John Corfield

V. A. Bennett
V. A. Bennett

Thomas Smith’s work for the 2nd and 3rd Marquess of Salisbury was concerned largely with the maintenance of property on the Hatfield and London estates. This required the preparation of dilapidation schedules, plans and specifications and the obtaining of tenders together with the supervision of the work. In Hertfordshire much of this concerned farms and erection of cottages. In 1851, he was instructed to prepare a survey of Hertford Castle which is still owned by the Cecils.

In the Spring of 1852, Smith submitted a plan showing his proposals for a new room in the Lodge of the Castle which he intended to light by forming a new window in one of the blanks in the wall. This brought a sharp reply from the Marquess who, despite Smith’s assurance that apart from the introduction of the new window no alterations would be made to the existing elevation, declared that he would have none of it. Replying to Smith’s letter and returning the plan at the same time, he wrote:-

“….I can not say that I correctly understand it (the plan) but it appears to me that it is intended to make the new room in addition to the depth of the archway, if I am correct in the supposition I most decidedly and unhesitatingly object to it. I will not consent to any addition to the tower of the archway….You will favour me with a further explanation.”

In connection with the final cost of work at Bury Farm in 1854, John Dagg expressed concern in a letter to Thomas Smith, writing “I hardly know what Lord Salisbury will say, when I present the accounts for settlement – I greatly fear more has been done than I intended.”

Like St Andrew’s churchyard that of St Mary’s, Ware had become overcrowded and in 1853 a site for a new cemetery was found next to the West Mill Road. The Ware Burial Board was formed to manage the project and Thomas Smith was asked to produce sketch plans. A chapel was not a requirement by law but, if there was to be one, it had to contain a chapel for Anglicans and another for other denominations.

A print of the chapel, made at the time, refers to the building as the “Ware Chantry”. The Burial Board wrote to Smith on the matter expressing the view that the building under construction was one with chapels under the Act of Parliament and not a chantry chapel as described by him..

The Gothic style building, which has a pleasant, dignified appearance, is Tee-shaped in plan and the two chapels within are very plain, each with two pews and with timbered ceilings. Although Smith also prepared a design for a porter’s lodge it was not built until 1884 and then to a design by Thorowgood of Amwell End, Ware.

Following his successful improvement work at the gaol in Huntingdon Smith was commissioned to design the new Infirmary. Planned to accommodate 26 patients the building was provided, according to Casey’s Directory, with warmth “by hot water conveyed through iron pipes the temperature of which can be controlled.” This was at a time when central heating was still in its infancy. The style is what may be described as “Italianate palazzo”, which was popular in the country at the time. Unfortunately for him the Huntingdon hospital commission ended abruptly when he was dismissed for a lack of overall attention.

In 1857 Smith was architect for the Reformatory School built at Chapmore End near Hertford. Amongst the documents at the County Record Office, Hertford, is a booklet referring to a meeting held at the Shire Hall, Hertford on the 30 May 1857. Attending that meeting was the Rev Sidney Turner, often regarded as the father figure of the reformatory system, who gave an address. He publicly approved of Smith’s proposals for the new school building saying that ”Mr Smith, in his undertaking a work of this kind would find himself amply repaid in the satisfaction he would feel when he saw a number of outcast boys gradually ripening into respectable honest and useful manhood under his own fostering care”. Built by Walter Hitch of Ware the Reformatory School was maintained by voluntary subscriptions and closed in the 1970s.

Thomas Smith was now involved with commissions in the south of France. Cannes had become increasingly popular amongst the English ever since Lord Brougham had ”discovered” it in 1832. The “Villa Victoria”, which was designed for Sir Thomas WooIfieId in 1852, was built in the style “of an English manor house of the 15th century”.

Smith’s second villa commission in Cannes, also for Woolfield was the “Villa St Ursule”, otherwise known as the ”Chateau des Tours”, in 1856. It was a Gothic castle-like structure with towers at each of the four corners and a keep, machicolated as in a mediaeval castle.

The previous year Woolfield had commissioned Smith to design an Anglican church for the local community for which the approval of the French government was needed. Christ Church, Cannes, was built solely at the expense of Woolfield and as usual the “Hertford Mercury” reported the latest work of the town’s eminent architect. “The new edifice,” the paper reported, “lately erected at Cannes is in the florid style of Gothic architecture, from a design by Mr Thomas Smith, of Hertford and Hart Street, Bloomsbury”.

The highlight of Thomas Smith’s long career was surely winning a competition in 1862 to design a new Anglican church at Naples – dealt with in more detail in a separate chapter. He also continued to design villas in the South of France. However, it is for work in connection with churches in this period that he can be singled out – designing no less than seven churches of which six were built.

Smith also had his share of setbacks and disappointments particularly when his design for the new church of St Andrew, Hertford in 1868 was not accepted. The church had become very dilapidated and its seating arrangements inadequate for a growing parish. In 1862 a call went out to build a new church and a limited competition was held which Thomas Smith and Son won. However the scheme proved to be too ambitious and costly with the result “it slumbered and slept” (as the Mercury put it) for the next six years.

In 1868 the question of a new church resurfaced and designs were once more invited. In the following year the old church was demolished for the building of the new one designed by John Johnson of Moorgate, London. Johnson’s success in architectural competitions was outstanding (he submitted the winning design for the present Post Office, in Hertford).

The decision to accept Johnson’s design caused a public outcry and “The Builder” repeated a comment which had appeared in the ”Herts Guardian”.:

“…The public will await, with considerable curiosity, the reasons to be given, for quietly ignoring plans that have been accepted and, as such, have been publicly exhibited”.

Thomas Smith sought legal advice. Pecuniary compensation was offered which, at first, Smith refused; however he changed his mind and accepted £100 from the Rebuilding Committee.

A further disappointment was to befall Thomas Smith and Son in 1870 when an extensive area of dry rot was found in the work which had been carried out at All Saints’, Hertford in 1866 and which resulted in no more work being given to them.

In 1867 the father and son partnership was placed third in a public competition for the new Hertford Union workhouse (now demolished) but by now it seems Smith was beginning to ail and some of the burdens of his responsibilities were undertaken by his sons.

Holy Trinity at Nice, in France, was the first of Smith’s seven churches which he designed in the 1860s. The following is from a contemporary report in the “Hertford Mercury” for the 18 January 1862.

“..The structure is of the true British type in its mediaeval development..” It had been several years in the planning stages and the local Anglican community were dogged in its efforts to get a church built. Thus Smith was thanked ”…for his constant and ever ready attention to all their wishes and of the kind patience with which he has borne with the difficulties”.

Holy Trinity, Nice was followed by designs for the Congregational Chapel at Cowbridge, Hertford which was built in 1861-62. Originally it had been intended to enlarge the existing building and build a new school. Plans were prepared by Thomas Smith and Son but it was decided to pull down the old chapel and rebuild when it was realised the Congregational Union had resolved to build 100 new chapels to mark the bi-centenary of Non-conformity. The new chapel, in the Gothic style with external walls of flints and horizontal bands of brickwork, is still in use. The school building has been derelict for many years and is scheduled for demolition.

The single storey, red brick school building, had two large rooms placed at right angles to form an L-shaped plan The overall appearance of the school is one of simplicity but Smith’s original intention of a symmetrical elevation to the road, has been spoilt by subsequent alterations.

Christ Church, Radlett, was also a father and son venture. It is built in flint with red and yellow brick and is again in the Gothic style. An additional chancel was added in 1907. Smith and Son did not design the vicarage, built four years later, and one wonders why not.

At about this time Thomas Smith and Son also designed the Anglican church of St Catherine’s at Stuttgart in Germany. In appearance, the church is lofty with the distinct feeling of French Gothic. It was severely damaged by bombing during the Second World War but has been rebuilt close to the original design. It is now used as a Catholic church.

Despite documentary evidence, in the Lambeth Palace Library and a contemporary report in “The Builder”, the German authorities attribute the design to Professor Heinrich Wagner and give the date as 1868.

Christ Church, Port Vale, Hertford was the last of the churches Thomas Smith is known to have designed. It was built in 1868-69 to serve those who lived in the expanding Port Vale area and the parish was carved out of the adjoining parishes of St Andrew and Bengeo. Erected at the sole expense of Abel Smith, M.P. it was built of Kentish Rag, with dressings of Bath stone in the Early Decorated Gothic style. The plan was cruciform with an apsidal end and a bell tower. Like most of Smith’s churches the nave roof was open-timbered with a stained and varnished finish. The floor was covered with ”Fleur-de-Lys” encaustic tiles and the windows filled with “green cathedral” glass.

After demolition, in 1970, most of the church’s fittings and furnishings were distributed for use amongst other local churches. The hymn boards, for example, went to St Leonard’s Church and the war memorial doors to Holy Trinity Church, both in Bengeo.

In 1864, the Smiths were involved with restoration work at Tewin church in Hertfordshire to provide “100 additional sittings for the poor.” The work was carried out by Messrs Ekins of Hertford, a long established family firm which still exists.

Other work in this decade included the design for the new ”Grand Hotel de la Mediterranee” at Cannes in 1863 which Smith exhibited at the Royal Academy. The hotel was designed to have 250 bedrooms and featured reading and billiard rooms. It was to be sited near to the Chateau Sainte Ursule and Christ Church both of which he designed.

About 1868, the Chateau Scott was built at Cannes to the design of a ”Mr Smith de Landres”. It is a large neo-Gothic structure which took four years to build. This could well be another building by Thomas Smith and Son but care must be exercised in attributing châteaux and villas to the partnership how ever active the Smiths were in this area of the south of France. A painting of the “Chateau de l’Anglais” at Nice is mentioned in the catalogue of paintings exhibited there in 1934. In a foot note to the catalogue entry the builder is given as “M. Smith” who turned out to be a retired Colonel Robert Smith, a former engineer in the Indian Army in 1858! Thus the Villa des Lotus (1872) and Chateau St Michel (1873) although described as being by an “architecte anglais” can not be assumed to be by the Smiths of London.

However, not all of Thomas Smith’s work was on the grand scale. In 1867 he prepared the design and drawings for the new Green Coat School, at Hertford. The “Hertford Mercury” reported the building was to included a lofty schoolroom, a house for the master and his wife and that the cost was not likely to exceed £800. The Green Coat School was adjacent to the Cowper Testimonial School which Smith had designed and built nearly 30 years earlier. Neither of these schools exist today.

The story of the school, however, has been told by Len Green in his “Hertford Green Coat School and The Newton Exhibition Foundation.” From this source we learn that the builder was Messrs Ekins and that his tender was in the sum of £774. The school was of no great significance architecturally speaking; it was simple and did the job for which it was designed for many years. The building was in later years used for a variety of purposes and was demolished in the early 1990s.

Thomas Smith’s health was beginning to fail by the 1870s and he probably left the day to day running of the practice to his son Thomas Tayler. Whether or not he ever handed over the reins entirely is a moot point. It is also evident that another of his sons, Urban Armstrong Smith, a partner in Smith and Austin, Civil Engineers of Fore Street, Hertford was also helping with the work load.

In the 1870s Thomas Smith’s name appears in connection with a new school at Ayot St Peter and alterations at both Sacombe and Stapleford schools, all in Hertfordshire. It is, however, the little village school with a master’s house at Ayot St Peter which captures the imagination. The building, for which the original approved drawings exist, was built on land provided by Earl Cowper. At the Vestry meeting held in December 1871 discussion centred on the need either to improve the existing school or build a new one. The latter course was chosen. Tenders for building were invited in June 1871 and returnable not to Thomas Smith, as might have been expected, but to his son Urban.

The school consisted of a large schoolroom with the three bedroomed master’s house attached at right angles to it and also a large playground. Both the school and the master’s house are built of red brick with the pointed arches, over the windows, picked out in yellow brick. The style could be described as domestic Gothic and typical of the period. The school was closed down some years ago and the building successfully converted into two separate dwellings without any detriment to the original Smith design.


This page was added on 14/07/2022.

Add your comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!