John Harold Kennard FRIBA
Written by Alison Bailey with thanks to Guy Morris, Christopher Collier and Julian Hunt
The arrival of the railway to Amersham in the late 19th Century heralded widespread social change and brought many new people to the area, particularly from London. The railway meant fresh opportunities, particularly for landowners, builders and architects as farmland was parcelled off for development and a new town, with new homes, shops and facilities was planned around Amersham station as the existing town was a mile distant at the bottom of the valley. [Read more about the development of Metro-land.]
One young, ambitious architect from London was John Harold Kennard who recognised the opportunities and went on to design, build and develop a great deal of the new town and the nearby village of Chesham Bois in the distinctive Arts and Crafts style. He deserves to be better known and is credited by Julian Hunt in his book “A History of Amersham” with building one quarter of all the local Arts and Crafts buildings although I suspect the true figure is even higher. Julian Hunt goes on to say that whilst “not a famous architect” Kennard “made a far greater contribution to the local landscape than any other builder or architect.”
The influential Arts and Crafts Movement was one of the most important and far-reaching design movements of modern times. It began in Britain around 1880 but quickly spread across Europe and America. The Movement attempted to re-establish the skills of craftsmanship threatened by mass production and industrialisation. The architect-designer William Morris, inspired by the writings of the art critic John Ruskin, was its central figure. When building a house for his new wife Janey in Bexleyheath, Morris used the architect Philip Webb. Webb rejected the predominant classical style based on formulated designs from ancient Greece and Rome and found inspiration in the vernacular or domestic traditions of the British countryside. ‘The Red House’, with its well-proportioned solid shape, deep porches, steep roof, pointed window arches, brick fireplaces and wooden fittings, is a fine example of the early Arts and Crafts style.
As the Arts and Crafts movement developed the most prestigious company in the design and marketing of Arts and Crafts furniture and decorative arts was Liberty & Co, founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty who lived locally at the Lee, and had invested a lot of money in land in Chesham Bois. Liberty commissioned a number of fine Arts and Crafts houses in the area for different family members primarily using Kemp and How, a firm of London architects. These include houses in Great Missenden, High Bois House in Chesham Bois and Pipers at the Lee, which was built for his nephew and heir, Ivor Stewart Liberty. He also built estate cottages at The Lee and Lee Common.
Other famous architect-designers associated with the movement were Edwin Lutyens, Norman Shaw, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Charles Robert Ashbee, Richard Lethaby, Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott and Charles Voysey. In 1899, when he built his family home The Orchard in Shire Lane, Chorleywood, Voysey designed every detail, the furniture, the wallpaper, light fittings, door furniture, window latches, doorbells and even the clocks. With its sparse decoration, plain and simple furnishings, ‘The Orchard’ was very different from the usual dark and cluttered Victorian interior.
Whilst the Arts and Crafts Movement flourished in large cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh it endured far longer in the countryside than in the city and its impact on rural areas was significant and far-reaching. Many Arts and Crafts buildings in the country were designed on a modest scale, in styles reminiscent of the half-timbered cottages of Tudor England. These domestic buildings used local materials, such as artisan produced bricks and tiles, English oak, and often featured cosy inglenook fireplaces in the interior design.
Many less well known architects introduced the style across Britain with Arts and Crafts developments in the Cotswolds, the Lake District, Surrey and Cornwall. In common with Buckinghamshire, all these locations offered picturesque landscapes, existing craft skills and, importantly, rail links for access to patrons and the London market. By the end of the 19th century, just as the development of Amersham-on-the-Hill was starting, creating an original home became a major preoccupation for the newly prosperous middle-classes. Art magazines of the day such as The Studio provided illustrated guidance and glimpses into celebrity homes to show how it was done. The Movement which started through the influence of a small group of affluent artists and architects percolated down through the social classes, pioneering the concept of designer homes at a wide range of prices. The incredible range of Kennard’s houses in the Amersham area, from small artisan cottages to large country retreats illustrates this particularly well.
The known Kennard buildings locally have many of the key features of the Arts and Crafts Movement. They are mainly asymmetrical, use local building materials and craftsmanship, often feature steep roofs and echo the local vernacular such as the white render, wooden frames and Tudor gables of the Old Town. Even the elaborate Dutch-style gables of 27 The High Street, Old Amersham are echoed in some of his houses in Amersham-on-the-Hill.
John Harold Kennard was known as Harold Kennard professionally but was Jack to his family according to the obituary in the Bucks Examiner after his early death in February 1926 at the age of 42. Kennard was born 6th April 1883 in Kennington, South London to John Moir Kennard, an architect from London and the marvellously named Blanche Dessimere Betiah Blow who had been born in Sydney Australia in 1859 but was also living in Kennington by 1871. John Moir Kennard had a successful practice and is best known for schools including Grade II listed St Bedes School in Redhill, Surrey, which was recently converted to housing.
After marrying in Kennington in 1881 The Kennards had a daughter, Helen and 5 sons. All the boys, except Arthur, who became a pharmacist, followed their father into property and became architects (Harold and Cecil), a surveyor (Lawrence) and a builder (Oliver).
Harold met his wife Bessie Rosina Snewing who was known as Bee in Kennington and they married in 1909. She was the daughter of Charles Snewing, a professor of music and Emily Rosina, née Hemmons. By 1911 they had moved to Rosemarie, (now called Blackdown) Chiltern Road, Chesham Bois. They had three children: Eileen Rosina in 1911, Joan in 1914 and Yvonne Margaret in 1919. Rosemarie was a relatively modest but charming house that Harold had designed and built for his new wife. His success as an architect and developer in his early 20s meant that they could afford a live-in servant.
Kennard had established a practice in London, based at 23 Devereux Court, The Strand and later at 12 Grays Inn Road. He designed houses nationwide such as attractive seaside villas in Swansea in 1905, houses in Bushey, Chesham, Ashley Green and 20 cottages in Lydney, Gloucester in 1924. These cottages include a War Memorial and have an unusual layout which appears to have been inspired by Anne’s Corner in Chesham Bois. Kennard built the Chesham Bois War Memorial in 1920 opposite Anne’s Corner which was built about 10 years earlier.
In addition to the office in London, from about 1906, he also had an office in Station Road Amersham after forming a partnership with an Amersham architect and businessman, William Sumner. The firm Sumner and Kennard was responsible for some of the earliest developments in Amersham-on-the-Hill, including the first new shops, known as Station Parade just below the railway bridge on Station Road and the neighbouring, distinctive landmark, Turret House. Here Kennard used local red brick and the turret itself echoes architectural details on St Mary’s Church, Badminton Court and the Market Hall in the Old Town. One of his first housing developments, was a row of five houses on The Avenue, just south of the railway station, built to look like a single country house.
His first commission for a private house in Amersham, which helped launch his career in the town, was from his friend, and later business associate, the London solicitor, Alfred Ellis. Ellis had also opened an office in Amersham, and they may have known each other in London as Ellis also had family connections to the building trade. Both men recognised the opportunity to expand their businesses in the new town developing around Amersham station.
The design for Fulbeck, the house Kennard and Sumner built for Alfred and his wife, Minnie, was published in Building News. It is a fine Arts and Crafts house in a large garden on The Avenue.
Together with William Sumner, then working alone, and later with his brother, Lawrence, trading as the firm Kennard and Kennard, Harold built an incredible variety of private houses in Amersham-on-the-Hill and Chesham Bois. These range from modest cottages and terraces such as the Woodlands, off Long Park built in 1915, and the terrace in Lexham Gardens built in 1911, to fine country houses built as weekend retreats for wealthy London families.
Larger houses in the area include Killaspy on North Road, El Ezbah and several others on Copperkins Lane, most of the houses on Bois Avenue, The Gables and others on Hervines Road, Chiltern Road, Clifton Road and most of Oakway. Many were built for wealthy clients such as Thomas Alcock Cambridge Grubbe who built Killaspy but Kennard also speculated on land himself, sometimes persuading his family to join him. Electoral records from 1914 and 1915 show that his father, John Moir Kennard, now living in Redhill, Surrey had a share of a house in Hervines Road and his brother Oliver Kennard, living in London Bridge owned Romney Cottage, Amersham Common.
El Ezbah and Killaspy are two very different but equally fine examples of Kennard’s Art and Crafts country houses. Killaspy has a lovely ‘living-room hall’, a key design feature of the Movement with its original oak paneling, parquet flooring and a cosy inglenook. El Ezbah has a stunning galleried entrance hall, original decorative iron window latches and beautifully crafted fireplaces, including a particular fine example in the dining room with wooden beams and panels. Interestingly El Ezbah was commissioned by Ernest Gladstone Halton, the then editor of The Studio, the influential Art magazine of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Studio promoted all the well-known architects of the time such as Rennie Mackintosh and Voysey so that the choice of Kennard as the architect of his weekend retreat shows how highly regarded he was by Halton.
In 1911 Kennard also designed the first Amersham Free Church (demolished in 1963 and replaced by the present building on Woodside Road) for Alfred Ellis, a strong supporter of the Baptist faith and the lay-preacher at the Free Church.
Oakfield Corner, designed by Kennard in 1912, is an important landmark in Amersham-on-the-Hill, and his brother Arthur had a chemist’s shop there for many years. He then designed further shops around the corner in Chesham Road and Sycamore Road.
The outbreak of WWI interrupted Kennard’s career and the development of Amersham-on-the-Hill. Kennard served as a second lieutenant and lieutenant with the Royal Engineers in France, receiving the Victory and British War campaign medals.
Returning to Amersham after the war Kennard built 30 semi-detached houses on Elm Close for the Amersham Public Utility Company. This company had Kennard as the architect, Alfred Ellis as the solicitor and Pretty, Ellis (Harvey Ellis) and Alderson as the estate agents.
Public Utility Societies were an early Government initiative to subsidise housebuilding in order to provide ‘affordable housing’ and grants were available under the 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act. Kennard’s “most interesting experiment” according to Julian Hunt the houses were built out of concrete blocks cast on site and had other innovative features such as windows of ‘stove enamelled steel’. A shortage of more traditional building materials after the war meant new techniques needed to be tried. Arthur Kennard, Harold’s brother moved into 15 Elm Close and brought his family up here. Elm Close is a conservation area today. Plans were drawn up for a similar development in Chesham Bois and a Chesham Bois Public Utility Society formed but the houses were never built.
According to Julian Hunt, Kennard was also associated with John Willliam Falkner and Sons, the developer of Hill Avenue and William Lemming, the developer of the Oakfield Estate. He was a director of the Chesham Bois Development Company and Rural Homes Ltd.
Two of Kennard’s local landmarks are now listed, the Chesham Bois War Memorial and Westover, 65 Station Road. Anne’s Corner, now also believed to be by Kennard, was listed in 1996.
Age 42, Kennard died in 1926 at his new home in Hervines Road, which he also called Rosemarie. Shortly afterwards Bee and the girls moved in with Bee’s mother in Kennington as she had also recently become a widow. Bee appears to have stayed in London although she did have a house in Parkfield Avenue, Amersham for a couple of years in the 1930s, perhaps as a weekend retreat. She died in Kent in 1957 (she had moved there to be close to her daughter, Joan) and is buried with her husband in St Mary’s Cemetery in Amersham.
Kennard’s untimely death meant that his prolific career was cut short. He was recognised as a successful architect by his peers as he was made a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (FRIBA) in 1922. However we will never know what other houses he might have built and how his style would have evolved. Would he have built more innovative houses such as Elm Close? What would he have made of Amyas D Connell’s Modernist house ‘High and Over’ completed just 5 years after his death?
However the enduring appeal of his Arts and Crafts houses, the quality of their construction, the craftsmanship of their details, and their adaptability to modern life mean that they should be valued and protected for future generations. Harold Kennard’s legacy is that each house, whether a modest cottage or a comfortable country house is an individual work of art.
Do you live in a Kennard House? We are currently trying to identify all the Kennard houses in the area so please do contact us if you can add any more information.
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