My research on Wilds and Wilds and G.S Clarke Junior by Sandrine – PPF Volunteer
The research group gathered one afternoon to decide on what the next steps were going to be, and who was going to research what.
Phyllida suggested various topics and because I was interested in learning more about the architecture in Brighton (having moved here recently and finding the buildings amazing), I volunteered to start researching on Amon Wilds (1762-1833) and Amon Henry Wilds (1784-1857), builders and designers of the Holy Trinity Church (1817); and on George Somers Clarke Junior (1841-1926), who carried out the interior and south-front alterations of the Holy Trinity chapel between 1885 and 1887.
My research started on Wilds and Wilds. I went online and started gathering a series of articles from google, notably from Wikipedia and Google Scholar. I also browsed and researched the Keep’s website and whilst most items seemed to be mainly architectural maps, I did find that on 18 March 2015, Dr Sue Berry, a historian, had given a presentation at the Keep entitled ‘Amon and Amon Henry Wilds of Lewes and Brighton, local architects and builders’. The website then provided the link to another website where the article could be found and read. Whilst I was very happy with my finding, I did not know at the time that this article would also save me from making and reporting a considerable amount of incorrect information.
Pursuing my quest for information, I met with Sally at the Jubilee library on 12 September 2019. There, we spend a couple of hours researching books and articles. I went home that day with 3 books; notably one entitled ‘The history and architecture of Brighton’ by Anthony Dale dated 1912 which the librarian took some time to find (the book was not on the shelves) and which I therefore assumed to be a gold mine of information. It was now time to review all this and get writing!
About a week later, I met with everyone at the Extra-Mural Cemetery. It was a beautiful morning and the cemetery was very lush and green. Birds were singing and flowers were in bloom. There, we had the opportunity to see the burial place of Rev. FW Robertson. We also saw the Georgian Gothic
Anglican chapel which Amon Henry Wilds designed. Unfortunately, the chapel was closed and due to lack of staff, we could not visit it.
We then decided to go to St Nicholas churchyard, off Dyke road in Brighton where Amon Wilds is buried. Having seen a picture of his memorial prior to our visit, I knew what to expect and it is the first thing I noticed as we entered the churchyard; not so surprisingly since the memorial is very centrally located; and showing the famous ammonite associated to both architects (as a pun to their names). Whilst I did not know this at the time of our visit, I later discovered that both his first and second wife are buried with him in the churchyard.
We carried on with our visit and went across the road to the Rest Garden; which gave me the opportunity to see another of the Wilds’ creations. The Western Cemetery was built as an extension to the churchyard of St Nicholas and landscaped by A.H Wilds (son) in 1841. Unsurprisingly, the
gigantic pyramid drawn in his original design was not to be found; the project having never taken shape. However, the thirteen imitation stone relief doorways and the gate as included in his original design could still be found.
As I read books and articles on A. and A.H Wilds, I became confused. The dates and projects did not always seem to match. For example, Wikipedia’s pages citing the life of Amon Wilds or Amon Henry Wilds ‘projects did not
seem to fit other more recent accounts in other books. This until I read the article of Sue Berry; clearly pointing the discrepancies; notably mentioning that Dale wrongly believed the Busby and Wilds partnership to be with Wilds father (instead, it is Wilds son). It then made sense to me and I
realised that I had to carefully review some of the information and double check its accuracy.
Sue Berry inserted a table in her article with all the projects she believed had or had not been the product of either father or son. This was very helpful and I based my review on this. Looking at the list of buildings and projects both architects worked on, it became clear to me that
father and son had been instrumental in the design and construction of some of Brighton’s finest buildings. I learned some stories which one would say could only be found in movies!
Such as for example, the story of the massive glass Dome which collapsed a day before its opening (a project that A.H Wilds had pulled out from due to the architectural faults and lack of safety that he had been noting and telling to the project manager in vain). Or the very tumultuous and short lasting partnership between A.H Wilds and Busby which ended up in petty court for assault by Wilds to Busby! A document which I found in the Keep.
More than all, this research taught me that probably a third of Brighton’s fantastic buildings were built or designed by just two men! Two fantastic architects whose genius and fine taste still transpire and can still be admire through looking at Brighton’s buildings.
The second part of my research was on George Somers Clarke Junior. However, this research was much shorter: I did not manage to find the information I was looking for. At the Keep, his (whole) file is classified and cannot currently be consulted. When I asked a member of staff, he said the reason for this could not be disclosed. A pity as G.S Clarke Junior was an Egyptologist and I was really excited by the prospect of learning from Egyptian discoveries or who knows what! There was nothing in the Jubilee library either. It seems that the only place where his work can be found and researched is the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) in London. The research is on pause for now.
And as it turned out, he too had an father named like him (or the over way around really!). And whilst this seemed common in that century – it obviously added more confusion as I was unclear at first about why he died in Egypt but was reported by Wikipedia as dying at home in
Walpole, Manor Park, Chislehurst, Kent. For a moment, I thought that they might have it wrong again… I thought this was another error from Wikipedia… until I noticed the very important dates of
One thing (among others) that this research has taught me… double check the names, double check the facts, and never assume that what you read is right!