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Townsend, Charles Harrison

Townsend, Charles Harrison (1851–1928). English architect. He worked in the offices of Walter Scott of Liverpool (c1811–1875) from 1867 to 1872, Charles Barry jun. (1823–1900) from 1873 to 1875, and E. R. Robson from 1875–1877, before commencing independent practice. From 1884 to 1886 he was in partnership with Thomas Lewis Banks (1842–1920), but by 1887 he was on his own. His designs were firmly within the Arts-and-Crafts tradition, and most were for minor domestic and church work, but in 1892 he won the competition to design the Bishopsgate Institute (1891–4), the first of three fine public buildings in London on which his reputation largely rests, the other two being the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1896–1901) and the Horniman Museum (1901–12). Muthesius drew attention to these buildings in 1900 as among the most significant European works of architecture at the time, with their architect as one of the two English ‘prophets’ of the ‘new style’ (the other was Voysey). All three show an American influence, notably derived from the works of H. H. Richardson, as well as Art Nouveau, Renaissance, and even Gothic traces. Townsend used artificial stone, mosaic, and terracotta to face these buildings, and the overt use of Art Nouveau motifs for the exteriors is unusual for an English architect. His masterpiece is arguably the enchanting Church of St Mary the Virgin, Great Warley, Essex (consecrated 1904), with a complete Arts-and-Crafts and Art Nouveau interior, including the chancel-screen by Sir William Reynolds-Stephens (1862–1943), the stalls and pews being by Townsend himself. His best domestic work, inclining to the style of Devey and Eden Nesfield, was at Blackheath, Chilworth, Surrey, where he designed several houses, St Martin's Church (1892–5—much embellished with frescoes), the Congregational Church (1893), and the Village Hall (1897).


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Jane Turner (1996)

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