Obituary: John Brandon-Jones

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The Independent Culture
JOHN BRANDON-JONES was an architect who flirted with modernism for a few months when a student, and then stood out against it for 70 years, because he felt that it was only a misunderstanding of the doctrines of Ruskin on which he had been brought up. His life and work presented an alternative to modern architecture that inspired others who instinctively went against the grain of post-war fashion and he went on to win a devoted following of admirers, partly through his enthusiasm for the late Victorian architects Philip Webb and C.F.A. Voysey.

Brandon-Jones was born in 1908. His father was art master at Bedford School, and his mother, a skilled embroiderer, had studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, founded by W.R. Lethaby in 1896. The Jones family were Unitarian ship-owners from Liverpool, and John continued their liberal faith. He was educated at St George's, Harpenden, and Bembridge School (which had a large Ruskin collection), and first wanted to be a naval architect, but prospects were bleak, so instead he went as a 17-year-old assistant to the office of the architect Oswald P. Milne, a friend of his father and former assistant of Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Milne's values of careful, craftsmanly design and good management were influential and Brandon-Jones enjoyed reminiscing about the building of the Ballroom Wing at Claridge's and other projects. Milne advised him to go to the Architectural Association school in 1928, where his experience gave him a head start. "I found myself totally out of step with the school after having two years of good practical experience - probably as much as some of the staff."

He was particularly influenced by the AA librarian Hope Bagenal, who saw all architectural traditions as based on imperatives of construction, climate and culture, without scope for arbitrariness or individualism. In 1931, Brandon-Jones took a holiday job with C. Cowles-Voysey, another family friend and C.F.A. Voysey's son, and took a whole year out, working on the design for Worthing Town Hall and a clinic behind it. He returned to Cowles-Voysey between 1933 and 1937, working on designs for Watford and Bromley Town Halls and Cambridge Guildhall.

In 1937-39, Brandon-Jones taught at the Liverpool School of Architecture, where he reinstated measured drawing and the study of the classical orders, the latter as a way of learning construction, weathering and colour. Lionel Budden, the head of school, warned him that the students, recently relieved of these academic tasks, would start a revolution but "they loved it and told me so later".

During the war, Brandon-Jones served under the Civil Engineer in Chief of the Admiralty, becoming Chief Liaison Officer for the Orkney and Shetland Isles. There he made the discovery of Melsetter on the Orkney island of Hoy, the tough but exquisite house built in 1898 by W.R. Lethaby, and then occupied by the admiral in charge of Scapa Flow.

This encounter encouraged Brandon-Jones to research the architecture he had learnt from Milne, Bagenal and Cowles-Voysey which had its origins in the 1870s and 1880s in the circle of William Morris. He gathered information and documents about Webb and Lethaby, adding these to the C.F.A. Voysey furniture and drawings which came to him through the Voysey family, many of which he passed on to public collections. He even found a Philip Webb house in Hampstead to house him, his wife Helen and their five children.

Since there was a dearth of architectural work at the end of the war, Brandon-Jones went back into teaching. He was Senior Master at the AA between 1945 and 1949, until the Principal, Robert Furneaux Jordan, asked him to stop lecturing about Arts and Crafts architecture because it was distracting students from modernism. Brandon-Jones decided that it was time to return to practice with Cowles-Voysey.

His own personality as a designer emerged in the Hampshire County Council Offices at Winchester, completed in 1959, a pre-war project by Cowles- Voysey which Brandon-Jones altered, making it better adapted to the site and less overtly classical.

The courtyard of offices is entered through a triple brick vault, which he shamed the reluctant contractor into building as load-bearing masonry. The elevations consist of regular casement windows in plain red brick of superb quality, topped by fine tiled roofs. It has a northern European character, influenced by his admiration of work by the Amsterdam architect A.J. Kropholler, a follower of H.P. Berlage. Brandon-Jones was peeved that Nikolaus Pevsner called the building "neo-Georgian" since it was not, in his view, a revival but a rational mode of design.

After Cowles-Voysey retired in 1954 Brandon-Jones worked in partnership with Robert Ashton and John Broadbent, later joined by H. Godwin Arnold. The Winchester character was continued in further town halls at Brentwood (1957, with later extensions), and Staines (1967). However an increasing polarisation in post-war architecture led to a virtual censorship of work by Brandon-Jones, and such architects as McMorran & Whitby and Raymond Erith which used traditional design themes and construction methods.

John Brandon-Jones was active in architectural conservation, as a member of the Historic Buildings Council and as Vice-Chairman and later Vice- President of the Victorian Society. He encouraged historians studying Webb and Voysey. He joined the Art Workers Guild in 1951 and was its Master in 1967, attending meetings regularly until recently. He was tall and brisk, with a humorous manner of story-telling that spoke freshly of times long past.

Alan Powers

John Brandon-Jones, architect: born Hendon, Middlesex 18 September 1908; married 1944 Helen Moffatt (one son, four daughters); died London 1 May 1999.