Edward Davies’ career spanned 41 years with a variety of partners, and involved the design and supervision of residential and municipal buildings in Adelaide. His residential work also extended to regional South Australia.
The son of a Welsh tanner, Edward Davies was born in 1852 in Newport, Wales but his family emigrated to Melbourne in the 1850s when he was just an infant. He was educated in Melbourne at the Model School (Burgess 1907). He is thought to have left school at the age of 12 and to have been apprenticed in his father’s trade until he was 15. His friendship with schoolmate Charley Lambeth, whose father was former South Australian colonial architect, Richard Lambeth, was the probable cause of Davies not pursuing a career in his father’s trade. Richard Lambeth gave his son drawing lessons and Davies participated (Burgess 1907). Lambeth realised Davies’ talent for drawing and designing and apparently instigated fifteen year old Davies’ first placement in the Melbourne architecture office of Albert Purchas (Page 1986).
After five years of working in Purchas’ office, Davies, aged 20, took an 18-month course in building techniques and joined the Education Department of Victoria where he remained as an architect for two years. In 1876 he moved to Adelaide to join the Architectural Branch of the State Education Department as premier draughtsman under E.J. Woods. He remained in that job for a further two years (Burgess 1907).
His second prize in an architectural competition for new government buildings in Victoria Square, Adelaide, led to Davies taking a position in the office of James Cumming. He was admitted into partnership in 1879 and the firm became Cumming & Davies. Leaving this practice in 1884 he opened independently in Stow Manse Chambers, Flinders Street. His office expanded rapidly and several later renowned names were articled to him and then joined him in partnership. These included Charles Walter Rutt articled in 1892 (Page 1986), Louis Laybourne Smith (Davies’ future son-in-law) in 1902, and Philip Rupert Claridge in 1905 (Freeland 1971).
From 1899 until 1909 Charles Rutt, Davies’ first pupil, joined him in partnership as Davies & Rutt (Page 1986). Davies & Claridge formed in 1910 (Freeland 1971) but Claridge left in 1917 to set up his own practice. Davies’ later partnerships included Davies, Edwards & Rutt; Davies, Dunn & Good; Davies & Dunn; and Davies, Wooldridge & Counsell (Page 1986).
Davies made an important early contribution to his professional community by hosting a meeting in his office on 26 July 1886 to initiate the South Australian Institute of Architects (Page 1986). Davies, along with Ernest Bayer, Edward Woods and Daniel Garlick formed the committee with Edmund Wright elected President. On 21 January 1887 at a council meeting of the SAIA, Davies expressed the view that the government should introduce an initiative to protect the public against people practising as architects in South Australia without evidence of their qualifications. To practise, Davies believed they should be required to first convince the Government or a body appointed by the Government, of their qualifications. The educational implications of Davies’ ideas were supported by Rowland Rees, who had been Minister for Education in 1878. Following several meetings, a Bill for the Registration of Architects was prepared and approved on 22 September 1887. However when the Bill was read for a second time, opponents succeeded in having it ‘relegated to committee for further investigation’ (Page 1986: 107). South Australian Architects only achieved registration long after this attempt, with the Playford government finally passing an Architects Registration Act in 1939. Davies was President of the SAIA between 1900 and 1908 (Freeland 1971) and was made a Fellow of the SAIA in 1914 (‘Members of the South Australian Institute of Architects’ 1914).
Davies enjoyed painting, both in oils and watercolours, and exhibited at the Society of Arts Exhibition in Adelaide as well as serving as the Society’s Vice President. He sat on the Board of Governors of South Australia’s Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery. A Freemason, he had affiliations with several Lodges (Burgess 1907).
While in Cumming’s employment, Davies won two notable competitions for the designs of Clayton- Wesley Uniting Church, Beulah Park (1882-83) and for the East Adelaide Congregational Church. Other works while in the office of Cumming included Padthaway (1882), a country home designed for Robert Lawson at Padthaway in the state’s south-east (Page 1986); the former home of G.E. Fulton, 178 Stanley Street North Adelaide (1882) and his (Davies') own home, Nesfield, at 353 Marion Road, North Plympton. The oldest part of Nesfield dates from well before 1880 when Davies designed alterations and additions to the dwelling (AHPI).
The firm of Cumming & Davies had an impact on the local architectural scene through its success in residential, commercial and competition designs. The Home for Incurables, Fullarton, and the National Mutual Life Assurance Building on Victoria Square, Adelaide were among the competition based designs (the latter was won in 1882 (Page 1986)). The National Mutual Life Assurance Company Building was originally constructed in 1884 and the Register of 21 March 1884 described the building’s style as ‘Italian’. Page refers to it as ‘an elegant reminder of the colonial era’ (Page 1986: 258). Davies also designed and supervised the Savings Bank Building (1903), Currie Street, Adelaide. The works of Davies & Claridge included the Stephens house (1923) on Salisbury Crescent in Colonel Light Gardens.
Davies’ professional career spanned the period from the 1870s to the years prior to World War One. He died at the age of 75 but not before he saw his young South Australian born articled pupils develop into leaders of the early twentieth century architectural profession (Page 1986).
Sullivan, Christine, Davies, Edward’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=25]