1945 FIREPLACE SURROUND – 1 Langdale Avenue, Coppice, Oldham – from where I departed for Australia in 1947

Around the end of my architectural course at the Manchester School of Art and Design from 1940 to 1945 it would seem that my ‘bent’ for furniture design began to emerge or perhaps I began to realise that architecture and furniture design were two sides of the same coin – marching in parallel toward the satisfaction of human needs.

Mum and Dad had bought 1 Langdale Avenue on the Coppice for about £2500 which was fairly up-market for Oldham, semi-detached, having a garden on 3 sides and a garage – as well as an upstairs and a downstairs ‘loo – unheard of around 1935. There were still open coal fires in the lounge, dining room and kitchen and also in the 2 front bedrooms – central heating was yet to emerge in residential design.

The living room fireplace had a tiled surround with a faint hint of art-deco zig-zag and a small cast-iron grate. Somehow it must have offended my emerging aesthetic taste so I persuaded Mum and Dad to let me design a timber surround to hide most of the tiling – especially the stepped top. It was my first design and we got it made at a local joinery.

It was simplicity itself, having a long mantle shelf and a panel front underneath out of some dark coloured timber and screwed to the wall with 2 end ‘wings’ to contain the panel – a clean solution which perhaps showed the beginnings of my style. I can’t remember the details but I managed to find this photograph which I have kept for 70 years – it reminds me of the many, many chores I had of laying and lighting the fire and the cleaning up every day
– I remember it only too well..

The small wood sculpture on the mantle shelf was my very first attempt at woodcarving with primitive tools and equipment in my bedroom. It was copied from a photograph I saw in a magazine and I must say, in retrospect that I am not particularly proud of its origin or its subject matter. I suppose we all have to start somewhere and learn from our experience.

The subsequent fireplace surround gives a better indication of the way my aesthetic mind was developing and I am happy to say that my future sculptural work was more adventurous and original than this first venture.

The tiled hearth was typical of the late 1920s and early thirties when the house was built– the aftermath of the Jazz age. My subsequent fireplace surround was a quiet protest arising from my architectural training and the mirror echoed the surround – both being devoid of any fashionable jazz – perhaps an early sign of my lifelong aversion to fashion.