The legacy of Ernest Trobridge - visionary architect of the suburbs at Brent Museum

By Culture24 Staff | 07 April 2010
a black and white photo of a suburban house with a turret style frontage

Exhibition: Trobridge – Visionary of the Suburbs, Brent Museum, Brent, until September 24 2010

Brent Museum is exploring the life of the extraordinary vernacular architect Ernest Trobridge, a man who has left his mark on the borough in the shape of some extraordinary houses.

A committed and religious man who incorporated the teachings of the Swedish philosopher and Christian theologian Emanuel Swedenborg into his work, Trobridge's designs for houses across North East London adhered to no specific architectural tradition.

Swedenborg's theories of balance between nature and architecture meant Trobridge's designs boasted a heady union of symbolism and utility with an emphasis on the sheltering roof, the focal hearth and stylised entrances.

Often asymmetrical, peculiarly out of time and outwardly fanciful, they sometimes included elements such as castle turrets and battlements as well as traditional features such as thatched roofs.

a black and white photo of a thatched cottage and garden

Courtesy Brent Museum

Many of these unusual houses still exist in the borough. Early examples from just after the First World War were built using unseasoned elm and feature chimneys and supporting columns and fireplaces built in brick. Their thatched roofs incorporate a water sprinkler system in case of fire.

Trobridge's unconventional but highly principled building methods were mirrored by his approach to business which saw him developed a practice for employing disabled ex-servicemen whilst always adhering to Trade Union pay and conditions.

"He was a man of strong convictions who believed that not only the rich but ordinary people should have a nice house to live in," confirms Museum Curator Joe Carr. "His designs provided good quality affordable housing for the people who needed it most. The beauty of the system was using elm wood which was plentiful and cheap."

a photo of a house with a castle styled entrance

Courtesy Brent Museum

In February 1920 Trobridge exhibited his patent house at the Ideal Home Exhibition, held at Olympia, which resulted in several commissions for individual houses. He later bought ten acres of land at the junction of Kingsbury Road and Slough Lane and, working under a Ministry of Labour scheme, employed ten men who had been disabled serving in the war to build the houses.

Ferndene Estate was finished in 1922, with cottages costing £600 each, which at the time were about 20% cheaper than brick-built ones. Many of his houses can still be seen in Kingsbury, including Hayland, in Kingsbury Road, where he lived between 1922 and 1942.

a gallery installation shot showing display cases and projections

This exhibition explores many of these local landmarks and reveals how Trobridge switched back to brickwork when it became more plentiful to build flats in the 1930s. Recently-discovered designs by Trobridge are also featured, together with photos and recorded memories of residents and family members who have lived in his houses.

Though not a famous architect in mainstream architectural development, Trobridge's work has a strange but enduring quality which places his houses out of time and place. Even so, visitors to this exhibition will find many ideas that are relevant today.

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