When one thinks of the names Charles Henry Rew and his son Noel Ackroyd Rew, the design of Berkhamsted School’s Chapel and Deans’ Hall, and All Saints Church immediately spring to mind. In fact, the legacy the two Rews left behind in Berkhamsted and elsewhere was far greater, and it seems there is more still to be discovered.
Charles Henry Rew was born in Exeter, Devon, in the March quarter of 1842, the second son of James Rew and his wife Mary Ann. The family lived in the parish of St. Lawrence at number 6, Castle Street.i James was a master currierii employing three men. The family was reasonably well-to-do since the household had two servants. On reaching adulthood Charles seems not immediately to have turned to architecture since, in the 1861 census, his occupation is given as ‘engineer.’ Sometime between 1861 and 1871 James Rew was widowed and the family moved to London. In the 1871 census, James Rew, a retired leather merchant, was living at 1, Alpha Road, Camberwell together with Charles now 29, a civil engineer, an unmarried sister, Fanny, 21, and a servant. Three years later Charles married Sarah Kate Lucas in Kensington. Noel Ackroyd, the fourth child of the marriage, was born in Streatham in the March quarter of 1881.
The archives of the Royal Institute of British Architecture give us a more detailed account of Charles’ professional career than that obtained from the census. Whilst still in Exeter, he served articles with Thomas Whitaker, Architect and County Surveyor for Exeter and subsequently entered the office of the Town Surveyor of Brighton and was with him when the drainage scheme of Brighton was carried out.iii For some years he worked in the office of George Edmund Street RA and did some work in the Law Courts, Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin, Bristol Cathedral and other well-known ecclesiastical buildings. He practised for a while in London, but in 1884 the family moved to Great Berkhamsted,iv possibly to take advantage of the education facilities for the two sons and two daughters. In 1891 they were living in the Rustic Cottage between New Lodge and Rose Cottage, and Charles is designated as ‘architect’.v
Whilst in Berkhamsted, Charles Rew continued his interest in ecclesiastical works, contributing fine details in addition to designing an entire church, All Saints, Kitsbury. Evidence of his work can be seen in the church of St John the Evangelist at Bourne End where he designed the fresco which forms part of the memorial dedicated to Elca Rose Curtis of the Hall, Berkhamsted, and in Sunnyside church where he designed the memorial chair to Herbert Henry Cooper. In St. Peter’s Church the Smith-Dorrien Memorial is attributed to him. He did work also in the parish churches of Kings and Abbots Langley, and St Mary’s Hemel Hempstead.
In 1905 Charles was elected Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In his later years he brought his son, Noel Ackroyd Rew into his practice. In the years shortly before his death it is difficult to separate individual from joint projects. It is clear that Berkhamsted School Chapel was Charles’ work as was the Science School, but that Deans’ Hall, the new Junior School, the Sanatorium and the Library were joint ventures. Another joint venture, which is rarely mentioned, is that of Victoria Girls’ School, a building, which still remains in use today. Charles Henry Rew also, as did his son later, designed quite a number of individual houses in Berkhamsted and surrounding districts, namely ‘Stonycroft’ in Shrublands Road and Kilfillan in Graemsdyke Road for Dr H de H Boyd.
Charles Rew died in October 1912 in Berkhamsted. A short obituary appeared in the Gazette and in the Journal of RIBA and also in the Builder, listing various works of his, some buildings mentioned only obliquely. He apparently designed in addition to what has already been mentioned, the swimming baths at both St. Paul’s School and Berkhamsted School and designed homes for St Barnabas, East Grinstead. He designed a building for Hubert Herkomer in Bushey, but not the house, Lululand, itself. Reference is frustratingly made to ‘several houses’, but without any details.vi
It is possible to obtain a clearer idea of the work of both Rews by referring to Noel Rew’s nomination papers for application to RIBA. Noel was educated at Berkhamsted School. On leaving school he attended – between 1901-02 – the Slade School of Art and Regent Street Polytechnic’s Architectural Day classes. He then became articled to his father and continued for three years attending evening classes at the Polytechnic. In 1904 he commenced independent practice in partnership with his father in Berkhamsted. In 1911 he was elected as licentiate RIBA. He was elected a Fellow in 1942. It is from this second application that we are able to discover the most of the professional career of Noel and his father. Information beyond this date is very limited, although we know that Noel designed a house, Windle, in Potten End, in 1953, for Leslie and Eileen Garrett.vii Noel died in Surrey in 1971.
We see from this detailed statement of the assignments of the Rews how wide was the scope of their work. In addition to the various school buildings and houses mentioned above shops and houses were built in Hemel Hempstead for W Groves Esq. A new Post Office was designed for Berkhamsted in 1909.viii From 1909-1910 houses were built in Berkhamsted for the Berkhamsted Co-operative Society. In 1910-11 the Rews designed five houses and shops for A G Knowles Esq.
Between the death of his father and the outbreak of the First World War a number of small assignments were carried out, including a house in Ashley Green. From 1915 –1919 Noel’s work was interrupted by war service. Shortly after the end of the War he designed twenty council houses in Gossoms End for Berkhamsted UDC. 1919-1928 Noel spent abroad working for the Imperial War Graves Commission in France and Belgium, where he was responsible for designing forty-two cemeteries. One of his best-known works was Orchard Dump Cemetery, France, where he chose an attractive local stone for a rubble wall linking two shelter features.ix
On returning to this country Noel designed two houses in Potten End, memorial stall fronts in Berkhamsted School Chapel, and several houses for W. Johnson, Esq., at Pinkneys Green, Berkshire. During the 1930s he designed a house in Sussex for Anthony Armstrong Esq., four houses in Potten End respectively for Miss Meacher, Mrs Pearce, Mrs Stamp, and Mrs Gilbert and a house in Aldbury for Mrs Rose. In 1936 he designed a house in Box Lane, Hemel Hempstead for Hardwick Nichols Esq. It is this house which one of his sponsors for his application for a fellowship at RIBA, Harold Merriman of Earls Riding, Berkhamsted, described as ‘a very successful example of domestic architecture.’
Apart from private assignments Noel designed additions to a Boys’ Elementary School in Berkhamstedx and was also commissioned in 1939 to design the new mixed Senior School for Berkhamsted, which was to be built on Greenway on the site, which now has Greenway First School and St Thomas More Roman Catholic Primary School. His tender was accepted but the Second World War intervened. After the War Hertfordshire County Council purchased the large building from the Foundling Hospital and established the bi-lateral Secondary School known as Ashlyns School, and no new building was required.
Since the archives of Dacorum Borough Council are at present not open for research it is impossible to identify later works of Noel Ackroyd Rew in Berkhamsted and the surrounding areas, or to determine when exactly he left the district. I appeal to members of our Society and to other readers who think they may live in a ‘Rew’ house or for whom some of the names mentioned as commissioning Rew’s designs ring a bell, to come forward so that we can gain a fuller picture of the legacy left by the two Rews in Berkhamsted and district. Charles Henry Rew’s death in 1912 evoked an obituary in The Gazette, The Journal of RIBA and in The Builder. Noel Ackroyd Rew’s death in 1971 apparently brought no reaction in the architectural world. Locally the name Charles Henry Rew is better known than that of his son. Is this judgement justified?
i 1851 census for Exeter St. Lawrence.
ii A currier dressed and prepared leather for other craftsmen to use.
iii For further details see Southern Water’s website.
iv From Journal of RIBA 23rd November 1912.
v This is a 17th century house now listed and known as the Old Cottage.
vi ‘The Builder’ 29th November 1912.
vii This is claimed to be the last house Noel Rew designed. I am indebted to Sarah Garrett for this information.
viii This was in Lower Kings Road, where Claridge Court now stands.
ix Website of Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
x This was most likely an extension to Victoria Boys’ School.