Obituaries: Charles Hutton

Martin Robertson
Monday 02 October 1995 23:02

Charles Hutton could trace his artistic inheritance directly back to the founders of the Arts and Crafts movement a century ago, William Morris, W.R. Lethaby and C.R. Ashbee. He was Chief Assistant from 1929 to 1936 to Charles Holden, who had himself been Chief Assistant to Ashbee from 1897 to 1899. That their names were so similar was coincidental; more important was their common membership of and devotion to the ideals of the Art Workers Guild, where both Holden's and Hutton's portraits can be seen, and where all of the above were at some time Master.

Hutton was elected to the guild in 1951. He became Master in 1968 and also served as Treasurer, Trustee and Secretary, even continuing till 1988 as Honorary Architect. This was the centre of his artistic being, and his work reflected the guild ideals, straight from William Morris, of honesty, solidity and good design.

Hutton was born in Scotland, and he always upheld those Scottish qualities of honest endeavour, hospitality, and a liking for mixing with those of fellow mind, whether friends, fellow artists, or workmen on site. His father was an engineer, working mainly as a boiler inspector in the mills, and the family lived first in Sheffield, later in Glasgow, where Charles attended Bellahouston Academy, and then in Bolton, also Holden's home- town, where Hutton first worked as Junior Assistant to R.H. Crook.

He won a scholarship to the Liverpool School of Architecture, and while a student there won the competition for a First World War memorial at Rawmarsh, in Yorkshire, in 1926, graduating in 1928. Later he taught at Liverpool, from 1936 to 1939, and also at the Architectural Association, in London.

Hutton's first job after university was in Paris in the office of C.H. Mewes, son of Charles Mewes who designed the Ritz Hotels, so his first direct influences were Beaux-Arts; but his most memorable job in France was to start the work for a house for the mistress of the perfume magnate Francois Coty. He had already returned to England before the project was completed by another, but this first visit to the South of France was the precursor of many in later life, and he retained a fondness for that country, preserved through many skilful pastels.

Hutton joined Holden's office in 1929, during the period when Holden was working with Frank Pick to revolutionise the image of London Transport. Hutton was directly involved with the design of several stations for the Underground, including Osterley and Arnos Grove. It was Holden's practice to sketch an idea for each station which was then worked up by the assistant.

In 1931 Holden was appointed architect to London University, involving the destruction of parts of Bloomsbury to build the Senate House. This building was detailed by Charles Hutton, who also drew perspectives of what was to be London's tallest building.

He was thus introduced to the preservation debate, the loss of Georgian Bloomsbury being the modern architect's opportunity. The Underground stations were on green-field sites and remain the best buildings of their locality. They were among the first of their period selected for listing in 1969.

Hutton moved to Welwyn Garden City, near Holden's home, and later to Tewin, likewise in Hertfordshire. Despite moving to London in 1946 he always continued with the pipe and casual apparel of garden-city life, having to be bullied out of his corduroys and into the tweed suit for business meetings. During the Second World War he built ordnance factories (at Kirby, Walsall, and Wolverhampton) as Deputy to Sir William Holford. He opened his own office in 1944, in Welwyn, before moving to Hammersmith, and finally retiring to Somerset in 1985.

In his London years, Hutton was busy with a remarkable variety of buildings, built economically, but using up-to-date ideas and materials, concrete shell roofs for instance at the Murphy Radio factory in Welwyn (1953), warehouses and offices for the Danish Bacon Company (1950), the university farm at Wytham, outside Oxford (1952), the Social Club at the Guinness Brewery at Alperton (1960), and schools for Berkshire County Council. He was never an out-and-out modernist, but used new ideas in traditional ways and with fitting materials, particularly brick and tile among the reinforced concrete. He was a master of detail and encouraged contributions to his buildings from artists and craftsmen.

He was always willing to share his experience, and as well as teaching he served on BSI committees, as RIBA representative on the boards of Wimbledon and Kingston Schools of Art, and as adviser to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations on designs for village halls.

As well as his work in architecture Hutton was a skilled cabinetmaker and metalworker, designing and often making furniture, jewellery, silverware, cutlery, and candlesticks, as well as wrought-iron work like wind vanes and gates. He could design and make a box, with handmade hinges, lock and key, inlay brass lettering on the lid, polish it, place a beautifully lettered scroll within, and present it with well-chosen phrases to the recipient. It is especially in this role that he will be remembered, for his last years were spent in his workshop and at his drawing board on just such projects.

Charles Hutton was a very active man, walking and cycling; and still running up stairs three at a time when 75. He was never interested in business, always charging too little for his time, and was a notably frightening driver.

Martin Robertson

Charles William Hutton, architect, craftsman: born Annan, Dumfriesshire 28 July 1905; married 1932 Nora Maxwell (nee Knaggs; one daughter; marriage dissolved 1950), 1951 Fairlie Bruce (three daughters); died Williton, Somerset 11 September 1995.

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