Obituaries Tom Mellor
Saturday 24 December 1994
Mellor was born in Blackburn in 1914. From King Edward's School, Lytham, he went to Liverpool School of Architecture in 1932 where he was the best student of his year. He was absorbed by the current enthusiasm for European modernism, but was not above inserting a joke abstract painting into a Liverpool showing of the serious "Circle" exhibition of "constructive art" in 1937.
Taking an additional year in the School of Civic Design at Liverpool, Mellor worked with a fellow-student, John Ashworth, on a study of the Isle of Man, published in the Architectural Review in January 1939 as "A Little Known Outpost of Empire" inspired by the topographical writing and illustration of John Piper. Rejected as unfit for military service, Mellor worked for William (later Lord) Holford and for the Liverpool City architect Lancelot Keay. He moved on to work with (Sir) George Grenfell Baines in Preston on the construction of industrial buildings. The practice became the Grenfell Baines Group, later Building Design Partnership. Mellor was involved in the planning of Newton Aycliffe New Town, but not the actual building.
A commission for War Memorial Housing in Lytham St Anne's in 1947 led to Mellor's starting his own practice there in 1949. It includes an elliptical single-storey chapel neatly walled in pebbles, reviving a local tradition. The large flat corner site is expertly and unobtrusively arranged with simple pitched-roof cottages in terraces.
Mellor's architecture represents the civilised values associated with the Festival of Britain. In a short statement on his work in 1955, Mellor included "television and reading about New Brutalism" among his dislikes. He travelled in Sweden and Denmark in 1951 and was impressed by the work of Markelius, Asplund and Hedquist. His own house, Churchwood at Lytham, was influenced by the Markelius house at Kevinge, the icon of "New Empiricism", although its rational planning was his own invention. Mellor's practice at Lytham flourished, including public and private housing, the churches of St Bernadette at Lancaster and New Longton near Preston. His educational buildings included many schools in Lancashire and Yorkshire and college and university buildings at Salford, Worsley, Sheffield and Birmingham. He was passed over for the job of Lancaster University because of his small practice, but worked harmoniously with Sir Peter Shepheard, the selected architect, designing a number of buildings on the campus including the library. Mellor's Liverpool University Senate House in Abercromby Square is a well-mannered building for its date at the end of the Sixties. Many of his buildings won awards and Mellor himself was appoint ed OBE in 1962 for services to architecture.
Tom Mellor retired at the age of 53 for reasons of health but had many other occupations besides architecture. His paintings are among the most interesting and professional by any architect of his time. As a student, he had been influenced by Eric Ravilious and Paul Nash, and used their cool colours and sharp lines in paintings with a slightly Surrealist view of architecture. These were exhibited at the Royal Academy and sold regularly.
John Murray, Director of Furnishing Fabrics to David Whitehead Ltd, who had helped to make this Manchester firm one of the liveliest in Britain, recommended Mellor as his successor in 1952. Mellor visited artists such as John Piper and Henry Moore to commission designs or buy reproduction rights to pictures, as well as commissioning from professional designers such as Marian Mahler and making several best-selling designs himself before giving up the job in 1960. This activity, originating in the North-west, had benefits for architects and designers throughout the country who were seeking new textiles for buildings.
Having taken up the Leverhulme Research Fellowship in Civic Design at Liverpool University in 1947, Mellor continued to teach in the department for a number of years. He also served on the Council of the RIBA, as an external examiner and assessor for architectural awards. After he had retired, his practice continued as Tom Mellor and Partners and remains strong in the north-west region. His son David is an architect in Bristol.
Tom Mellor wrote in 1991, "I was myself very much aware of what things looked like and less concerned with guessing at their social and historical significance. This special interest in appearance made me delight in the Baroque architecture of southern Germany, especially the work of Balthasar Neuman. In England, I enjoyed Vanbrugh's houses, Nash's Regent's Park terraces, and endless rural buildings produced between 1650 and 1850."
While accepting the main tenets of modernism, Mellor recognised their limitations and from his imagination supplied the quality so often absent in post-war architecture.
Tom Mellor, architect: born 23 October 1914; OBE 1962; married 1943 Hannah Green (one son, one daughter); died Milnthorpe, Lancashire 12 December 1994.
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