Successful Victorian and Edwardian architect who designed Teddington Library
1853 - 1916
Henry (Harry) Arthur Cheers was born at Great Boughton, Chester in 1853. He began his architectural career in 1872 when he was articled to Messrs T D Barry & Sons in Liverpool. He practised in Leeds and Cardiff before opening his own practice in Liverpool in 1880. He married Isabella Heriot Anson at Leeds in 1880.
His first recorded works are a Methodist Chapel in Swindon (1880) and, in 1882, St Anne’s Church, Bagshot, started in partnership with a Mr Bromilow but finished by Cheers alone. He seems to have lived at Bagshot during the construction of the church until 1884, when he is recorded as living at 6 Waldegrave Park, Twickenham.
The family moved to “Heriotdene”, 32 Waldegrave Park (demolished for the construction of Newland House School) in 1888, where he practised with some success. At this time, it was common practice to hold a competition to select an architect for a new public building. Cheers was an inveterate entrant: he won competitions for Bedford Town & Country Club (1885, demolished in 1971), Scarborough Constitutional Club (1888) and the Market Hall in Ludlow (1887, demolished in 1986).
Cheers designs his own house at 35 Waldegrave Park
His success enabled him to design his own house, 35 Waldegrave Park: a typical Cheers construction of red brick and sandstone, to which he moved in 1892. The house is now a hostel for students at St Mary's University College. From this time on his work consisted mainly of municipal buildings, typical of the Victorian age, built in a flamboyant style, combining Jacobean, Elizabethan and Renaissance motifs and constructed of red brick and yellow stone. His better known designs include the Town Halls at Oswestry (1893), West Hartlepool (1893), Halifax Public Hall (1896, with Joseph Smith of Blackburn), Hereford (1904) and East Ham (1903, also with Joseph Smith). The last is perhaps his most famous work: “the supreme example of the power and confidence of the Edwardian local authority” (Cherry, O'Brien and Pevsner), built of plum coloured brick and yellow reconstituted stone.
Schools and libraries were other Cheers specialities. He designed Hull Northern Library (1895), Preston Technical School (1897), Chorley Training College (1905), Clarksfield Board School, Oldham (1908) and Teddington Carnegie Library (1906). He was awarded the contract for the Grammar School at Earls Colne in Essex, completed in 1897 and now divided into apartments, then the contract for nearby Colchester Technical School in 1909, but there is no evidence that it was ever built.
His work was not limited to municipal buildings, however: he designed a new wing to the Harlow Manor Hydro Hotel, Harrogate in 1893. His ecclesiastical designs include a rebuilt church tower at Heavitree, Devon (c. 1880), Christ Church, New Malden (1893) and St Stephen's, Blackburn (1906).
His last work was the Registry Office at Barnet (1913), though he is recorded as practising at 4 Central Chambers, York Street, Twickenham, in 1914 and also in Philbeach Gardens, Kensington in that year. He died on the 15th January 1916 and is buried in Twickenham Cemetary.
His widow moved to Harrogate after his death. The couple had 8 children: two died as infants and are buried in Teddington churchyard. A son (Ronald) died in 1915 in Flanders. Another son (Donald) was in the newly formed RAF and died in a flying accident in Scotland in 1918. In 1918, another son (Wilfroy) was reported as being severely wounded in Mesopotamia and then serving in India. Wilfroy and his brother Henry trained as architects and were articled to their father in Twickenham.
Designs not always appreciated by other architects
In the Buildings of England, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner thought St Anne's, Bagshot, to be “bad, purposeless ugliness” and Ludlow Market Hall is “Ludlow's bad luck. There is nothing that could be said in favour of its fiery brick or useless Elizabethan detail”. Chorley Training College is “rather ham”. However, not all is bad: Hereford Town Hall is “all very gay and busy” and Teddington Library is “jolly Baroque with two scrolly gables” (Cherry). Julian Orbach agrees, describing it as “a cheerful little Baroque library” and Hereford Town Hall is “a crashing Baroque presence”.
- Directory of British Architects 1834-1914. RIBA. Continuum Press, 2001
- Who's Who in Architecture: From 1400 to the Present Day. Richards. Henry Holt & Co., 1977
- Blue Guide Victorian Architecture in Britain. Julian Orbach. W. W. Norton & Co.,1988
- The Buildings of England (various volumes). Nikolaus Pevsner, Bridget Cherry et al., Yale University Press
- Victorian and Edwardian Town Halls. Colin Cunningham. Routledge, Kegan & Paul, 1981
- The Times Digital Archive
- “Teddington Public Library 1906”. Open University Project. Robert D. Charlton. 1982