Frederick Foster (1851 to 1929, age 78) was born in North Marston near Winslow in Buckinghamshire on 25th January 1851; he was the eighth son of Joseph Foster who was a tenant farmer and the family is recorded as moving quite frequently from farm to farm. His Christian name is sometimes found written without a final ‘k’ although all ‘official’ documents record him with it.
At the age of 22 in 1873 he was advertising as a builder and contractor offering ‘alterations, repairs and jobbing work’ from an address in Upper Bedford Street. He married Annie Price at the Wesleyan Chapel in Dale Street in 1874. They were living at No 21 South Parade (now Clarendon Avenue) when their first daughter was born in 1875. Sadly, his business failed in 1876 with considerable debt and the contents of his home and the stock and tools at his workshop in Morton Street. were for sale by auction.
By 1880 he was designing houses in various streets in the town but no information has been found about his employment for the four years between 1876 and 1880. From this date he was described as an architect but his education as an architect has not yet been traced; however, he was elected a member of the Society of Architects in 1887. It is possible that Foster developed his skills as an architect simply by working intelligently with property developers and builders and careful study of pattern books of building designs.
Foster became well known in Birmingham and Coventry and was active as an architect in Leamington for over 20 years from 1880. His home and office was at No 9 Hamilton Terrace about 1881 and he later moved his office to No 4 Euston Place (estate agents’ row) in 1886. He lived in Newbold Terrace, Leamington until after the death of Annie in 1898. He married his second wife in 1900 and he moved to Melford, Warwick Road, Coventry.
Turning to Foster’s work in Leamington, a couple of his earliest projects were in 1880 when he designed Nos 39 to 49 Grove Street and Nos 11 and 13 Priory Terrace.
An early major achievement was in 1883 when he was responsible for designing the Wesleyan Chapel in Birmingham Road, Stratford upon Avon. He also designed many important buildings in Coventry. He went on to design the terrace of houses in Rugby Road which stands to the west of Milverton School in 1884. In the same year he designed the extension to the cemetery in Brunswick Street, including the mundane but essential details of the paths, the drainage and the walls and fences.
In 1885 he designed the three pairs of semi-detached houses at Nos 15 to 25 Priory Terrace; these were probably the first houses for which he used the Queen Anne Style. The developers were Locke and Gilbert and J Anthony Locke of this firm lived at No 25; his name is perpetuated in the name of the local estate agents, Locke & England.
Around 1903 Foster designed six pairs of similar houses in York Road for developer Henry George Gardner, said to be in the style of Norman Shaw..
He designed the School Board offices at No 3 Dormer Place in 1885, supervised repairs to the school in Leicester Street in 1887 and in the same year he was also involved in building some houses in Park Road.
He rebuilt parts of the Bedford Stores (Burgis & Colbourne) in the Parade and he designed the Clapham Terrace school in 1889; to his credit the design for this school received a Special Commendation from the Board of Education.
In 1891 he carried out various works at several schools including repairs to those at Leicester Street and Shrubland Street and designed the new building at Milverton School, Rugby Road. The latter was to the west of the first part dated 1887 and bears the date 1892. At this time there was concern that the work at Leicester Street school was seriously delayed by a bricklayers’ strike.
By 1892 he had spread his wings widely and he submitted the successful entry in a competition to design a bonded warehouse in Exeter. He went on to design the new frontage for the Royal Assembly (Parthenon) in Bath Street, also in 1892, and a new billiard room at Manor House Hotel in 1893. In 1894 he had to advise on dealing with the presence of rats at Shrubland Street school and he also prepared plans for the conversion of arches at Leicester Street school for reuse for teaching cookery and manual skills. He also advised on fencing at Clapham Terrace school to prevent pupils entering the adjoining hospital grounds. In 1895 he generously offered to carry out free work for a homeowner to help with repairs after serious gales hit the town.
There was a very unsettling event in his private life when, in 1893, his ten-year-old son Gilbert Foster had a narrow escape from drowning while canoeing with a couple of other lads on the river Leam near to York Bridge. In an unusual event in 1894 a Mr Neiminster acquired from a clerk for Foster a plan of alterations to schools which he falsely claimed he was collecting for the priest of St Peter’s church. Neiminster was eventually charged with obtaining the plans from Foster on false pretences and he was sentenced to 6 weeks hard labour.
Foster altered, redecorated and renovated the Congregational Chapel in Holly Walk prior to the move of St Luke’s Congregation Church from Augusta Place in 1896. This chapel in Holly Walk had originally been designed by Daniel Squirhill. In 1897 he was reported to be leading a project to demolish buildings and to design a residential hotel in the town but the site of this has not yet been identified. In 1901 Foster designed the refreshment room in Jephson Gardens.
In conclusion, Foster’s life was led by a strict code because he was active and highly decorated in the sphere of Freemasonry, both locally and nationally. He died in Coventry on 29th September 1929 and he left a widow and three children. Quite appropriately, he had designed the Masonic Lodge in Little Park Street in Coventry.
Thanks to Janet Ainley for help with research. Janet’s home in Priory Terrace was designed by Foster.
Mick Jeffs, March 2021