John Johnson – Architect of St Matthews
John Johnson’s original drawing of St. …………. Cobo, Guernsey
Print by R Appel’s Anastatic Press – gifted to St. Matthews
The story of St Matthew’s would not be complete without looking at the architect who changed the dream into drawings.
From an article given to P E Guilbert by the authors :-
George M. Bramall B. Arch. Hons. Arch. (Sheffield) RIBA. and Peter Girard B.Sc. – April 1991
John Johnson – Architect
At some time in the early 1850s, contact had been made by the Carey family with the architect Mr. John Johnson of No. 9 St. John Street, Adelphi, London. It is interesting to speculate how this meeting came about, and at the present time, more research has to be carried out on this point. Johnson does not appear to have been a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, although he was a most talented architect and in association with his partner F. B. Newman, was responsible for many building projects. To date we have no information on his pupilage or early career, although he was a Royal Academy medalist and student; and had exhibited at the Academy on several occasions. The RIBA have a few drawings of his in their collection but, regrettably, the drawings of St. Matthew’s have not yet been traced.
At the Royal Academy, he exhibited the following works: –
• 1848 Design, Army and Navy Club, Pall Mall.
• 1851 St. Edwards Church, Romford, Essex.
• St. Saviours Church, Walmer Beach, Kent.
• Christ Church, etc., Stratford le Bow, Essex.
In association with his partner F. B. Newman he also exhibited the following at the Academy:-
• 1852 Church, Thornhill Square, Islington.
At that time the practice address was given as 12, Furnival’s Inn.
Johnson was born in 1807 and started his career with honours, gaining the Gold Medallion of the Royal Society of Arts for a competition design in 1833, the silver Meal of the R.A. in 1835 and the Travelling Studentship in 1836. He travelled to Italy under this studentship and remained abroad it is believed until 1840, bringing back with him a valuable collection of sketches. This experience, the Builder of 11th Jan 1879 states “assisted no doubt, to develop the excellence he always displayed in detail and colour”.
His obituary in the magazine of the same date also gives the following information:-
‘His best works, perhaps best known to the general public, were the decorations of Her Majesty’s Theatre for Mr. Lumley, and his designs for the Alexandra Palace; for the latter work, he was in 1877 made a Fellow of the Florentine Academy, an honour totally unexpected on his part, till he received his Diploma through our Ambassador. His designs for the terraces at Lancaster Gate, and Prince’s Gate, Hyde Park, for Sir John Kelk, are also well known. He published a book called “Johnson’s Churches of Northampton”, which for reference was highly useful to architects. Mr. Johnson was for some years District Surveyor for East Hackney; but though it was a lucrative appointment, he found it interfered with those occupations which were more congenial to his taste – and he resigned.’
Though seventy one years of age, he may be truly said to have died “in harness”, for in 1878 he carried out an Italian design for a large mansion for Sir John Kelk at Tedworth, Wilts,. at a cost of £45000; and also completed the design, details and contract for a church at the same place to cost £12000, which when finished will certainly be the most perfect of his works.’
In addition to being a very fine and talented architect, a further obituary states:-
‘It would appear that Mr. Johnson was a fisherman of renown. He was a member of the Piscatorial Society and their books recall some wonderful takes of fish in the early parts of his life. In the year 1866, he obtained the leading prize for the greatest weight of fish, there being a total of some 550 lbs. placed to his credit. He was also up to his death, the ‘author’ of the Club in conjunction with his old friend Mr. Thomas Gillatt.
Mr. Johnson was an old member of the Thames Angling Preservation Society, and for the last ten years was on of it’s general Committee.
John Johnson died on the 28th. September 1888.
What a coincidence that the architect of the church had such a close affinity with the occupations of the greater part of it’s congregation!