St James's Parish Hall, Fortis Green

G. Grey Wornum, CBE FRIBA, who built St James's Parish Hall, was a most distinguished architect. He was forceful, but had a great social flair and 'nobody in the profession was more liked and respected.' He was born in Hampstead in 1888, son of George Porter Wornum, a doctor of medicine. Grey studied at the Slade in a class of forty girls, for he was first an artist and musician. He could play anything on the violin by the. age of twelve and said later that he would have rather been a composer.

He began as an articled pupil to his uncle R. Selden Wornum and studied at the AA where he was awarded a scholarship allowing him to make a 2000 mile bicycle tour of Normandy and the Loire. He gained experience too in various architectural practices and then set up on his own, supporting himself by becoming a reader for Batsford. There he selected thousands of drawings for their popular and authoritative series on the different counties and their building, thus greatly extending his insight.

In the 1914-18 War he served with the Artists' Rifles and The Durham Light Infantry. He was wounded in the leg and suffered the loss of one eye, an even more tragic loss for an architect than for an ordinary man. Later his black rimmed monocle and ribbon were famous, but they were in fact a disguise.

Grey Wornum was president of the AA in 1930-31 and in 1932 he shot to the front rank of British architects when he won the competition for the Royal Institute of British Architects' building in Portland Place, against about 250 other entrants. He had a great sense of design and colour, drawing around him a host of the most prominent young painters and sculptors. This ability to bring together and enthuse others is shown perhaps most clearly by the success of the decorations for the Queen Mary, for which he was responsible, a ship to be seen by people from all over the world. Their lightness, joie de vivre and originality made them instantly famous.


St James's Parish Hall, 1925

 

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