Michael Blower

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Michael Blower MBE AAdipl FRIBA FRSA (born 1929) is a notable British architect, activist for the preservation and restoration of England's cultural heritage and accomplished watercolourist and recorder of England's townscapes. Most of his buildings, drawings, paintings and the subjects of his activism are in West Surrey.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

The Blower family are recorded in Shrewsbury, Shropshire over several centuries, elevating themselves to burgher status by the time of the great economic expansion of the Victorian period. Sons of the family have been hereditary Freemen of the City since at least the Great Reform Act of 1832. Michael's grandfather John had built up a successful business as a master cabinetmaker and house furnisher in the City, later run by his brother Benjamin after his untimely and early death. Benjamin was a sometime Mayor of Shrewbsury and their former business premises now house the City Museum, the name 'Blowers Repository' remains emblazoned across the stone facade. John had nine children, Michael's father Frank in the middle. Frank was a horseman and fought in the Great War as a Captain of the Royal Horse Artillery, seeing action on the Western Front, in North Africa and the Middle East. After the War, he remained in Belgium and settled in Brussels, where he was part of a vanguard rebuilding horse racing in the country and where he met his wife, Kathleen 'Kitty' (Tree) Waring. Michael was born the middle of three children in Brussels and raised in the neighbourhood of Ixelles, with French as his first language. In 1939 and as a British Citizen by birth, Michael fled Belgium with his family before the advance of the German Army and left on the last civilian boat to leave the country as war began. He attended a number of schools as the family settled into English life during the chaos of war but spent a happy six years at Douai Abbey School, moving onto the Portsmouth College of Art to study architecture.

Early career[edit]

After Portsmouth, Michael moved to London and the Architectural Association (AA) and while on Scholarship, he was selected as one of the UK's delegates to CIAM 10 Conference in Provence, led by the architect Maxwell Fry. After the AA and as a fluent French speaker, he was selected to act as project architect for the British Pavilions at Brussels World Expo 1958,[1] working with designers Felix Samuely, Howard Lobb, Edward Mills, Sir Hugh Casson and James Gardner. Blower spent a short period in the late 1950s working at an architectural practice in Minneapolis (US), called Willard Thorsen. In the early 1960s he was an associate at Guildford architects, Scott Brownrigg & Turner, where he assisted the completion of the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford among other projects. In 1964 he joined Leonard Stedman as a partner at AJ & LR Stedman, which later took the name of Stedman & Blower.

Stedman & Blower Architects[edit]

The practice had been founded by Farnham's most eminent architect of the time, Arthur Stedman in 1895. After his death in 1958, the practice was continued by Leonard Stedman, his son. Michael took over the practice in its entirety in 1968 on the latter's retirement. He was awarded First Prize by the RICS/The Times for the preservation of The Tanyard, Farnham's oldest house in 1982 and an RIBA Award for The New House with Roderick Gradidge in 1998. The practice is now known as Stedman Blower Architects.

Roderick Gradidge[edit]

Blower completed a number of fine restorations and extensions to country houses in Surrey in the 1980s and 1990s. He did these in a loose partnership with the prominent Chiswick-based architect, Roderick Gradidge. Their first projects were on Voysey's New House in Haslemere and on Detmar Blow's Charles Hill Court for an Austrian industrialist. From there, they went on to Harold Falkner's Tancreds Ford, which they designed and built for the writer Ken Follett and his first wife, and which was published in two articles in Country Life.[2] Next came The New House, reputedly designed by Hugh Thackeray Turner and for which they jointly won a RIBA Award, which was also published in Country Life.[3] Just prior to Roderick's death, they were working on a project at Combe Court, which was completed by Michael Blower and his son Robert, through their architectural practice, Stedman Blower.

John Clenshaw[edit]

John Clenshaw (1928-2018) was a life long employee of Michael, first joining the practice as a young apprentice in 1947 when both Arthur and Leonard Stedman were working in partnership. He became an Associate with Michael and remained in the service of the practice into semi-retirement in the late 2000s, an almost unique record of singular service of over 60 years.

Activism and public service[edit]

Blower was mayor of Waverley Borough Council in 1995 and served as a borough councillor and Surrey County Councillor for over 20 years, representing the ward of Farnham. He was for long involved in the recording, preservation and valuing of West Surrey's architectural heritage through his involvement over 40 years with the Farnham (Buildings preservation) Trust Ltd and the Farnham Society, for which he served variously as president and chairman. He was influential in arguing for the preservation of the Farnham Pottery, the last working bottle kiln in England, the Brightwells Gardens and the Redgrave Theatre in the town centre. He also ran a weekly column called Environmental Viewpoint in the Farnham Herald Newspaper between 1986 and 1991, with Susan Farrow. The articles, over two hundred and sixty in number, explored the architectural and cultural heritage of the area around Farnham. The column received a national publishers' award. In the New Years Honours 2020, he received an MBE for services to Farnham and the local community.

Personal life[edit]

After his studies at university, he did two years' National Service in Singapore and was commissioned in the Royal Engineers. After an interval working in Brussels and in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he returned to the UK with his young family in late 1959 and settled in West Surrey. His great grandfather was the prominent American Jurist, philanthropist and US Ambassador to Belgium and Russia at the turn of the 20th century, Judge Lambert Tree. His mother's half-brother was the Conservative MP Ronald Tree, his first cousins the horse trainer Jeremy Tree, painter Michael Tree and 1960's supermodel Penelope Tree. He married Bernadette Muûls (1933-2019), also Brussels-born, niece of the prominent Belgian diplomat and sometime Belgian Ambassador to (West) Germany and the UN in Geneva, Baron Fernand Muûls, in 1958. He was elected Fellow RIBA in 1969 and Fellow RSA in 1987. Blower has filled over 200 sketchbooks with thousands of drawings of the people and places of West Surrey. Some of these have been published.

There are three surviving sons, two daughters and 11 grandchildren. Patrick Blower (b 1959), MA is the noted British cartoonist and illustrator, formerly Evening Standard diary cartoonist (having taken over from Raymond Jackson 'JAK') and Sunday Times feature cartoonist. He is currently one of the regular cartoonists at The Telegraph and has been a contributor to the BBC, Guardian Online and Private Eye over many years. Robert Blower (b 1960), BA DipArch RIBA studied architecture and urban design at the Universities of Greenwich, Westminster, Kingston and The South Bank, all in London. Robert joined Stedman Blower Architects in 1990. He ceased being involved in the day-to-day operation of the practice in 2007, but continues as an architect. Michael is an hereditary Freeman of the City of Shrewsbury following generations of Blowers before him.

Legacy[edit]

The major part of his archive and of his architectural drawings survive and are maintained by The Blower Foundation. Some of his archive can also be found in the Stedman Blower Architects archive, also held by the Blower Foundation [1].

References[edit]

  1. ^ See chapter by Jonathon Woodham – Caught between Many Worlds: the British Site at Expo ‘58’(see bibliography)
  2. ^ Country Life 17 & 24 November 1983
  3. ^ Country Life 3 September 1998

Bibliography[edit]

  • West Surrey Architects, by Christopher Budgen. Woking: Heritage of Waverley, 2002 (paperback, ISBN 0-9542131-0-6).
  • Harold Falkner: More Than an Arts & Crafts Architect, by Sam Osmond. Chichester: Phillimore, 2003 (paperback, ISBN 1-86077-253-6).
  • The Surrey Style, by Roderick Gradidge. Kingston: Surrey Historic Buildings Trust, 1991 (paperback, ISBN 0-9517022-0-3).
  • The Architecture of Expo 58 by Rika Devos & Mil De Kooning (eds). Dexia/Mercatorfonds, 2006 (ISBN ).
  • Walk Around Farnham by Michael Blower. Frith Book Company Ltd, 2005 (ISBN 1-84567-646-7).
  • Farnham Portrait by Michael Blower & Susan Farrow. Ashgate Editions, 1989 (ISBN 0-85967-838-5).
  • Farnham – Moments in View by Michael Blower & Susan Farrow. 1988 (ISBN 0-7045-3107-0).
  • Aldershot Sketchbook by Michael Blower & Susan Farrow. Emerald Art, 1992.
  • The Mayor's Sketchbook – Book 1 by Michael Blower. Waverley BC, 1995.
  • The Mayor's Sketchbook – Book 2 by Michael Blower. Waverley BC, 1996 (ISBN 0-9524187-0-3).
  • The Mayor's Sketchbook – Book 3 by Michael Blower. Waverley BC, 1996 (ISBN 0-9524187-1-1).
  • Farnham, A report of the Listed Buildings Working Party by Michael Blower. Farnham UDC, 1971.
  • An Illustrated History of Godalming by Geoff Covey & Michael Blower. Waverley BC, 1993.

External links[edit]

  • The Blower Foundation (for cultural connection) is a registered UK Charity devoted to cultural heritage and expression and [2] holds an archive of drawings and buildings designed by both Blowers and have an online gallery of their buildings.
  • Stedman Blower Architects [3] hold additional correspondence, archives and detailed information on further projects.