Tuesday 1 March 2022

William Arthur Aickman, Architect


William Arthur Aickman

Robert Aickman’s father, William Arthur Aickman, was born in King’s Lynn in 1859. He was the eldest of six children (five brothers and one sister) and became an architect, practicing between 1870 and 1938 from three central London offices, beginning at 34 & 36 Gresham Street. He was successful for many years, receiving important and lucrative commissions from, among others, H.H. Finch Ltd, owners of wine-shops and public-houses.

London Spa, 2006

One example of William’s work that can still be seen today is London Spa Court on the junction of Rosoman Street and Exmouth Street in Clerkenwell, which he remodelled with J.K. Bateman in a ‘Wrenaissance’ style. Robert later hung a drawing of the London Spa (as it was originally called) in his Gower Street flat, proud to report that it had been shown at the Royal Academy and displayed at the Chicago World Fair. Other examples of William Aickman’s work were large private houses at Cobham, Surrey for Mr Hasloch (‘Round Close’, which still stands, and ‘Broom Close’, finished c.1907, now demolished.)

Bridle Way, Ewell, Surrey by William Arthur Aickman. From the Studio International Yearbook, 1908

House at Northwood, by William Arthur Aickman. From The Studio Yearbook, 1910

His work was featured in The Studio and The Builder, and Robert pointed out that it was later commented on kindly by John Betjeman. (I have not been able to find a reference for this—it may have been a personal comment.) William Aickman’s work was of its time, and in aesthetic terms his smaller houses (e.g. ‘Bridle Way’, Ewell) are much more elegantly proportioned than the larger ones (e.g. ‘Middle Hill’, Hook Heath).

Middle Hill, Hook Heath, Surrey by W.A. Aickman. From the Studio Yearbook, 1907

 Broomclose by W.A. Aickman. From the Architect, 1907

 Robert Aickman memorably pronounced that after 1914 his father ‘was essentially a refugee’. William Aickman had previ­ously relied on lucrative commissions for large country houses designed to be run by a number of domestic servants, but the demand for such houses promptly declined. As a result William had to leave his beloved office in Gresham Street. ‘He was even reduced to the surveying of basements and cellars for possible use as air-raid shelters,’ reported his son. The architec­tural business was relocated to the top floor of 39 Bloomsbury Square, and later to the first floor at 58 Gordon Square. Apart from the lack of commissions, from the beginning of the war William Aickman found it increasingly difficult to employ reliable staff.

Robert Aickman suggested that he had himself under­taken some architec­tural training, but this does not seem to have been at all formal, as elsewhere he only admitted to helping with jobs like measur­ing premises with his father, and office administration. His father’s inability to keep appoint­ments meant that Robert had to act on his behalf at such meetings as those with the licensing authorities. Generally, Robert spent time at his father’s office struggling with corres­pondence and telephone enquiries, ‘without authority, without knowledge, but not always without success’.

The above is an expansion of material from Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography by R.B. Russell.



With thanks to Heather Smith, and Artellus, Ltd.

All photos, unless otherwise stated, are copyright Estate of Robert Aickman/British Library/R.B. Russell, and are not to be reproduced without permission and acknowledgement.

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