The Northern Architectural Association
Keywords: Northern Architectural Association, Newcastle, Newcastle architecture, John Dobson, RIBA, A.M. Dunn, Archibald Matthias Dunn, R.J. Johnson, W.H. Knowles, Archaeologia Aeliana, Society of Antiquaries, Newcastle Society of Antiquarians, Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland
A key attribute of Newcastle’s architectural culture was the professional sensibility of its architects. The architectural profession in Newcastle represents a tradition reaching back to Dobson. This community formed itself into the Northern Architectural Association, which emerged in 1858 when a group of architects – including John Dobson, A.M. Dunn and R.J. Johnson – met in order to protest against the conditions of a competition held in South Shields. There was a close correspondence between the Northern Architectural Association and the Newcastle Society of Antiquarians; many of the city’s architects belonged to both, including A.M. Dunn, C.S. Errington, W.S. Hicks, R.J. Johnson, W.H. Knowles, A.B. Plummer and F.W. Rich. Thomas Oliver Junior was a founder of the Northern Architectural Association and served as its Secretary and President for many years. Joseph Oswald joined the Association in 1876, becoming President for 1894-5. He was a member of the Society of Antiquaries and contributed several essays to its journal Archaeologia Aeliana. Oswald was also member of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland. W.S. Hicks published numerous essays as a member of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries, including ‘Notes on the Chapel of Our Lady at Seaton Deleval’. Among the most active antiquarians was W.H. Knowles, a member of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries who came to be regarded as ‘the father of the society’. He was also involved with the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland and the Victoria County History. He published numerous books and essays on the architecture and archaeology of the North East, including The Romano-British Site of Corstopitum (1907-14).
These bodies incubated a decidedly antiquarian spirit that was exemplified by the sensitive ecclesiastical restoration work of Thomas Austin, R.J. Johnson and others. The members read papers on a range of topics and visited notable buildings in Northumberland and County Durham, all of which helped to foster a unified approach. The Association, and similar artistic and antiquarian societies, fostered a strong community of architects and to some extent a unified model of practice. Individual tastes and preoccupations inevitably differed, but most Newcastle architects shared a respect for Northumberland’s ancient and medieval monuments, an aptitude for scholarly restoration work and a continued admiration of Grainger and Dobson. As the architect R. Norman MacKellar observed, reflecting on the history of the Association, ‘Few architects could have been more closely identified with the urban growth of their capital city for their nepotism decided not only how Newcastle was to be built but who was to build it.’
The Northern Architectural Association visiting a ruin in Northumberland
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