Architects and Architecture

For an informative summary of Brentham’s distinctive architectural and planning features see the ‘Special Interest’ section in the Conservation Area Appraisal. For a comprehensive photographic record of every Brentham building, take a look at the photographic survey. What follows is an account of Brentham’s architects and the development of the suburb.

The first phase of development took place between 1901 and 1906, when Ealing Tenants Ltd built over one hundred houses to a typical Edwardian terraced design.

The appearance of Brentham changed dramatically after 1907 with the appointment of Raymond Unwin as the suburb’s architect. Unwin was a visionary, keen to play his part in the improvement of society. With his partner Barry Parker he had already designed New Earswick, near York, for Joseph Rowntree, and Letchworth Garden City, and in his plan for Brentham he transformed a small housing estate into a distinctive garden suburb.

Unwin’s plan incorporated informal curving roads, following the lie of the land. To give the streets visual interest, he arranged the houses in small blocks of four and six, each one different. His plan also included a large number of open spaces, since he believed that houses should have a ‘pleasant outlook both front and back’. With his partner Barry Parker, Unwin designed a few houses in Brentham – 1–7 Winscombe Crescent and 2 Brentham Way. However, most of the houses in Brentham were designed by Frederic Cavendish Pearson and George Lister Sutcliffe, two architects sympathetic to Unwin’s ideas.

Pearson was just 24 years old when he was employed by Ealing Tenants. As a young architect he was filled with enthusiasm for Arts and Crafts architecture. His houses ooze artistic expressiveness and abound with fanciful Arts and Crafts features. This gives a rather frantic appearance, but Pearson instinctively understood Unwin’s planning ideas and he produced a number of charming ‘street pictures’. Sweeping roofs, tiled dormers, sloping buttresses, square oriel windows and irregular shaped rooms are just a few of the features that characterise his houses. Pearson was responsible for the design of 135 houses in Brentham, in Brunner, Ludlow, Meadvale, Neville and Brunswick Roads, Ruskin Gardens, Winscombe Crescent, Pitshanger Lane, and the upper end of Brentham Way. Among his striking designs are two butterfly-shaped blocks on the bend of Brunswick Road, and two blocks in Ludlow Road, where the living rooms are diamond-shaped.

The third phase of the suburb dates from 1911 when George Lister Sutcliffe replaced Pearson as the suburb architect, a position he held until his death in 1915. Sutcliffe was a Yorkshireman with considerably more experience than Pearson. In 1910 he produced plans for the Brentham Institute (Grade II listed) in Meadvale Road. Sutcliffe’s designs were much more restrained than Pearson’s. No longer were there complex roof forms, with several different angles converging to create complicated and expensive constructional problems. Sutcliffe was also responsible for designing Holyoake House, a block of 24 flats for elderly and single people, built around three sides of a quadrangle. 

However, most of Sutcliffe’s time at Brentham was taken up designing houses. He was responsible for most of the houses in lower Brentham Way, Fowlers Walk, Holyoake Walk, North View and Denison Road, and some of the houses in Meadvale and Brunswick Roads and in Winscombe Crescent. His designs reveal a rather more sophisticated grasp of Unwin’s ideas about estate planning than Pearson’s. Pearson staggered his blocks of house in relation to each other so as to produce a picturesque effect, but he did not appear to have a sense of an overall picture in his planning. Sutcliffe, however, kept in mind variety both within the blocks and in the overall scheme.

By 1915 most of the estate had been built, but a number of buildings were added between 1915 and the 1950s. The most significant of these was the large parish church of St Barnabas (Ernest C Shearman and Ernest Tyler; Grade II listed), which was completed in 1916. The design is strikingly original, a stark late Gothic Revival, offset by exuberant flowing tracery, with odd, stunted towers between transepts and chancel, and a rounded apse. Curiously, the church is out of keeping with the rustic aesthetic of Brentham, and with its scale.

A few houses were added in the 1920s when Cecil George Butler was appointed as their architect by Co-partnership Tenants. Butler produced plans for numbers 7, 8, 9–19, 10-24 and 72–78 Brentham Way. His designs are notable for their large scale, compared with most of the prewar houses. They are in a simplified Arts and Crafts style, with mainly rendered elevations and brick dressings, and doorways with stripped-down classical detail.

In the 1930s, 25-33 Brentham Way (Frank Winter), Winscombe and Holyoake Courts (both by Alwyn Gorbing) and Pitshanger Court (Henry Ward) were completed. 21-23a Brentham Way (W Pack), Rookery Nook in Brunner Road (G Salter & Sons) and 186 and 188 Pitshanger Lane were added in the 1950s.

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