Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Francis Johnson and the Georgian Society for East Yorkshire

This month we have been rather on trend (unintentionally!) with our work tying in nicely with the BBC’s ‘Georgian Season’ programmes.

As part of the project we have been trying to identify what other collections we hold that might be relevant to buildings and architectural history. As well as many family and estate collections we also have a number of collections relating to societies with an interest in this area. One such society for which we hold papers is the Georgian Society for East Yorkshire started in 1937 by Rupert Alec-Smith. We recently received a small additional deposit of material for the society and this was in need of cataloguing. My task this month then was to undertake this work.

As well as being a nice break from the routine of cataloguing FJ files, working on this material allowed me to discover that the society had a much greater relevance to the project than we first thought. It became apparent that FJ was heavily involved in the society throughout his career and that he was personally sought out by Alec-Smith in 1938 because of his well known interest in the preservation of Bridlington’s ‘Old Town’ area.

FJ’s own personal reasons for getting involved can be traced in various ways: in his developing architectural style which was classical in nature; in his desire to take many of his influences from Georgian architectural details; and the fact that he was keen to preserve buildings of this style and the character of the areas in which they stood.

Francis Johnson (second form left) and Rupert Alec-Smith at the Georgian Society Ball held at York Assembly Rooms in 1951. [photo held by Francis Johnson & Partners]

During the Second World War, whilst waiting to be posted by the War Office, FJ and a few others continued the work of the society. He was personally responsible for campaigning against the destruction of metalwork of architectural and historical significance in the face of War Office requisition orders. Wrought ironwork was a significant feature of Georgian street furniture and was used a great deal in the construction of gateways and lamps at residential town and country houses. Whilst many of these features were lost in the East Riding, FJ was able to save significant items such as the wrought iron gates at Burton Agnes Hall.

After the war FJ continued to be involved in the society as a consulting architect and also as a campaigner. He was highly active in a 1960s campaign to improve Bridlington High Street and was the architect responsible for the restoration of Maister House at the request of the Society. He also involved himself in the social side of the society as the photograph of him in full Georgian costume (see above - complete with wig!) attending the Georgian Society Ball at York Assembly Rooms in 1951 features in Georgian Architecture & The Georgian Society for East Yorkshire by David Neave and Austen Redman published to mark the 75th anniversary of the society.

He was a regular contributor to the society’s Transactions of the Georgian Society for East Yorkshire after the war. When the first issue of the society’s newsletter was printed in 1975 FJ was one of two major contributors, and continued to be so throughout his working life. His importance to the society can be seen in tributes paid by the society following his death in 1996, and in the fact that two well-known members, David Neave and John Martin Robinson, wrote a detailed biography of his life published in 2001. 

If you want to consult the collection of material relating to the Society (Reference U DX/99) you can check our online catalogue.

Claire Weatherall
Project Archivist

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