John Cundall is a person who is not quite as well-known as he deserves to be; he was in fact an architect whose designs peppered the town of Royal Leamington Spa. They are buildings which mostly have a distinct air of belonging to the same family. They are mainly unashamedly Gothic or Tudor revival, often without symmetry or a trace of stucco; and what is more, most of them are still standing and well-used.
John Cundall was born in Leamington Spa in 1830 and died on 4th April 1889 at the age of 58 years. His father, George Askew Cundall was a grocer and tea dealer at No 21 Regent Street and he probably lived above the shop. Note that this shop was renumbered as No 89 and is to the left of what was the Golden Lion and then the Royal Bank of Scotland; it is Tustains the jewellers shop in 2021. His father became involved with the public life of the town as one of the Commissioners. George was also a churchwarden at All Saints Parish Church and was closely involved with criticism of Rev John Craig for his handling of the expansion of the church. In 1841, aged about 11, John was a pupil at Castle End school in Kenilworth and in 1851 he was described as an ‘architect’s pupil’ living at the same address in Regent Street; he was a pupil with Daniel Squirhill in Leamington for a time. It appears that he set up on his own as an architect in Bedford Street but the office was soon advertised for let in 1853 and he soon went off to London to improve his knowledge and skills.
In 1861 he was living with his wife Frederica in Marylebone, London and he was an ‘architectural draughtsman’. He worked for the partnership of Edward Pugin & James Murray in London and then also for a short time with George Gilbert Scott (later Sir Gilbert Scott), also in London. During his time in London in July 1852 he entered The Serpentine to rescue a drowning man, but sadly he died. He was soon back in Leamington in partnership with the same James Murray, who had moved to Coventry in 1858, until Murray’s premature death in 1863. He then establlshed his own practice in Leamington for the next successful 25 years. In 1871 he was described in the census as an architect living with his wife and four children at No 110 Warwick Road (Street), later renumbered No 37 Warwick Street, Leamington. By 1881 he was living at Gower House in High Street/Radford Road. This was on the eastern corner with Forfield Place and has since been demolished and replaced by apartments. Note that a house a few doors to the west was later named Gower House school for many years but it was definitely not the house where Cundall lived.
John Cundall’s Portfolio of Work
John was obviously too late on the scene to be involved in the initial growth of the Spa but was deeply involved in designing buildings in the town during most of its Victorian heyday from his thirties in the 1860s until his death in 1889.
A simple list of his more prominent designs in date order is probably the best way in which to show how much in demand his skills were. Perhaps his more notable or novel achievements were the Town Hall in 1884 in the Parade , St John’s Church and, maybe more controversially, the extraordinary flight of fancy which is the Hitchman memorial fountain erected in 1869 in the Jephson Gardens; this was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as “rather hilarious”.
Grafton House, Warwick New Road, date early in his career but uncertain. After the surrounding land was developed in the 21st century, this house survives on the east side of Copps Road in 2021 and is named Leam Grange.
1861/62, the Royal Pump Room, he made alterations which included replacing many duplicated pillars with single ones, lowering the roof and building new baths at the rear. The builder was J Hall Clarke from Warwick. Several of the changes were removed around 1953 because they were declared to be unsafe, including the conspicuous pediment and tower on the façade which Cundall had added.
1862, a plan for a new shopfront at No 5 Lower Parade (probably No 106 or 108 in 2021).
1862, an isolation building and sanatorium at Warneford Hospital in Radford Road. The whole hospital site has been demolished.
1863/1864, he prepared plans for Rev John Craig for changes to the Parish Church most of which were built despite some of the design being on land not owned by the church, but by the town’s Commissioners.
1863, plans for houses in several streets including Beauchamp Walk (behind a service road in Beauchamp Avenue East), Buchanan Street and Church Street.
1863, shopfronts in Bath Street and Regent Street.
1864, several houses in the St Mary’s Road area.
1864, Priory House, 1 Church Street.
From 1867, Extensions to the Cemetery in Brunswick Street including two more chapels, named as North and South. The chapels were built by W Green and the cemetery walls were built by G F Smith of Milverton.
1868, a Chapel to provide accommodation for 105 people at Warneford Hospital. Demolished.
1869, John Hitchman’s Memorial fountain in the Jephson Gardens; this is on the site of architect J G Jackson’s cottage named Newbold Lodge. Hitchman established the Leamington Hydropathic Establishment on Tachbrook Road which later became the Royal Midland Counties Home for Incurables; this home was demolished in 1995.
1871, a new boarding house at Leamington College, now part of Binswood Hall.
1873, changes to a house at No 11 Clarendon Square.
1873/1874, St Paul’s Church, Leicester Street. The tower/spire by Cundall was added a year or two later when funds became available. The adjoining, and later, parochial hall and Church House to the west were designed by H Hawley Lloyd in 1887.
1874, St Alban’s Church in Warwick Street, which replaced The Iron Church. It was originally dedicated to St Michael and All Angels and it was demolished about 1968. The builder was John Fell. It is notable that Cundall’s funeral service took place here.
1875, Newbold or Willes Bridge in Willes Road, previously Newbold Road.
1875, Edward Willes Memorial in the form of an obelisk in Jephson Gardens which, perhaps belatedly, recognised his donation of the land to the public for the gardens.
1876, schoolroom at the rear of the Clarendon Street Chapel in Tudor style.
1876, Leamington College, later Binswood Hall, chapel, Binswood Avenue.
1877, St John’s church, Tachbrook Street. The spire, also by Cundall, was added in 1888.
1877, Wesleyan church, Radford Road (or High Street, as it was at the time); builder John Fell.
No 15 Radford Road (previously Trinity Lodge or House), probably c 1877
1879, All Saints’ Church organ chamber and vestries
1879, repairs to the Congregational church in Spencer Street, builders T W & J H Stone.
1880, completion of the chancel at the Parish Church.
1880 Milverton cemetery, including the chapel and the lodge. The chapel was probably demolished in the 1980s.
1880, the Henry Bright Memorial, erected in Bright’s lifetime; it is in the form of an obelisk standing at the west end of Hamilton Terrace/Regent Grove.
1881, Holy Trinity church, Beauchamp Avenue, and extensions in 1883.
Beauchamp Hill, 3 Gothic houses, 1881.
Lillington Board Offices, two cottages and stables, corner of Cubbington Road and Pound Lane, 1882.
1882, matron’s cottage at Leamington College (Binswood Hall).
St Mary Magdalene church, Lillington, chancel extension and north chancel aisle and vestry in 1884.
Town Hall, Parade, 1881/84. Early in its life the town hall was nearly always described as the Municipal Buildings. The builder was John Fell. Construction was not without its problems. There was an issue with the north-east corner because insufficient land had been purchased; further land had to be acquired from the very same John Fell. There were prolonged delays caused by an accident at Campden stone quarry. There was also a long-running dispute between Cundall and the councillors over whether to use mahogany or walnut for the interior panelling. Later, there was criticism of the acoustics in the council chamber and, eventually, Cundall accepted a lower payment for his work to avoid further “bother and vexation”.
Public Hall, Windsor Street, 1884, now demolished.
1884, plans for a fire depot in Chandos Street; this was probably not built.
Denby Buildings, Regent Grove, 1885.
St Alban’s Church tower, Warwick Street. The tower was completed in 1889 after John’s death; now demolished. This church was the place of his funeral.
In an unusual diversion of skills, in 1887 John is recorded as designing a set of chess pieces. They were in the style of the very popular set designed by Nathaniel Cooke that were promoted by the successful player Howard Staunton, but were designed to be more resistant damage from rough handling.
1888, St Johns Church spire, Tachbrook Street, builder GF Smith of Milverton.
Works by John Cundall outside Leamington include –
1879, Warwick School (earlier King’s School), Myton Road, Warwick.
1886, Warwick, the St Nicholas Church Room in Gerrard Street; it is the Baptist church hall in 2021.
1887, Kenilworth, the Convalescent Home in High Street (in 2021 this is a dentist’s surgery)
1888, No 5 High Street, Warwick. The Leamington Priors Bank moved the branch premises from Church Street. Most recently it was a branch of Barclays Bank, before closure.
1889, Warwick, a shop in Swan Street
Blue Plaque. A blue plaque was unveiled by Edward Sargent, great-grandson, in John Cundall’s memory on 27th July 2017 at the site of one of his homes at No 37 Warwick Street, attached at first floor level.
Frederick George Cundall
John had a son named Frederick George Cundall who lived from 1867 to 1947. He took over the practice in 1889 when his father died. Frederick’s portfolio of works is not as impressive as that of his father but included assisting with the design of the refreshment buffet in Jephson Gardens in 1898, conversion of Clarence Terrace to flats around 1900, new premises for a mineral water company in Chapel Street in 1892 and the design of the Salisbury Hall at the Conservative Club in Windsor Street in 1904.
In 1894 he made a public plea for the design of local schools to be opened up to all architects. He was elected to the Town Council in 1904.
He designed the Urquhart Hall, opened in 1905, he planned improvements to Bath Place School in 1911 and was appointed as honorary architect for Warneford Hospital in 1912; work here included an extension of the nurses’ home in 1916.
He went on to design the new chapel at St Michael and All Angels Home in Charlotte Street in 1925 which became a Pentecostal church and in 2021 is a Life Community Church, a new hall at St Johns Church in Tachbrook Street in 1927 and he was involved with the move of St Michael’s Home from Charlotte Street to Milverton Hill in 1938.
Michael Jeffs, March 2021
Thanks to Janet Ainley for researching biographical details.