In his obituary Edward John Woods was described as ‘one of the greatest architects in the Commonwealth’ (Register 7 January 1916). As one of the founders of the large international architectural practice of Woods Bagot, Woods designed several of Adelaide’s prominent civic buildings.
Edward John Woods was born in London in 1839. He was educated at private schools in Great Britain and was subsequently articled for three years to architect Charles J. Richardson, who himself had been a pupil of neo-classicist, Sir John Soane. Woods then spent two years working in the office of T.E. Knightly. After receiving a letter from Dr William Browne ‘who painted a rosy picture of the possibilities for architectural talent in anew and progressive country’ (Register 7 January 1916), Woods decided to emigrate to South Australia.
He arrived in Port Adelaide in 1860, aged twenty-one, on the Blackwall and worked for a time on Browne’s cattle and sheep property near Mt Gambier in the South East (Pikusa 1986: 122) before embarking on his architectural career. In 1867 he married Miss Gooch, daughter of Charles Gooch, of Adelaide, and they had two sons and three daughters, living at Mayford at Kent Town.
His South Australian architectural career began with his employment as a draughtsman for Edmund Wright and after a few months he became a partner in the practice of Wright and Woods. Between 1866 and 1871 E.A. Hamilton was an addition to the practice, which was then known as Wright, Woods and Hamilton. This partnership lasted about four years. In 1869 when the partnership had dissolved Woods worked as a sole practitioner. Woods then formed a partnership with William McMinn.
In about 1876 Woods joined the public service as an architect to the Council of Education, simultaneously maintaining his private practice. He was subsequently appointed Architect-in-Chief of South Australia in 1878 and in this role was unable to practise privately. He left the government in 1886 when the position of Architect-in-Chief was abolished and took up private practise again. In 1905 Woods began a partnership with Walter Bagot, who had been a former pupil, with the practice being named Woods & Bagot. This partnership lasted until 1913. Bagot recalls Woods as ‘the most intellectual architect of the era’ (Page 1986: 116). Edward Woods died on 5 January 1916, following a decline in his health. The practice continues today as one of Australia’s largest architectural firms and is called Woods Bagot continuing the names of its two founding partners.
In 1892 Woods was made a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Woods attended the inaugural meeting of the South Australian Institute of Architects (SAIA) in 1886 and was elected the Co-Vice President and Patron of the SAIA. He acted as a judge on the Cottage Homes design competition in 1899 which was won by Charles Rutt. Woods was a prominent Freemason. He enjoyed shooting, belonging to several rifle clubs and remained an ‘enthusiastic rifleman’ until only a few years before his death (Register 7 January 1916).
The first building Woods worked on in South Australia while with Wright was the National Bank, King William Street, Adelaide in 1864-1865 (Morgan and Gilbert 1969: 25). The practice then worked on the Adelaide Town Hall complex between 1863-1866 and also on the Port Adelaide Town Hall.
Following their design’s success in the 1865 competition, the Adelaide General Post Office was designed and documented by Woods (‘A Builder of Cities’ 1913) while in partnership with Wright. However Wright and Woods were asked to alter their design, and the final building was also influenced by two other architects, Edward A. Hamilton and Robert G. Thomas who had jointly submitted a design that came second in the competition. ‘Wright & Woods asked Edward Hamilton to join them in the execution of the work’ (Page 1986: 75). However, ‘the Government of the day then thought it would be better to carry out the work departmentally. … and … paid us £1,300 as compensation’ (A Builder of Cities 1913). The then Colonial Architect, R.G. Thomas reduced the final height of the tower with the GPO being opened in 1872.
Between 1866 and 1871, as Wright, Woods and Hamilton, the practice designed many large buildings for South Australia. These included a store for Messrs. Wills and Co., Rundle St, Adelaide (1866), a Flour Mill for Mr J. Dunn, Port Adelaide (1866), Catholic Churches at Wallaroo, Blumberg (now Birdwood) (1867), and Macclesfield (1867), and National Banks at Port Adelaide, Mt Barker, Moonta, and Strathalbyn. The National Bank at Strathalbyn (1868) was a symmetrical building of squared random coursed stone, with rendered surfaces and stuccoed Italianate detail. The design featured an elaborate porch and balcony.
Wright, Woods and Hamilton also completed Stow Memorial Church Manse (1868), St Peter’s College school rooms (1867-8) and St Peter’s schoolmasters house (1869). The firm superintended St Peter’s Cathedral construction 1869 and completed Hamilton’s earlier work by placing a tower on to the Congregational Church at Brougham Place, North Adelaide in 1871.
As architect to the Council of Education, Woods designed many schools, including those at Mt Gambier, Pt Adelaide and Jamestown (Cutri 1982). While in public service some of Wood’s works included the Training School for Teachers at 113 Grote Street, Adelaide, constructed in two stages with the ground floor built in 1875 and the upper floor in 1909. It is of Tudor Gothic design with a symmetrical façade (AHPI). He also designed the Erindale Ward at the Parkside Lunatic Asylum, 226 Fullarton Road, Glenside, which was the first major ward building to be constructed at the Asylum after the original main building and is important for its scale and the continuation of the decorative detailing, fireproof construction and integrated ventilation systems established by the original building (AHPI). The ‘deliberate ecclesiastical detailing of the chapel clearly bears the hand of … Woods’ (AHPI).
As Government Architect he also supervised the building of many civic buildings in Adelaide, these included Marble Hill (1879), the Governor’s residence in the Adelaide Hills, new Government offices in Victoria Square, the first wing of the Public Library and the Quarantine Station (‘A Builder of Cities’ 1913).
The Crown & Sceptre Hotel at 308 King William Street, Adelaide dating from 1877 is architecturally significant as an example of an Italianate design by the partnership of Woods & McMinn. The building also demonstrates the technological innovation of Woods and his experiments in venting buildings, later applied in his designs for Parliament House (AHPI).
Old Parliament House, North Terrace, Adelaide was constructed in stages between 1843 and 1875. The building incorporates examples of the work of colonial architects E.A. Hamilton, W. Bennett Hays and E.J. Woods (AHPI). Parliament House is located adjacent to Old Parliament House, in a prominent corner position in Adelaide and is a landmark within the city. It was built in two stages in 1883-89 and 1936-39 of Kapunda marble and finished in the Victorian Academic Classical style. The design for Parliament House by Edmund Wright and Lloyd Tayler was chosen in 1873. It included a dome and portico, although these were never built. Architect-in-Chief, Woods adapted Wright and Tayler's original design, and supervised the construction of the building, with one of the modifications being the incorporation of an innovative ventilation system in the Assembly Chamber. The building was also wired for the future use of electricity. During the construction a dispute with Kapunda Marble Company halted works for some time (Cutri 1982). The central and eastern parts of the building were built in 1936-37 (AHPI).
St Andrews, at 121-125 Kingston Terrace, North Adelaide (1862) was designed by James Macgeorge and constructed of limestone rubble with a French appearance. It was enlarged by Woods for William Murray in the 1870s (Bagot 1958: 16), although Morgan and Gilbert give this date as 1881. The small neo-Gothic residence and consulting rooms at 203-207 North Terrace, Adelaide were designed by Woods in 1901 for Adelaide eye surgeon Dr Mark Johnston Symons. The building included such features as a tiled 'operating room' and large waiting rooms (AHPI).
Work for the Catholic Church by Woods included additions to St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, convents in Adelaide, Port Adelaide, and Broken Hill, and numerous chapels around South Australia.
Collins, Julie, ‘Woods. Edward John’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=69]