The Yorkshiremen who left their mark

D S Auty's drawing of the Council House, Chichester, from the book 'West of the Arun'.
D S Auty's drawing of the Council House, Chichester, from the book 'West of the Arun'.

One of the most attractive buildings in Chichester’s South Street is number 44, now a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The Sussex volume in the Buildings of England series describes it as ‘a very individual and delicate building of c.1820’. Appropriately, Flint House was once the workplace of Josiah Auty, architect.

Auty is perhaps best known for his work on the Craigweil House Estate in Aldwick, Bognor Regis. The owner of Craigweil House was Sir Arthur Du Cros, founder of the Dunlop Rubber Company and a Conservative politician. Du Cros’ fortunes had declined in the 1920s. The house, made nationally famous when King George V convalesced there in 1929, was put up for sale and its grounds were divided into building plots. The mansion itself was demolished in 
1938.

Researching Auty’s career, I discovered that the trail began in Yorkshire and led via Emsworth to Chichester. Josiah’s son, Donald Simpson Auty, also Yorkshire-born, started work as an articled pupil to his father, later moving north to practise as an architect in Scotland.

Josiah Auty was born in Morley, near Leeds, in 1881, the son of an overlooker (supervisor) at a woollen mill. He trained at the Leeds School of Art and with local architects. His early designs included houses, as well as parish halls in Morley and in Holmbridge, a village near Huddersfield. Auty’s architectural career was interrupted by service in the army from 1915. After a spell as housing architect for Westbourne Rural District Council from 1919 to 1922, he began private practice in Emsworth. He opened a Chichester office in 1925 and was exclusively based there from 1929 until 1940.

The English landscape offered few greater contrasts than those between the mills and terraced houses of urban West Yorkshire and the country or coastal towns of West Sussex and Hampshire. Likewise, the rugged Pennine hills bear scant resemblance to the greener slopes of the South Downs. Though the buildings may have looked a little different, Auty carried out similar types of work north and south, specialising in houses and other small-scale projects.

When in 1932 he applied to become a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Auty 
listed houses he had designed on Chichester’s Stockbridge Estate and in West Wittering (Middlefield House). Along with other dwellings in 
Poole, Waterlooville and Rowlands Castle, he had produced the plans for a ‘sun clinic’ (or sanatorium) on Hayling Island. Another project was the restoration of the 17th-century Old Town Hall in Bosham.

Auty’s work at Craigweil began with the division of the estate into roads and building plots (numbering over 160 after the demolition of the mansion). History and Du Cros family connections can be traced in the street names.

Two of the new roads – Kingsway and Queensway – honour King George V’s stay (with Queen Mary) at Craigweil House. Two more – Wychwood Close and Wychwood Walk – recall the forest in Oxfordshire which is close to Cornbury Park, once owned by Sir Arthur’s father, Harvey Du Cros. Canons Close is named after Canons, once Sir Arthur’s property, in Stanmore, Middlesex.

The exchange of names worked in both directions – the housing estate in Stanmore, also developed around this time, includes a Craigweil Drive and a Craigweil Close.

Plans dated 1933 in the County Record Office show Josiah Auty designed six of the earliest houses at Craigweil. Although they are all different, each displays his characteristic arts and crafts style, with steeply pitched roofs, tile-hung gables and tall chimneys. Some are half-timbered, making the description ‘Tudorbethan’ particularly apt.

Some later houses on the estate are also the work of Auty Jnr or Snr, although other 1930s architects are represented too and a number of plots remained undeveloped until the 1970s or later. Advertisements described the estate as ‘an ideal achieved’, the houses ‘designed to harmonise with local architecture....with a fine sympathy for their rural aspect yet essentially contemporary in their internal planning’.

Besides his architectural drawings, we see Auty junior’s draughtsmanship in his contributions to a book entitled West of the Arun. Published in 1932, it brought together illustrations of 
local buildings and scenery drawn by students from the City of Chichester School of Art.

Towards the end of his career Auty Snr carried out work for the Air Ministry and for London County Council. He died in Surrey in 1949.

After working with his father, Donald Simpson Auty set up in practice on his own in Chichester until 1939. Following a spell with the Admiralty during the war, he worked in Morayshire and later in Argyll. He died in 1995.

Not all of Josiah Auty’s buildings survive. The former parish hall and Sunday school in Morley was used for commercial purposes before falling into disrepair. It was so badly damaged that it was pulled down in 2008.

The Holmbridge parochial hall has been luckier – still used for its original purpose and recently refurbished. Fortunately too, the Craigweil House Estate, now an Area of Special Character and a Conservation Area, remains largely intact as a monument to the work of 
the Yorkshire-born father 
and son.

When workmen were demolishing the Sunday school in Morley, they discovered a lead ‘time capsule’. It contained a leaflet announcing the ceremony to lay the memorial stone, the ceremony programme, recently- minted coins, issues of local newspapers and a copy of the church magazine.

One hundred years later, all were in near perfect condition.

I wonder whether any ‘Auty’ buildings in West Sussex harbour similar secrets.

Acknowledgements: Gwen Stabler, local historian; Tricia Lawton, RIBA Information Centre; Record Office and library staff in West Sussex, West Yorkshire and Harrow; Clive McManus, Morley Local History Society; Ronnie Barraclough, Morley Heritage Centre; David Ramsden, Ramsden and Partners, Architects; Rev. Nick Heaton, Vicar of St David’s, Holmbridge.