Thomas English was a leading colonial architect in South Australia. As Mayor of Adelaide and as a Member of Parliament, he also made an important contribution to the development of the colony.
Born in Maryport, Cumberland, England, in 1819, English arrived in Adelaide in 1850 on the barque Richardson, commanded by his brother James. He was accompanied by his wife Margaret, and her brother Henry Brown. His father had fought in the Peninsular wars and died when Thomas was three years of age. By 1878, English had made his mark in the colony as he was farewelled, prior to returning to England for a visit, with a banquet at the Adelaide Town Hall. As recalled in his obituary (1884: 35), English declared then that ‘he would be able to speak of South Australia as his brother had first described it to him, as “the country for persevering young men”’. Beyond his public offices, he was a member of the Friendship Lodge of Freemasons. English died at his home (demolished c.1962) on the corner of Greenhill Road and George Street, Parkside on 17 December 1884, leaving his wife, four daughters and one son (Obituary 1884: 35c-d; Morgan and Gilbert 1969).
English’s arrival coincided with a boom in South Australia’s development and he set up as a builder-architect with his brother-in-law, trading as English & Brown, Carrington Street, Adelaide (Page 1986). In 1859 they were in Waymouth Street with ‘capacious yards on each side of Topham-street’, employing some 140 to 150 men (‘The Factories of South Australia’ 1859: 7a). The firm purchased the Glen Ewin sandstone quarry at Tea Tree Gully in c.1852/1853, the stone from which was used for the construction of Adelaide’s Town Hall (Jensen and Jensen 1980; Morgan and Gilbert 1969). They ‘subsequently purchased a corner acre in Hindmarsh-square’ (Obituary 1884: 35c-d). Their partnership lasted until 1865 when, simultaneously, English was elected as a Member of the Legislative Council and the Contractors Act was introduced. Consequently Henry Brown and Thomas English each became sole proprietors, English working as an architect and Brown as a building contractor (Collins and Garnaut 2002).
From 19 February 1870, Thomas English entered a three-year partnership with Rowland Rees, ‘a voluble Welshman’. They offered themselves as Civil Engineers, Architects and Surveyors of Temple Chambers, Currie Street, Adelaide (Register 1870; Page 1986). After the dissolution of that partnership English continued to practise on his own. Alfred Barham Black, engineer turned architect, found employment with him before being taken into partnership with Beresford & Bowen in the early 1880s (Page 1986). English had also taken on George K Soward in 1877 and in 1880 they formed English & Soward, practising from Albion Chambers, Waymouth Street, then Barnard Chambers, Currie Street, Adelaide. This partnership lasted until English’s death. His son, Joseph English, who had also been articled to the firm, was then made a partner. The partnership proved successful and continued until Joseph’s death in 1927 (ADB Online; Collins and Garnaut 2002).
English was Lord Mayor of Adelaide from 1862 to 1863, a period when gas was introduced for ‘general consumption’ and various welfare measures were undertaken (Obituary 1884: 35c-d). He resigned as his firm began building the Adelaide Town Hall, having won the contract the year before (Page 1986).
English was elected to the Colonial Parliament in 1865. He served as the Commissioner of Works from1865 to 1867 and as a Member of the Legislative Assembly from 1865 to 1878 and then from 1882 until his death. ‘Although not a brilliant man, he knew how to command and to hold the sympathies of the House. He was essentially a practical man in every relation of his public life’ (Obituary 1884: 35c-d).
English has numerous works listed on the South Australian State Heritage Register (SHR) as both builder and architect. English & Brown’s first major commission was the Free Church (1850), later Chalmers then Scots Church, on the corner of Pulteney Street and North Terrace (Register 1850) and is the first building known to have been designed by English. Another notable commission was The Advertiser building on the corner of King William and Waymouth Streets, Adelaide, built in 1859 but demolished in 1958. Leading citizens of the day also engaged him; holiday houses for Sir Thomas Elder and Sir Henry Ayres at Glenelg, and for Sir Thomas Graves, Benacre at Glen Osmond (1863) (Page 1986; SHR).
Works completed by English and Rees included numerous houses, amongst them Glenara (1873), 32 The Esplanade, Glenelg South, the Athelstone Institute (1870), and additions to Glenelg Congregational Church, Jetty Road, Glenelg (1870) (SHR; Saunders’ Architectural Index; Collins and Garnaut 2002).
Works from 1878, prior to Thomas English’s visit to England, include Townsend House, in Victorian Gothic style, formerly the South Australian Institution for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb, Brighton, and the former Kent Town Brewery (now apartments) (SHR).
Between 1878 and 1881, Edwin T. Smith, the proprietor of the Kent Town Brewery employed Thomas English and G.K. Soward to design either the rebuilding or alteration of six hotels, two of which were The Old Colonist, Angas Street, Adelaide and the Torrens Arms, Kingswood. They went on to design many new metropolitan and rural hotels. Those nearer Adelaide were often two-storied whereas the country hotels were usually single-story. English & Soward expanded its repertoire to include commercial premises, shops, churches and sporting facilities (Collins and Garnaut 2002), proving that South Australia had been a worthwhile place for Thomas English to start a new life.
McDougall, Alison, 'English, Thomas', Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=55]