The Architect: Frederick Herbert Mansford, F.R.I.B.A. (1871–1946)
Mr. Herbert Mansford, [has] created a new body for the soul of the South Place Ethical Society.
The Ethical Record, October 1929.
Dr. C. Delise Burns at the opening of Conway Hall, September 23, 1929.
Frederick Herbert Mansford (known as Herbert) was the youngest of the four children of Mrs. Ann Mansford whose name, with those of her daughter and three sons, appears in the list of members of South Place Ethical Society for the year ending March 31, 1894, the earliest record available. The family lived in Aldersgate Street, only a few minutes' walk from the old chapel in South Place, Finsbury. They came under the influence of the minister, Dr. Moncure D. Conway, leading them to become active members of the Society involved in many aspects of the its cultural and administrative life. Tate Mansford was the joint secretary for several years and Wallis Mansford sat on the members committee, buildings committee and was honorary librarian for the society. Herbert, as well as sitting on a number of committees alongside his siblings, gave lectures on on such subjects as English and European cathedrals and abbeys and organised rambles to see places of architectural interest. Their dedication to the Society is reflected in their prominent position in the seating of the chapel, beside Moncure Conway and his family in the front row.
Herbert Mansford always had a strong interest in architecture, and after a brief period working in his mother’s stationary business in the City of London, he joined the staff of an architect engaged on construction in the North of England. Subsequently he joined the drawing office of esteemed Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse, President of the Royal Academy of Arts, whose most famous buildings include Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum, London. Here Mansford rose to the position of chief draftsman. Waterhouse had great expertise in working with irregular shaped sites such as the Manchester Assize Courts and the National Liberal Club and this likely gave Mansford the experience and confidence to work with the difficult L-shaped plot of land that the Society acquired for Conway Hall.
In 1906, Mansford moved to Ruislip, in Middlesex, which had just secured its Town Planning Act. He had recently married Florence Lavinia Lyon, and at Ruislip he built the family home. There he began in his profession as an architect on his own account. He designed many houses in Ruislip, and Petersfield in Hampshire. The land in Ruislip on which he erected his home was owned by King’s College, Cambridge, who required that the two semi-detached houses he proposed appear as a single dwelling. The finished design is a handsome redbrick residence with symmetrical wings to enhance its appearance.
It is, however, Conway Hall for which Mansford is best remembered and which demonstrates not only the full scope of his ingenuity, knowledge of modern materials and talent in design, but his abundant enthusiasm for the Society he loved. In the Society’s report for 1929, gratitude is expressed for his achievement, ‘Conway Hall has effected a transformation. From the day of its opening the life of the Society has been full of energy and good cheer … The gratitude of the society is due to our Architect and fellow-member, Mr. F. Herbert Mansford, whose signal success is the result not only of his skill, which has won high praise in professional circles, but of long and devoted labour.’
Mansford also played an active rôle in his community in Ruislip. His knowledge of architectural history was recognised by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, by whom he was appointed one of the responsible experts to report on the desirability of preserving buildings situated in the County of Middlesex. As one of the earliest pioneers and residents of Ruislip as it began to emerge from the old rural villages and farms of the area, he played an active rôle in the Residents’ Association, was a Director of the Library Committee, the Sunday Afternoon At Homes organisation and a supporter of the League of Nations Union.
On a national level he served on the Library Committee of the Royal Institute of British Architects in the 1920s and was the honorary secretary of the Architectural Graphic Records Committee (which later became the National Buildings Record). He wrote for the architectural press of England and also America and lectured on architectural subjects at such institutions as the Central School of Arts and Crafts and the Ecclesiological Society, of which he was a member. Subjects included Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Architecture, Bells and Bell Ringers and City Sword Rests as well as lectures on architects such as Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren.
Like Nikolas Pevsner, he travelled the country visiting sites of architectural interest, particularly those of an ecclesiastical nature, and from what is written about him he appears to have had an encyclopædic knowledge of English churches.
Mansford’s obituary in the Ethical Record of July 1946 paints him as man generous in both his nature and his time, ‘He had great personal charm and will be remembered for his cheerful friendliness, and for his readiness always to be helpful. By the death of Herbert Mansford the Society has lost one of its most devoted and talented adherents, and the community of Ruislip a public spirited citizen.’