Walter Hindes Godfrey, (1881-1961)

Walter Hindes Godfrey joined the Society in 1923 and served on the Council for 33 years, for 25 of them as Chairman and 17 as Literary Director jointly with Salzman. He co-edited six volumes for the Society.

The following entry from the Dictionary of National Biography is reprinted with acknowledgement:

Godfrey, Walter Hindes (1881–1961), architect and antiquary, was born at home at 102 Greenwood Road, Hackney, London, on 2 August 1881, the eldest son of Walter Scott Godfrey, who at that time was conducting a small wine business, and his wife, Gertrude Annie Rendall, of Bristol. The elder Godfrey later became, under the influence of C. H. Spurgeon, a Baptist minister. After meeting with ill success in his pastorate, he turned to socialist agnosticism without, however, relaxing a puritanical sense of mission that bore hard on his family. In 1891 W. H. Godfrey was sent to Whitgift Middle School, Croydon, and, four years later, gained a scholarship to the upper or grammar school, where he remained until 1898. He also studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. He was subsequently articled to James Williams, who had succeeded to the practice of the distinguished Victorian country-house architect George Devey. In 1900 he joined the architectural section of the London county council. Already keenly interested in the antiquities of London, he was elected in 1901 a member of the Committee for the Survey of London, which C. R. Ashbee had founded in 1894 with the object of publishing monographs and parish surveys recording ancient buildings in the metropolitan area. Godfrey was at once involved in preparations for the first of the Chelsea volumes and this led to his authorship of all the four volumes that appeared between 1909 and 1927. The survey was always one of his main interests. He edited several further monographs and parish volumes and was engaged on the monograph on the College of Arms at the time of his death.

In 1903 Godfrey left the London county council and returned to the office where he had served his articles. Williams had retired, and the practice was now conducted by his partner Edmund Livingstone Wratten, who took Godfrey as an assistant on a two-year agreement. Before the term was out Wratten had married Godfrey’s sister Gertrude. Wratten and Godfrey then formed a partnership as successors to James Williams, commencing practice in 1905. Commissions were few at first and Godfrey had time to write a study of George Devey, his firm’s original founder, which was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) essay silver medal in 1906. He also prepared illustrations for Garner and Stratton’s Domestic Architecture in England during the Tudor Period (1908), including elevations and a perspective of the oriel window of Crosby Hall, Bishopsgate, then threatened with demolition. Simultaneously he contributed an architectural study of the hall to Philip Norman’s monograph in the Survey of London series. This excited the interest of Patrick Geddes, who was connected with the Town and Gown Association, which was building, on a site in Chelsea, a headquarters for the British Federation of University Women. Geddes instigated the removal of the hall to the Chelsea site, with Godfrey acting as architect. The hall was successfully transferred in 1909–10.

From 1915 to 1919 Godfrey was employed in the accounts division of the Ministry of Munitions. Thereafter, he resumed practice with Wratten and, after the latter’s death in 1925, continued on his own. In 1926 he became a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The recession of the early 1930s induced him to give up his London office and in 1932 he retired to Lewes, where, by extraordinary good luck, he was offered the most inspiring and lucrative task of his career—the restoration of Herstmonceux Castle for Sir Paul Latham. Other restorations and a few houses followed and up to 1939 Godfrey combined the running of a modest domestic practice with the writing of papers, mostly on Sussex antiquities. In the early 1930s he made alterations to the house and planned the gardens at Charleston Manor, Sussex; putting in practice the ideas he had advanced in Gardens in the Making (1914), he created an appealing garden with separate compartments organically related to each other.

In 1940, when London became subject to air attack, a conference was held at the Royal Institute of British Architects to consider the need for a central body charged with the recording of historic buildings which might be damaged or destroyed. The outcome of this was the formation of the National Buildings Record, with Lord Greene, master of the rolls, as its chairman and Godfrey as its salaried director. From 1941 until his retirement in 1960 the conduct and development of the record (now the National Monuments Record) were the main concern of his life. In addition, however, he conducted two notable restorations of war-damaged buildings: the Temple Church and the old parish church of Chelsea. The latter had been almost completely demolished by a bomb in 1941 but the records that Godfrey had made as a young man enabled him to achieve a highly satisfactory reconstruction.

Godfrey was the author of many books, including, besides the volumes on Chelsea in the Survey of London, A History of Architecture in London (1911; enlarged edn, 1962), The Story of Architecture in England (2 vols., 1928 and 1931), The English Almshouse (1955), and Our Building Inheritance: are we to Use it or Lose it? (1946). To the Dictionary of National Biography he contributed the notices of Sir John James Burnet and Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments from 1944 and of the advisory committee on buildings of special architectural or historic interest at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. In 1950 he was appointed CBE.

On 15 June 1907 Godfrey married Gertrude Mary (1883/4–1955), daughter of a chartered accountant, Alexander Grayston Warren; they had one son—Emil, who worked in partnership with his father—and three daughters. Godfrey was a man of slight build, pleasant appearance, and agreeable disposition, though with a somewhat egocentric streak inherited from his father. He died on 16 September 1961 in the Acland Nursing Home in Oxford.