Beside every great architect... Felicity Morgan

Friday, 5 October 2012

A Post war Architect Remembers John D Morgan ARIBA

After spending five years in the army with the 1st King's Dragoon gUARDS, and five years at the Bartlett School of Architecture on a government grant, I got married to Felicity, while at university, and we lived in a bed-sit in Charterhouse Square. While at UCL I was asked to design a house in Woodford for a fellow officer who had decided to get married. Incidentally, after the war there were many restrictions including obtaining licence to build, size of house, amount of timber etc. Although I got all the approvals to design and build the house, they did not get married.

After graduating in 1951 there was little work for architects apart from work on war-damaged buildings. After a short spell with Seely & Paget in Cloth Fair when I worked on repairing part of the old Charterhouse, which had been badly damaged in the Blitz, I moved to the offices of Guy Morgan (no relation) in Eaton Square. He managed to practice contrary to the Rules of the Estate behind lace curtains, and we propped up our drawing boards on top of the billiard table in case we were visited by a building inspector.

Charterhouse Square
I was given a free hand in designing buildings on bomb damaged sites for his clients including one on the comer of Piccadilly and Half Moon Street for Charles Williams, a surveyor and property developer.

On the birth of my second son, Adrian, I found it financially difficult to survive on £600 a year. Although Guy Morgan made future promises to increase my salary, I decided to quit. I walked back along the Embankment to Charterhouse Square, wondering how to break the news to Felicity.

While working at Eaton Square, I had managed to design a house for Mrs. Goody near Petworth and a house in Epping Forest. Unfortunately, a few days after leaving Eaton Square, the client told me that she had decided not to build.

I set up my drawing board on the old desk in the sitting room at Flat 115 as we had taken over my father's flat as he was posted to Germany to be the Chairman of the Council of Voluntary Welfare Workers. Somehow, I was lucky in building a house for Sir Arthur and Lady Saunders and also a house at Oxted and another smaller house in Oxshot.

Sometime after I set up my board, I received a call from my landlord's secretary which I thought might be due to not paying the rent, however, it appeared that she asked me downstairs to meet Mr. Rees-Reynolds to have breakfast with him. Unbeknownst to me, he had met Charles Williams and heard that I had designed his building in Piccadilly. As a result, after doing one or two small jobs for him, he asked me to help another architect who he was employing to redevelop a bomb damaged site in Broadwick Street. I got on well with Norman Aylwin and redeveloped the building.

When I got the job to rebuild Lambs Conduit Street I felt that I needed assistance. By this time Rees-Reynolds had rented me a small flat at the back of Charterhouse building. I managed to persuade David Branch to leave his senior post with Seely & Paget to join me at the princely wage of £700 per year. The tiny kitchen was turned into a secretary's office for our temp and the bathroom to house the drawings and files etc. We also employed Felicity to do some one-fingered typing, make the tea and clean the office.

Rees-Reynolds asked me to look at another damaged building in Lambs Conduit Street. He suggested I use a well-known structural engineer, WV Zinn. Having rebuilt the building we had a stone-laying ceremony where the engraved stone should have been well and truly laid but while we were enjoying our lunch it was probably knocked by some one and I suspect the coins had been removed!

My cousin, Eileen Andrews, and her husband Charles, who I had hardly ever met, contacted me out of the blue as they had bought a bomb-damaged building and garden in Audley Square, Mayfair. They wanted a mews house on the garden site facing Red Lion Yard. Having built it, I fell out with my cousin over the colour of the paint in the dining room. However, soon afterwards, she sold the house to Huntingdon Hertford, an American millionaire who owned most of the shopping centres across America but only came over to London occasionally. He was once headline news in the London papers for locking up his mistress in the mews house.

Kenneth Rees-Reynolds then introduced me to Sidney Corob who was a young developer hoping to make his fortune. I designed two office buildings for him in Old Street but had difficulty in getting my fees. However all was well in the end.

While I was at university I had decided to join the Inns of Court Regiment in Chancery Lane as I had seen an armoured car driving down High Holborn with an officer wearing a bowler hat in the turret, an umbrella in one hand and a microphone in the other. At that time we kept our armoured cars in Greys Inn Square, which had been badly bombed. We had fun driving them around the city and West End at weekends and down to Bisley for training.

Life became too hectic in our flat with two boisterous children so I managed to get a room on the fourth floor of a building in Conduit Street next door to a fellow architect, Stephen Garrett. However, after a short time with little work I returned to Charterhouse Square when David Branch joined me and we got a small flat, which we turned, into an office. I then took on ‘Shady’ Lane, an ex-submariner and quantity surveyor as I thought I could keep him fully occupied dealing with the war-damage commission. Unfortunately, this work never really materialized although he kept us in fits of laughter. He left us eventually to set up his own firm.

To be continued...

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