OBITUARY : T. A. Greeves

T.A. Greeves was an architect who did not build. Instead he imagined, and - on paper - he created buildings that never were, buildings that never will be - and yet might have been. For the extraordinary thing which Greeves did was to create fantastic ruined landscapes made with Victorian architecture: incredible cities that Macaulay's New Zealander of the future might gaze upon, and wonder.

Thomas Affleck Greeves was in a noble tradition of architectural draughtsmanship. Piranesi was an inspiration, of course, because of his dramatic depiction of ruined buildings, while another hero was the American Hugh Ferriss, fantasist of skyscrapers.

There were also those architectural draughtsmen who depicted a lost world with exquisite care, like F.L. Griggs who imagined the glory of the late Middle Ages, or William Walcot who recreated the grandeur of Imperial Rome in its glory. But what made Tom Greeves so very unusual was that his ideal world dated not from the remote past but from about 1860, and he drew buildings of a sort that most of his contemporaries unthinkingly regarded as hideous, ridiculous.

Greeves joined the Victorian Society in the year of its foundation - 1958 - and he knew his Victorian architecture very well. Much of the pleasure of his drawings is recognising the sources of his fantastic structures - bits of Waterhouse and Butterfield, Street and Bodley; the clocktower of St Pancras Station kept cropping up while some buildings are in an eclectic, round-arched sort of South Kensington style.

All such mid-Victorian buildings were confident and robust; unless damaged by enemy action, they do not age gracefully. Yet Greeves drew them in ruins, in noble decay with trees growing from spiky parapets, as relics of a lost and incomprehensible civilisation. The resulting drawings are often almost surreal. I particularly like the one he called "Industrial Landscape" or "The Concrete Pipe" in which a vast structure like a giant gramophone horn emerges from a ruined masterpiece of structural polychromy; it is as if Lloyd's was designed by Deane & Woodward rather than Richard Rogers.

Yet the world he depicted is not melancholy, like that imagined by Griggs. For Greeves appreciated that Victorian buildings could be funny. An earlier generation dismissed the earnest creations of the Victorians with blinkered contempt, while for younger enthusiasts in the "Vic Soc" it is politically incorrect not to take 19th-century buildings at face value. But Greeves - along with Peter Fleetwood-Hesketh, John Betjeman and his great friend Peter Clarke, author of humorous architectural poems - could appreciate that there was something absurd as well as tragic about the architectural ambitions of the mid-Victorian years. At the same time, however, they fought hard for their preservation.

The buildings in Greeves's drawings look real and this was because he was a trained architect. His love of architecture began at school at Radley, but his time at the Cambridge School of Architecture was interrupted by the Second World War and he joined the Royal Engineers. Most fortunately, he was attached to the Indian Army and so encountered not only rock-cut temples but Gilbert Scott's exotic Gothic buildings for the University of Bombay - a clear source of inspiration later. Returning home, Greeves completed his training at the Architectural Association in London where he met his future wife.

But his heart was not in the practice of architecture and he never set up on his own; he worked instead for a succession of practices, like Lanchester & Lodge, Cachmaille-Day, and Felix Goldsmith. He always preferred to draw.

In 1951, his entertainingly eclectic and accomplished design for "A Monument to Commemorate the Passing of the Good Old Days of Architecture" was awarded first prize in a competition organised by the Architects' Benevolent Society: the assessors were H.S. Goodhart-Rendel, John Summerson, Osbert Lancaster and Rowland Emett.

However the first drawings to be published showed not architecture but fantastic technology. "Greeves Flying Machines" - inspired by early-19th- century attempts to conquer the air - were included in the Saturday Book no 26 in 1966. They were so popular that the next issue carried a double- page colour spread of "A Steam Palace" - a colossal, preposterous Gothic juggernaut.

The mid and early- Victorian remained Greeves's favourite period, which was odd as he actually lived in a late-Victorian house by Maurice B. Adams in Bedford Park, the "Queen Anne" ideal artistic suburb in West London which he did much to save from further destruction.

When Tom and Eleanor moved to Newton Road, few took the eclectic buildings by Norman Shaw and others seriously, so Tom founded the Bedford Park Society, a model local pressure group which now guards the amenities of the area ferociously while the architectural delights of the suburb are celebrated in the tiles, mugs and other ceramics made by Eleanor Greeves.

In recent years, the kindly, avuncular Tom Greeves became the Grand Old Man of Bedford Park, never tiring of explaining its virtues while holding court in Norman Shaw's "Tabard". That the Victorian Society now has its headquarters in Bedford Park is, in its way, a tribute to him.

Greeves was also a sensitive pianist, having a special interest from his late schooldays onwards in early keyboard instruments, and served as a committee member of the Galpin Society for many years. Another love was 17th- and 18th-century verse, especially Milton and Pope, pages of which he had committed to memory. He used to say that this might one day stand him in good stead for a rainy day, which it certainly did in his last illness.

Until comparatively recently, Greeves's drawings were known only to friends and stalwarts of the "Vic Soc", but two exhibitions of his work were organised by Robin Garton - in 1978 and 1987 - and in 1994 Andrew Best organised a splendid celebration in the beautiful limited-edition book illustrating his work, appropriately entitled Ruined Cities of the Imagination.

Tom Greeves's imagination was truly original and his fantasy drawings are a significant part of the curious story of the rediscovery of Victorian architecture.

Thomas Affleck Greeves, architect and illustrator: born London 4 June 1917; married 1950 Eleanor Pryce; died London 31 August 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project