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ALEXANDER, John William

Born: 1846
Died: 1897 05 02


Worked in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town between about 1884 and 1897, Alexander was articled to Thomas Goodchild, FRIBA, in London and was afterwards in the offices of Fred Preedy and of Mr Drew, both in London. In 1871 he set up independent practice on his own account in Stockton-on-Tees, Yorkshire where he practised until 1881. It was about this time that he left for South Africa where, by 1884, he had become a foundation member of the Engineering and Architectural Association of South Africa (Johnson 1987:360). The RIBA Kalendar (1887) listed his address as 'c/o The Standard Bank of SA, Jhb via Natal'. He was listed at the same address as Henry Thomas GRADON in Johannesburg from 1889 until around 1890 (cf ALEXANDER & GRADON). His address in 1890 was c/o the Colonial Institute, Northumberland Avenue, London. He returned to South Africa however, the following year where in 1891/1892 he was working for the East African Exploration Syndicate in Durban c/o Messrs Arbuckle. About 1893 he appears to have moved to Cape Town. One John William Alexander drowned at New Brighton, Port Elizabeth in 1897; it is not yet certain that he was the architect as his profession was not given; he was a widower with five children and was born in London.

ARIBA 1882; Founder mem EAASA 1884; SASA 1902. (Afr Archt Jul 1911:33; ARIBA nom paper (1882); Edward's General Dir Jhb 1889, 1890; CAD MOOC 6/9/365 no 1497; RIBA Kal 1890)

This entry has elicited the following response from Graham Potts. If you can help clarify the information we would be grateful.

He was born in Great Yarmouth which casts doubt on the death date that you have for JW Alexander who was born in London. This may be because several thousand miles away the distinction did not seem significant, especially as Alexander trained in London.

His practice in Stockton was in partnership with William Henman, FRIBA (1846-1917). They were busy designing schools and other public buildings when they won the competition for Handsworth Council Offices in Birmingham in 1878. Two further competitions were won in the West Midlands area - Aston Public Offices and Wednesbury Board School - both in 1879. Henman went to Birmingham to supervise the construction of these commissions and terminated the partnership to stay there. He became an authority on the design and ventilation of hospitals. His best known building is the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.

Alexander continued in Stockton though he also had an office in London and served as Diocesan Surveyor for the Archdeaconry of Cleveland. In 1881 he was in partnership with Moses who later worked with Henry Weatherill in Stockton.

I had always assumed that his partnership with Gradon was in England as they were placed first in the competion for St Hilda, Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland in 1888. In the event the church was not built until 1890-94 when the architects were Hicks & Charlewood of Newcastle with a different design.

In 1889 he wrote to the Building News complaining about the restoration of St Alban's Cathedral by Lord Grimethorpe. This must have been when he was back in London.

It is hard to know how much of the practice in Stockton was down to Alexander as Henman had better credentials as he had won the Pugin Scholarship in 1871 and seems to have been the more dynamic partner with an enthusiasm for competitions. It does seem odd that you can find no information about designs in South Africa when he was quite busy in Stockton. I do have one building from his time in South Africa:-

1888 Tilbury Dock, Doctor's House. [Building News, 54, 2 March 1888, p.321 + plate] Again this could have been when he returned to London, or it may have been designed for a family member.

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

Books citing ALEXANDER

Brown, SM. 1969. Architects and others: an annotated list of people of South African interest appearing in the RIBA Journal 1880-1925. Johannesburg: Unpublished dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand. pp

Johnson, Brian Andrew. 1987. Domestic architecture at the Cape, 1892-1912 : Herbert Baker, his associates and his contemporaries. Cape Town: Unpublished Thesis UNISA. pp 360

Johnson, Brian Andrew. 1979. An art historical study of the architecture of the Southern Cape Peninsula, 1880-1913 : houses and small business premises. : Unpublished Thesis UNISA. pp