Dulwich Architects - George Fellowes Prynne, 1853-1927 by Ian McInnes
All Saints Church on Rosendale Road is one of Dulwich’s major landmarks and one of South London’s three grade 1 listed buildings. Although never completed to its original design, and the victim of a serious fire in 2000, it remains one of the architect George Fellowes Prynne’s most important works.
George Halford Fellowes Prynne was born in April 1853 in Plymouth, Devon. His father was a minister and an enthusiastic supporter of the Oxford Movement, the revival of high churchmanship in the Anglican Church. George was sent away to school to St. Mary’s College, Harlow, then to Chardstock College and finally to Eastman’s Royal Naval Academy at Southsea.
He originally had ideas to become a minister like his father but, with several brothers and sisters, there were apparently insufficient funds for a University education. An uncle, who farmed in the United States, offered him a position and, at the age of 18, he opted to travel to Iowa. It seems that, after two years, he decided that the winter weather, the austere lifestyle, and the lack of opportunity, did not suit him, and he moved to Canada. Here, via an introduction through a family friend, he found a place as a junior assistant in the office of R. C. Windyer, a well-known Toronto architect.
By January 1875 he had been promoted to a senior position but his father was keen to see him come home and he arranged for G E Street RA to offer him a post - Fellowes Prynne’s father had given Street one of his earliest commissions and no doubt asked for a favour in return.
He worked in Street’s office for two years and, before he set up his own practice in 1880, he also worked for Swinfern Harris, R.J. Withers, A. Waterhouse R.A., and at the London School Board offices. He was a student at the Royal Academy from 1876 to 78.
Fellowes Prynne’s first real job on his own was to extend his father’s church, St. Peter’s, Plymouth. All Saints was his first major project in the London area. It was built between 1888 and 1892, and followed on from work he carried out on the west end of St. Peter’s Church, Streatham. Some critics consider All Saints to be one of his most ambitious designs, ranking with his scheme for Christ Church Cathedral in Colombo, Sri Lanka (which was much the same size as the original scheme for All Saints).
The Rev. James Beeby, the first incumbent, was the main motivating force behind the building of All Saints’, presumably the size of the church reflected an optimism that the immediate area would grow rapidly. Unfortunately this proved not to be the case for many years. The church was originally intended to house a congregation of 1600, the nave was 68 feet high, 40 feet wide, and would have been 128 feet in length if completed.
Fellowes Prynne’s practice was mostly churches and included new build, extensions and extensive restoration work. Between 1880 and 1914 he worked on nearly two hundred, mostly in the South East and South West England.
He was a deeply religious man but, regrettably, his family life turned out to be tragic. He lost of two of his sons, Edgar and Norman, in WW1, and two other sons, Aubrey and Harold, were seriously injured. His designs subsequent to this catastrophic event were almost exclusively war memorials, though he did win the competition to build the Ealing Town Hall at the end of his life - he was a local resident for many years.