conjecture, but one cannot help but wonder what influence Forrest would have had on Mann‘s work. It did not matter; in 1918 Harry Mann was killed in France and one year later, with the end of the war, Forrest was recruited by London County Council to create the homes fit for heroes.

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