Notes taken from Michael Gray’s talk to The Ipswich Society – 10 March 2021

Brightwen Binyon was born in Manchester, in 1846. His first name of Brightwen was his mother’s maiden name. The family were Quakers and he was educated at a Friends’ School. He knew the architect Alfred Waterhouse, who was also a Quaker and responsible for the design of the Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum in London.  Brightwen was indentured to Alfred Waterhouse from 1863 to 1871. He later became a member of RIBA.

The accepted form was that after training, the Grand Tour would be taken to study architecture, construction of buildings, different styles etc.  Brightwen duly travelled to Europe, Egypt and Jerusalem, the last of which he found very disappointing. He was also an excellent, and prolific, watercolour artist and produced very detailed drawings. On his Grand Tour he was introduced to the Duke of Hamilton, of Easton Park, who became a lifelong friend.

Whilst on the continent, Brightwen’s father had died causing his mother to move to Ipswich, to be closer to members of her family. On his return to the UK he moved in with his mother at 43 Fonnereau Road. His first commission was to design new stables at Easton Park for 50 horses – that building has since been demolished. He also worked on the interior of Easton Hall and these commissions enabled him to ‘set himself up’. He had offices at 36 Princes Street, Ipswich. 

Quakers support each other, and this enabled Brightwen to receive a commission in 1874 to build the Fennel Memorial Homes in Bury St Edmunds – these being flats for Christian women in reduced circumstances. The building consisted of diaper brickwork and elaborately carved bargeboards – today it is a listed building.

As well as buildings, he also designed furniture for Capel Cabinet Making, and wallpaper for Jeffry & Co. The latter primarily consisted of borders and friezes which became extremely popular during the Victorian period, and samples can be viewed at the Victoria & Albert Museum. One commission he received was to re-design the interior of the yacht belonging to the Prince of Wales. He worked primarily for aristocrats but he also had lots of contacts with leaders of Ipswich – many of whom were non-conformist.  

As a Quaker he was very supportive of education. The Education Act led to many new schools being built. In 1874, Brightwen built the Board School at Westbridge, Ipswich (then London Road Infants School) and one at Cavendish in 1877. They are of a similar style but significantly there were no corridors, so pupils had to move around the outside of the building to go from room to room. His support for education and continued learning led to him travelling abroad on holiday each year to study buildings, which in turn influenced his work. Quakers are very tolerant of other religions and contact between him and the local Baptists led to him designing the Baptist Church, London Road, Ipswich in 1875. In 1877 he designed a country house for his uncle – The Grove, Harrow, where the influence of the Arts & Crafts Movement can be seen.

The late 19th century saw an explosion of public buildings being erected – the designs of which were often selected via an architectural competition. Disputes over the choice of winning designs lead to entries being submitted with a non-de-plume rather than the actual name of the contributor on the plans. As well as the design, the architects were also required to include the projected building costs of their plan. In 1878 a competition to design Great Yarmouth Town Hall received 42 entries, one of which was from Brightwen Binyon but he failed to win that commission.

He did receive a commission in 1879 to build a new branch for the Alexander, Birbeck, Barclay & Buxton Bank in Sudbury – certainly the Alexander and Barclay families were also Quakers.  In September that year, in Darlington, he married Rachel Cudworth – they lived at 5 Henley Road, Ipswich, and went on to have four children.  In 1892 they moved to ‘The Cedars’, Angelsea Road, Ipswich. 

Another competition in 1879 was for the design of Ipswich Post Office in Cornhill. Again his entry was not successful but competitions often led to interest by architectural magazines, such as The Builder, so the publicity could be very useful particularly if the entrant was judged in the top three. Also in 1879 he entered the competition to build the Ipswich School of Art but again was unsuccessful. The following year, in 1880, he organised the renovation and improvements to Thistleton Hall, in Suffolk. This elegant country house was demolished in 1955.

More Board School commissions followed, with Dixon Street Board School in 1880, Birch Street Board School and Sanford Street Boys School in 1881, all in Swindon. At the time Swindon was a developing town of railway workers, and Brightwen was always passionate about education for the working class. In fact, his design for the Sanford Street Boys’ School was copied and built in Yarra, Australia.

He received a commission from Ellen Hollond, the widow of Robert Hollond, to build a Memorial Lodge in his memory. Robert Hollond had been a lawyer, entrepreneur and MP. His passion was aeronautics, particularly ballooning.  With two friends he had flown, in a balloon, from London to Nassau, Germany taking 18 hours to cover 500 miles. It was a world record unbeaten for 70 years, and then only by powered flight.  He was the founder of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain. The Memorial Lodge was built beside the churchyard of St John the Evangelist, Harrow in 1881. It is an attractive Arts and Crafts style cottage, built in red brick and half-timbered with terracotta displaying sunflowers and an armorial crest.

1882 saw him enter another competition, this was to design the Ipswich Corn Exchange. There were 50 entrants and this time he was successful. The judges were impressed by the fact that the Corn Exchange Building was ‘wrapped around’ with commercial buildings. It was built using Portland Stone and the stonework is recognised as ‘excellent’. Bramford Road Board School, Ipswich was also built in 1882 (up until recently occupied by the Suffolk Record Office and the John Mills Theatre run by the Eastern Angles Theatre Group – now the theatre group has taken over the whole building) and followed by the Shire Halls School, Smart Street, also in Ipswich.

Brightwen Binyon was the ultimate networker using friendship and marriage connections. He was commissioned by Ransome (also a Quaker) to re-model and extend his house – Albion Hill House in Ipswich. Plans were produced for a completely new building in the form of a ‘butterfly plan’, and the house was then re-named Holme Wood. It subsequently became a Girl’s School and was later converted into flats.

1886 saw him enter the competition to design the Public Library and Museum in Folkestone. 51 entries were submitted. The judges, unable to decide the ultimate winner, invited the potential  winning architects for interview. They were so impressed by Brightwen Binyon that they awarded him the contract and he received 50 guineas.

The next competition he entered was to submit a design for Sunderland Town Hall. Alfred Waterhouse was the adjudicator in an attempt by the authorities to avoid objections to the outcome.  There was only three weeks to prepare for the submission, which was very short.  Alfred Waterhouse was paid 100 guineas for his role but ironically the winner would only receive 50 guineas.  Brightwen Binyon won the competition but it was dogged by accusations of corruption due to the link between Binyon and Waterhouse. However, it was an impressive submission. It cost £50,000 to build and was lined with marble. Brightwen was also involved in the design of the furniture. By the time it was finished it was considered too small. It 1971 it was secretly demolished by the local council.

Closer to home, Felixstowe was developing, and Binyon published plans for seaside villas in numerous magazines. Many were built according to his design e.g. Hyldon Court in 1888, which is still standing.

He then moved onto his next commission, for William Knox-Darcy, the founder of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company which later became BP. He was also a Quaker and, having purchased Stanmore Hall in Harrow (from the Hollond family – see above), he wanted it to be fitted out to include a new dining room and a billiard room. Large houses were required for weekend entertainment amongst the ‘higher set’ and Brightwen Binyon fell into that niche. A fire in 1971 destroyed Stanmore Hall.

Using his connections he next built the Mechanics Institute, Swindon in 1891 – another educational facility. In the same year he entered the competition for the Town Hall in Swindon.  Most of the 20 submissions would have been too costly to build, 6 were short-listed including Binyon’s design. He calculated it would cost £6,000 to build, and won the contract. It was basically one of his Board School designs with a few frills. Today it is an Arts Centre.

He designed semi-detached houses in Victoria Road, Felixstowe in 1892. In fact he had several commissions in Felixstowe which was an upcoming tourist resort, including the impressive Kilgarth Court in Tomline Way. During the 1890s, public funding became available for Public Libraries which inevitably led to many being built at the time. Brightwen Binyon entered a competition to design the Colchester Public Library, and was successful – it being built in 1893.

He was next involved in the design of the Nethaniah Almshouses for the Aged, in Over Stoke, Ipswich. The memorial tablet was laid by Mrs. Paul in 1890 – she was married to the founder of the William Paul Tenements Trust. This commission fitted in nicely with his Quaker beliefs of helping the working class. Another bank was built in 1895 – this was for the Gurney & Alexander Bank.  It is now a Barclays Bank in Felixstowe.

Another competition was won in 1896, beating 44 other entrants, to design the Barrett Browning Institute at Ledbury, Herts. It was built as a memorial to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who had lived nearby. The influence of the Arts & Crafts Movement is very evident. The exterior is of the Tudor Revival style with timber framing on the first floor level and terra cotta detail. A prominent feature of the building is an impressive clock tower. Today it is a Grade II Listed Building, despite it not being appreciated by Nikolaus Pevsner. The Institute was opened by Henry Ryder Haggard in 1896 and then as a Public Library in 1938 by the Poet Laureate, John Masefield.

In 1897 he won the competition to design the Felixstowe Spa and Winter Gardens but the design was not implemented. Binyon was a member of the Ipswich Fine Art Club between the years 1875-1903, and frequently exhibited his work. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy.

After being in practice for over 25 years, in 1897 he stopped work, gave his practice to his assistant, sold 20 buildings in Ipswich and retired to Bushey, Herts to live with his great aunt. It is speculated that he was probably ill and sorting out his affairs. Over the next few years he worked on small projects for friends and travelled widely. He died on 21st September 1905.

He was the second cousin once removed, of the poet Lawrence Binyon, who wrote the poem For the fallen which is recited in memory of casualties of wars. His brother George was in partnership with William Whitmore, engineers and mill-wrights, as Whitmore and Binyon of Wickham Market.    

Janette Robinson

Illustration: Binyon's drawing for Sunderland Town Hall, 1886

Next article