John Elliott was an architect, surveyor, builder and civil engineer between 1832 and c.1868. Born in Lewes on 13 August 1811, his early career was in Chichester. His professional life was split between Southampton and Chichester in the late 1830s and 1840s, after which he practiced almost exclusively in Southampton, living latterly at Fernside in Bassett. He had moved to Southsea (a lodger at 47 Clarence Buildings) by the 1871 census and died at Uckfield in Sussex on 15 April 1891. His first major commission – when only 21 years of age – was Chichester Corn Exchange, in the Greek style with a 6-column Doric portico. A new storey was added by Elliott in 1843. He was heavily engaged in the survey of old churches for the diocese of Chichester and was honorary architect to the Sussex Diocesan Association (Hampshire Advertiser, 15 January 1848). The following provisional list of churches with which he was connected in the diocese is largely compiled from www.churchplansonline.org and www.sussexparishchurches.org:
St Thomas a Becket, Pagham: largely rebuilt following storm damage in November 1836
St Bartholomew, Rogate: plans for rebuilding in 1840 rejected by the Incorporated Church Building Society, although submissions for building tenders were advertised in the Hampshire Telegraph, 7 December 1840
All Saints, Beckley: tentative enquiries for rebuilding in 1840 rejected by the Incorporated Church Building Society
Christ Church, Worthing: a new church in Commissioners’ Gothic, 1840-3. A commission with far-reaching personal consequences for Elliott
St Mary, Storrington: rebuilt 1842
St Nicholas, Middleton: rebuilt 1844-9 following the destruction of the medieval church through coastal erosion. Middleton is now effectively in Bognor
St Peter, Westhampnett: building tenders advertised for rebuilding the church in Hampshire Telegraph, 27 May 1848. Not proceeded with
St Peter the Less, Chichester: Elliott’s plans for a rebuild, 1852-3 rejected by the Incorporated Church Building Society
The list is supplemented by three churches in the diocese of Winchester. The latter two are from his time in Southampton:
St James, Emsworth: rebuilt 1839-40 “in the weirdest neo-Norman style, and his W front … defies – and does not deserve - serious analysis” (David Lloyd in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight: the buildings of England, 1967, p 213)
St Luke, Newtown: new church, 1851-3: enlarged by new galleries, 1859-61
Christ Church, Portswood: north aisle added 1855. An unsuccessful enlargement, for which see John Colson: the Southampton works of a Winchester architect, 1850-78, Southampton Occasional Papers, 4, June 2011 (online)
Secular commissions from his Chichester days include completion of the east wing of Goodwood House for the 5th Duke of Richmond in 1838-9 and Tudor Gothic almshouses, school and cottages at Oving for Miss Woods of Shopwyke in 1839, the latter praised by John Claudius Loudon in First additional supplement to the Encyclopaedia of cottage, farm, and villa architecture, 1842, pp 1242-3. Elliott was also responsible for Oving vicarage. Public works included the extensive and expensive enlargement of existing parish workhouses at Westhampnett, Thakeham and Pulborough in 1835, following the Poor Law Amendment Act, 1834. In his capacity as a surveyor, Elliott produced enclosure maps for West Stoke (1839), East Lavant (1840 and 1849), East Dean (1846-7) and Boxgrove Common (1849). He was part of the social elite in Chichester, variously curator of Chichester Mechanics’ Institution, secretary of Chichester Philosophical and Literary Society and secretary of Chichester Infirmary. He was elected a guardian of the poor for All Saints in April 1843 and stood unsuccessfully for Chichester Town Council for the same ward in November 1847.
John Elliott followed his Chichester colleague Clement Hoare to Southampton in 1838/9 as architect of the visionary but ultimately doomed Shirley vineyard. (see ‘Clement Hoare and the Shirley Vineyard, 1838-44’ in Journal of the Southampton Local History Forum, no.23, Autumn 2014). Elliott was chairman of a dinner, extensively reported in the Hampshire Independent, 16 November 1839, to those employed on the works at the Yeoman Inn in East Street. He was also architect of the Vinery, “an ornamental and convenient dwelling-house” built for Clement Hoare overlooking the vineyard (Hampshire Advertiser, 18 January 1845: sale particulars). John Claudius Loudon, who visited the site in autumn 1843, thought the house “a gem of beauty” and, with the railway station recently designed by William Tite, one of the few specimens of good taste in the town [sic] (‘Hints for the improvement of the town of Southampton, with a short notice of the vineyard at Shirley’ in Gardener’s Magazine, November 1843, pp 595, 599). It is however neither a well-founded nor an impartial opinion. An invalid, Loudon was confined for most of his month-long stay (to discuss his controversial plans for the new general cemetery with the town council) to his lodgings in Bernard Street, rarely exploring beyond the High Street. He had on his own admission not seen the Infirmary buildings then under construction to designs by Thomas Sandon Hack. Elliott - as Tite and Hack- was an outsider and for this very reason to be approved as an exception to the general rule that “in Southampton there is a great objection to employing any other talent than that of persons located in the town” (ibid, p 596). We have already seen Loudon’s endorsement of the Oving almshouses and cottages designed by Elliott.
The architect as social reformer was at the heart of many of Elliott’s rural domestic commissions. His mission was “to raise the habitations of the poor to the position they ought to occupy” (Essay on the construction of cottages, published in 1850). This resonates with the work and philosophy of both Clement Hoare and J C Loudon. The Essay includes details of an experiment in Sussex two years earlier on behalf of the Duke of Richmond to construct a cottage using hollow tubes of baked clay instead of ordinary bricks for the roof and walls. 1850 also saw the publication, by the Royal Agricultural Society, of Essay on the construction of farm buildings written jointly with William Charles Spooner, veterinary surgeon of Bedford Place and prolific author of books on animal husbandry and disease. The central premise was that agricultural improvements are often marred by ill-arranged and ill-constructed farm buildings. Designs for a pair of cottages were published in the Farmer’s Magazine in 1850. In April 1858 Elliott gave a lecture to Botley and South Hants Farmers’ Club on farm buildings. In evidence before the House of Commons on the Shirley Railway Bill, Elliott claimed to have laid out about 300 cottages (Hampshire Advertiser, 27 April 1861).
Elliott told another railway enquiry – a compensation tribunal in 1865 adjudicating conflicting land claims between the London and South Western Railway and the Southampton and Netley Railway – that for the previous 25 years “he had been engaged largely for himself and others in building speculations” (Hampshire Independent, 21 January 1865). We can but glimpse a fraction of these, which included (in addition to the works already mentioned) enlargement of the room over the Bargate for the Town Council in 1852 (his discursive historical lecture to visiting members of the British Archaeological Association is summarized in Journal of the British Archaeological Association, volume 11, 1855, pp 329-31); the neo-Classical bathing pool on Western Shore Road for the Southampton Public Baths and Wash Houses Company in 1853; Trinity National Schools in Kingsland, 1853; the Ragged Schools in Houndwell; and a contract for up to 30 semi-detached cottages at St Denys Priory on the estate of George Jones (Hampshire Advertiser, 15 February 1851). He was an unsuccessful candidate for the design of the new borough gaol in 1850/1. The restoration of the Town Church of St Helier in Jersey – at a cost of £4,501 – was perhaps his last major commission (Building News, 3 July 1868). Non-architectural interests included a directorship in the South Hayling Bay Land Investment Company, established to purchase the south coast of Hayling Island and convert Hayling Bay into a metropolitan watering place (The Times, 2 August 1867) and two patents registered in 1856 for domestic improvements: for an improved apparatus for containing and supplying water, gas and other fluids, applicable also as a fluid meter and for an improvement in taps and cocks. In July 1844 he exhibited ‘a model lime kiln, so constructed as to allow of its being kept constantly at the full heat’ at the Royal Agricultural Show in Southampton.
John Elliott held strong ultra-Protestant religious views that impacted on almost every aspect of his life. Frederick Leigh, defence attorney in a case before Southampton County Court in December 1852 in which Elliott was sued by Charles Ivimey for “want of skill and neglect as an architect” in the design of two semi-detached houses in Woolston, made characteristic fun of his anti-Catholic obsession. “Perhaps his mind was above it – his attention had been diverted to something else; as, when he had been spoken to, he had said his mind was occupied with the Papal Aggression, but in attempting to keep the Pope out of England, he had neglected to keep the water out of Mr Ivimey’s house” (Hampshire Advertiser, 25 December 1852). The reference was to the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850. Ecclesiastical architecture Elliott saw as a battle between true and false religion, between the simplicity of the Protestant plan of churches based on the ideals of the first nine centuries and the subsequent distortion of the ”Popish arrangement of churches”. His History of ecclesiastical architecture was advertised as “proving the Popish arrangement of Churches to be a modern antique, and a mockery of the true principles of Christianity” (Post Office directory of Southampton, 1851, p 109). A lifetime of lecturing and writing on the subject culminated in the publication in 1868 of The Great Architect, his plan of Salvation in the Temple of Dead Stones and Living Stones – God and Man: dedicated to Master Builders. The underlying reference is not Masonic but to the belief that religion was taught from the beginning in builders’ terms. The book was poorly received, dismissed by The London Quarterly Review, October 1868 as trashy, rambling, incoherent, purposeless, childish and revolting. Is the author an Arian, a Tritheist or a Mormon the reviewer asked? A strong belief that outward form was a reflection of inward spirituality – what Elliott called ‘sacramentality’ – produced a catalogue of sometimes oddly proportioned and idiosyncratic churches. David Lloyd’s opinion of St James, Emsworth is reproduced above.
Reference has also been made to the building of Christ Church, Worthing. This was a battle between Elliott and the Cambridge Camden Society (later the Ecclesiastical Society) over the architectural soul of the church. He was commissioned to build the new church – a chapel of ease in the parish of Broadwater - by the Reverend Peter Wood, rector of Broadwater between 1797 and 1853. The original designs were accepted by the grant-awarding Incorporated Church Building Society and work began in October 1840. Elliott was both architect and builder. The plans, however, fell into the hands of the Camden Society. An article in the society’s journal, The Ecclesiologist, bitterly condemned the design, particularly the mixture of styles. The Reverend Wood, encouraged by his curate and long-time friend the Reverend William Davison, immediately demanded major alterations to bring the church into line with the Society’s views. They amounted to a new structure: the introduction of stone piers and arches, raising the clerestory and inserting windows therein and an alteration of the roof. Negotiations over the nature and extent of the alterations accompanied the actual building of the church. Relations between client and contractor eventually broke down with the refusal to pay Elliott the £2/3,000 which he claimed as payment for the building works then completed. Elliott sought refuge in the Court of Bankruptcy on 3 October 1843. The Builder took up Elliott’s case in its issue of 18 November 1843, claiming that “in nine cases out of ten the ruin of the builder is associated with some church contract”. Worthing it held to be “one of the most striking examples of an evil system”, in which the builder is often at the mercy of avaricious and duplicitous clergymen. The case can have done little to soften Elliott’s architectural views.
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