This is only a brief outline of the life of
Percy Burnell Tubbs (PBT) and it is still work in progress. The portrait
is by Philip Connard RA. He was born on 29th February 1868 and so
was a leapling. Family sources vary on where he was born, Islington or
Highgate. It is a fact that in 1861 his father Henry Thomas Tubbs (HTT) was
living at 18 St Pauls Road, Islington which is fairly close to the site of
Tubbs Lewis’s London works on New North Road where it crosses the Regent’s
Canal. By 1871 he was living in Finchley at 299 Alexandra Grove and in 1881 he
was at 1 Alexandra Grove, Finchley. I don’t know if that is a different address
or the same one renumbered or even a clerical error but the information comes,
of course, from the Census forms. At one time he was living in the Manchester
Hotel, his development on Aldersgate Street near to what is now Barbican
underground station, though it isn’t actually underground. By 1891 PBT had
married Alice Maud Waite (AMT) on 22 April 1890 at Paddington Register Office.
One entirely speculative reason for a Register Office wedding is that there was
an uncomfortable degree of consanguinity between bride and groom. PBT’s mother,
HTT’s wife, was Maria Louisa Burnell. Her mother Elizabeth Ann Thompson was
married twice, firstly to Thomas Burnell who predeceased her and then to John
George Waite, AMT’s grandfather. John George Waite was an employee of HTT. The
consanguinity table has changed over the years but they seem to have been borderline
rather than banned from wedlock. Whether or not this was a factor in the
congenital childhood arthritis that affected at least the next two generations
is not for me to say. PBT attended Highgate School, as had his father, and did
not go University, as would be the norm for an architect these days. He was
apprenticed to the architect William Patterson in 1883 but Patterson died in
1886 and between 1886 and 1888 PBT continued his apprenticeship with Messrs
Ford and Hesketh. During this time he also studied under Ferdinand Lamotte in Paris
in 1884. He then worked as assistant to Messrs Franklin and Andrews, Quantity
Surveyors of Ludgate Hill before setting up in practice at 77 Fore Street in
1889, by which time he was just 21 or about five if you only include real
birthday anniversaries. At various times between 1894 and the outbreak of war
in 1914 he was reported to be at 68 Aldersgate Street, business premises also
occupied by his wily solicitor cousin Leonard Tubbs who was two years younger
In 1904 PBT became FRIBA, entering directly
as a fellow. From 1906 he was architect to the firm of City Sites Development
Ltd. This was not a full time occupation and the firm’s history is to be discussed
elsewhere. He also did a good deal of work for his father. One
building that may have survived is a Convalescent home in Littlestone, HTT’s
dream project to outsmart Eastbourne that didn’t work, though Littlestone has
its charms and is worth a visit . He did not design the water tower which
dominates the area near Littlestone Golf Club which was on land donated by his
father and of which he and many other members of the family were members.. More
detailed research is definitely in order as the Romney Marsh website people had
only the vaguest, incorrect ideas about Littlestone and HTT, I don’t believe
the work has been done.
His firm eventually became Tubbs Son and
Duncan from 1922, where the son was Grahame B and Aver Duncan was a modernist. Grahame Burnell Tubbs(GBT)
was born in 1892, Seymour Burnell in 1895 and Cecil Burnell (CBT) in 1896. Beware imitations
for there were other Tubbs architects at work, in particular Cyril B Tubbs who
is probably not related, and did a lot of work in Bexhill but also had offices
in London at one point. Unfortunately the 1901 census shows fairly clearly that
Cyril B Tubbs was a son of the household and was born a year after Seymour, but
that is a mistake for Cecil on the original census form, then rendered
digitally as Ezcil, which offers a novel suggestion for any future Tubbs’
forename. The architect Cyril was much older, born 1855. Under PBT’s chairmanship
the Society of Architects merged with the RIBA in 1912 (?).
Another rich possibility for research is
the great Cripplegate Fire of 1897. It destroyed over 100 buildings at a total
cost of £1 million, when that was a very large amount of money. I have already
reported here that CBT in his memoirs appears to get the details wrong relating
to corruption in the fire service, nevertheless PBT is said to have been
offered a bribe to falsify evidence in his expert witness role at the six month
long inquiry into the fire. I take it that this was distinct from the Coroner’s
inquiry. I assume the records at the Guildhall. An interesting sidelight on
this is that PBT’s own uncle Alfred Thomas Tubbs was a Cripplegate alderman (with a business in the City) and had
warned of serious fire risks in the ward previously, as reported in The Times.
The war had a devastating effect on his
career. He became involved in two important developments on the Home Front.
He instigated the Professional Classes War
Relief Council which was advisory rather than charitable.
His immensely useful contribution to the
war effort was as a Territorial volunteer formalizing a welfare facility which
formed the Station Companies of the National Guard, a forerunner of the later
Home Guard. He ran the operations at Waterloo Station, which was heavily used
as a departure and arrival point of troops both on leave and to other postings.
This is fully documented at and in summary by me (to be posted later). He received a silver
salver and illuminated inscription after the war, which he had bound into a
volume along with some other relevant documents.
The chronology of PBT’s financial
ups-and-downs is deeply mysterious. There is no doubt he was a very wealthy man
after inheriting property from his father but there are reports of a financial
crisis at some unspecified date. The other obvious crisis was the birth of an
illegitimate child Roy in 1918. While I propose to discuss this too at a later
date, one comment made by DBT appears to be incorrect. Throughout the war, and
possibly from as early as 1904, the family was at 2 Moore Street which is just
behind a grocery shop on Knightsbridge called Harrod’s. It is therefore now a
highly desirable and very valuable property, but is by no means on the grand
scale and would appear to be well down the property market from Annandale,
Woodside, Finchley, the villa with a 90’ frontage in Finchley which the family
was occupying at the 1891 census and when Cecil Burnell (CBT) was born in 1896.
Unhelpfully the digital version of Percy B Tubbs for the 1901 census is Teony T
Tubbs, another useful suggestion for the future. As you might expect there was
a governess, a cook and a couple of live-in maids. DBT who came along in 1913,
rather late in the day, speculates that the crisis of Roy’s arrival led to a
move but records show that the family were still at Moore Street in 1922.
Woodside seems to have been teeming with villas that have all been pulled down
and replaced with denser modern housing. It was, of course, almost in the
shadow of the parental mansion at Nether Court.
PBT’s life was cut short by what I
understand was throat cancer, but haven’t seen the death certificate. He died
on 3 February 1933 at which time one address cited was 16 Fitzroy Square in
Fitzrovia, which sounds improbable as his probate record, showing an estate of
£81,080/8/11 gives his address as 30 Eaton Mansions, Sloane Square, with a
business address of 16 Harpur Street, Theobolds Road. At the time a business
freeholder also had a business vote. Many folk, including HTT, would give their
business address as their address, and possibly PBT had more than one of those.
PBT earned several obituaries which help in
listing some of his buildings. Other biographical information here has been
taken from the Directory of British Architects and his entry in Who was Who.
He also designed a large house that was
built on Milnthorpe Road Chiswick as a wedding present for his son Cecil. This
does not survive.
built:- Barclays and Lloyds, Barbican, Earls Court, Sloane Square, South
Croydon, North Harrow; Canada House, Little Britain; Demerara House, St Dunstan's
Hill, Godliman House,St Pauls; Shanghai House Botolph Lane; The Caslon Foundry
Chiswell St. Of the Caslon work there is a separate article herein. Of the
banks and commercial premises, so far I have only identified the South Croydon
building as extant, though no longer a bank. I have not visited St Mary's
Schools and St Paul's Hall Finchley but I can’t see anything online that looks
as if his work there survives.; The Chelsea Housing Scheme – this out to be
still standing but I haven’t yet identified the site. Without doubt, so far,
his most important surviving building in London is the Glasgow Herald Building
on Fleet Street. As I never tire of saying, the Glasgow offices of said
newspaper were designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh.
PBT tends to look rather austere in formal pictures, who doesn’t. His face
suffered some disfigurement from birth which gets concealed. he was a great
aesthete, gardener, collector and was much admired by his children. PBT’s most
renowned collection was of works by Piranesi, including the Carcere
d’Invenzione, mysterious imaginary prisons, bizarre but there you are. Prisons
too are designed by architects, and they are well worth a viewing. PBT’s are
with RIBA, but the British Library also has sets, which I have seen there. He
commissioned silver from Omar Ramsden, so little of thought of in my youth and
so highly regarded now; furniture from Peter Waals whose work commands high
prices, though his desk for GBT sold rather modestly. Both CBT and DBT were
great collectors, CBT of silver, cut steel and wine labels/bottle tickets; DBT
of almost everything a boy could wish for.
of his hobbies was photography, an almost essential skill for an architect.
Very few of his photographs have come down to us. It is reported within the
family that he took the colour photographs for Atlas of the Commoner Skin
Diseases directed by Arnold Moritz.
joyous detail that has recently come to light confirms a story related by DB
Tubbs in his unpublished memoir. He bought a nearly-new Rolls-Royce 20 h.p. car
with a Tickford body which is now know to have survived and is undergoing
restoration in 2017.