Obituary: David Hodges

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THE ARCHITECT David Hodges worked on the first garden cities under Louis de Soissons before the Second World War and, after distinguished war service in the Royal Artillery, had a career which varied from the restoration of Regency terraces to the ill-fated Brighton Marina, which at the time was the largest leisure harbour in the world.

He was born in 1915, the third son of Admiral Sir Michael Hodges and Octavia Tiarks of the banking family, which descends from the chaplain who came to England with Queen Victoria's mother. The Admiral's family were wine importers and merchants in Dorset. As a Lieutenant Sir Michael had served with the naval guns at Ladysmith which played a vital part in its defence during the siege. He was in line for being First Sea Lord but his career was cut short by illness when he was commanding the Atlantic Fleet at the outbreak of the Invergordon Mutiny in 1931.

David was the only one of the Admiral's four sons not to enter the Navy and instead went to Eton as a scholar. While in Sixth Form he often breakfasted with Provost M.R. James, an occasion notable for the completion of the Times crossword before leaving for chapel, and for Mrs James's flamboyant hats which were worn at the table.

He was a fine draughtsman and determined to be an architect. He chose to join the Architectural Association School rather than go to university. But not long after he had started at the AA his father met Louis de Soissons, the architect of Welwyn Garden City, at his club. De Soissons practised a pure and rather classical style in housing and municipal buildings for which he was much admired. He offered to take David into his firm as an apprentice. While working for De Soissons, Hodges passed his architectural exams in three years rather than the usual seven.

While still only 20, he came to the notice of Vita Sackville-West, who gave him his first commission, to design two cottages for farm labourers at Sissinghurst. They cost pounds 800 to build - expensive for the time.

Newly qualified and about to be married, Hodges took on his first major restoration project. This was the conversion during 1938/39 of an uninhabited peel tower in North Yorkshire for the family of his first wife, Silvia Ryle. Mortham Tower was the medieval seat of the Rokebys and had six-foot thick walls and only garderobes for sanitation. It required the most sensitive alteration for modern living. Hodges incorporated bathrooms for all the bedrooms and fine but plain plasterwork to compliment areas of bare masonry, in order to produce a comfortable country house without spoiling the tower's essential character. After conversion Mortham was featured in Country Life.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Hodges enlisted and narrowly avoided death from a flu epidemic before gaining a commission in the Royal Artillery. After a staff captaincy with the Guards Armoured Divisional artillery he was singled out for one of the special wartime Staff College courses. From there he joined the HQ 1st Corps preparing the fire plan for the invasion of France. He served with this unit throughout the Normandy campaign and the investment of Le Havre.

On D-Day itself, while David was waiting to disembark, his elder brother Lt-Cdr John Hodges, in command of the destroyer Orwell, was shelling the defences; their younger brother, Lt-Cdr Dick Hodges, was liaison officer with the Americans off Omaha beach in the HQ ship USS Ancon. Their brother- in-law Anthony Kimmins was somewhere in the invasion force as a naval correspondent. Their eldest brother, Commander Mickey, was then at SEAC in Ceylon running Mountbatten's signals organisation.

The intensity of the tasks through the preparation and then the campaign in Normandy took their toll and Hodges was transferred in the winter of 1944/45, with promotion as temporary Lieutenant-Colonel, to teach at the Staff College, Haifa. In this comparative paradise, where it was possible to ski in the mountains and swim in the sea on the same day, he met his second wife, Kathleen Colville, a Wren officer. He was appointed MBE for his war service.

At the Louis de Soissons Partnership after the war there were reconstruction projects of all kinds of work for the War Graves Commission, particularly in Italy and Greece. Hodges designed more private houses and became consultant architect to the MCC at Lords and to Eton College, where in the 1950s he failed to convince the Provost and Fellows that they should have a heated indoor swimming pool.

Hitherto Etonians had bathed at Cuckoo Weir, a slimy backwater of the Thames. But now several cases of polio forced a change. In the end Hodges produced a futuristic, kidney-shaped, twin-basin pool containing a full racing course and water polo space. His most notable buildings from later years were the Wool Secretariat by Carlton House Terrace and the Pharmaceutical Society's HQ in Lambeth Road, which occupied a particularly awkward and sensitive site opposite Lambeth Palace.

His last and largest creation was the Brighton Marina, which in the 1970s he took from being a pounds 9m development to one of over pounds 70m. At the outset he persuaded the planners and Parliament that the marina should be built offshore from the white cliffs so that they could be admired from the harbour and remain unspoilt.

He headed a large team of many disciplines. The architect Eva Jiricna, who was his assistant from the start, found him "a most brilliant leader who maintained complete control of this extremely complex undertaking". Make-or-break decisions were frequent and the immediate booking of the only crane in the world capable of handling and positioning the breakwater caissons was crucial.

Tragically, finance for the project failed at a time when the harbour and marina were complete, but before the superstructure and residential precincts had been constructed to his design. The Louis de Soissons Partnership was forced to relinquish the project and subsequent owners utterly failed to bring the development to a worthy conclusion. This outcome perhaps foreshadowed the problems of the Channel Tunnel. The harbour and breakwaters remain however as some memorial to David Hodges's original concept.

Hodges was never keen to enter competitions or play a prominent part with professional bodies, so probably prevented his name from becoming well known. In retirement he and his second wife, with whom he shared a supremely happy marriage, continued to create a now renowned garden which they started in 1964 at their home in Oxfordshire. It remains open from spring to autumn raising large sums for charity.

Of his four children, the son by his first marriage is a photographer; the eldest son of his second marriage is an economist specialising in Equatorial Africa, the second is a sculptor, and his daughter is a musician.

David Michael Hodges, architect: born Chislehurst, Kent 6 February 1915; MBE 1945; married 1938 Silvia Ryle (one son; marriage dissolved 1942), 1945 Kathleen Colville (two sons, one daughter); died Banbury, Oxfordshire 1 July 1998.

Comments