With the resurgence of interest in Victorian architecture, major Victorian architects themselves are back in favour. Rosemary Hill's fine biography, God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain (Allen Lane, 2007), confirms this, as does the the imminent and very welcome publication of a revised edition of Joseph Mordaunt Crook's William Burges and the High Victorian Dream (Frances Lincoln, due out in 2013). Some less acclaimed architects have been resurrected as well: Geoffrey Tyack, for example, has made us aware of James Pennethorne's previously unsung contribution to "the making of Victorian London" — the subtitle of his handsome book on the architect (Cambridge University Press, 1992). But there are still so many who designed good buildings but remain largely forgotten today. Among them are George Aickin (1822-1882) and Silvester Charles Capes (1825-1901), who spent twelve years or so in partnership as Aickin & Capes.

Aickin and Capes: The Early Years

There is no detailed biography for either of the partners. Nevertheless, it is possible to find out a good deal from genealogical records, newspaper archives, school registers, records of the professions, and so on. From one source, for instance, we learn that Aickin was born in Dublin (Furkert 90), and from newspaper archives we find that, despite his Irish descent, he served his articles in Lancashire at an engine factory. He was next engaged at an ironworks, then at a railway works with "those eminent engineers Messrs. John Fowler and Peter Bruff," and then for almost three years at the Admiralty, working mainly on designing barracks and hospitals, and in marine engineering. After that he worked "on his own account" laying out roads, drainage systems, designing buildings and so on (see "Aickin v. Bealey," 3).

Capes, for his part, was the son of a bookseller in Paternoster Row, London. Like his brothers he attended St Paul's School, which he entered at the age of nine in December 1834, and left in 1840 (see Gardiner 290). An engraved token in an auction lot reveals that he was admitted to the Royal Academy Antiques School on 24 April 1843, and his brief biography in the St Paul's School registers shows that he made a bright start there, winning the Royal Academy's Silver Medal in 1845 (Lawrences Auction; Gardiner 290). The more usual resource of a dictionary of architects indicates that Capes became an Associate of RIBA in 1854, and a fellow in 1867 (Brodie 332).

Aickin & Capes: The Partnership

Kingston upon Thames Cemetery Mortuary Chapel

Mortuary chapels at Kingston Cemetery, linked by an unusual arch. Click on the image for a larger picture and more information.

Although Aickin talked of working "on his own account," it is clear from a surviving letter of application, quoted in another newspaper report, that he was actually working in partnership: "I was in partnership for twelve years with a gentleman, I doing the engineering portion of the business, and he the architectural portion" ("Aickin v. Bealey," 2). With this partner (i.e. Capes, as we know from their office addresses, and individual accounts of their projects) he won thirteen competitions for various architectural projects ("Aickin v. Bealey," 3). The two were already partners in 1851, when they appear as unsuccessful competitors for the design of the Crystal Palace (Berlyn, Appendix, i), but won first prize with their design for the Royal Midland Institute for the Blind (now Clarendon Chambers), Nottingham, completed in 1853 ("Clarendon Chambers"). At this time their offices were at 1, Clarence Street, Islington. We know this because it was from their office here that they also designed the Merthyr Union Workhouse, now part of St Tydfil's Hospital in Merthy Tydfil, Glamorgan, in 1851 (see The Builder, 9: 666), though the building was not complete until 1853 (see Newman 440 and "Merthyr Tydfil"). In 1854, in the list of "Fellows and Members" of RIBA, and other associated professional organisations, they were at 3, Furnival's Inn, Holborn. Here, they are both listed as members of the Architectural Association. Aickin appears on the committee for the River Lee Navigation works in 1854 (Manby 241), and the partners won the commission for the architecture of the new cemetery at Kingston upon Thames in 1855 (see Meller 201).

This was followed by another success. When the Burial Board of St Margaret's Church, King's Lynn, received the go-ahead for a new cemetery on Hardwick Road there, they advertised in five Norfolk newspapers, and also in The Builder. The adverts brought in twenty-five sets of drawings, which the board duly examined. Their choice was for one that turned out to be by Aickin & Capes.

The other sets of drawings were returned to the senders. In the ordinary course of events, this would have seen an end to the matter, but at the Board Meeting on 26th March the Clerk reported that he had received a letter from a William Finch Hill to complain that his drawings, with the pseudonym "Veni, vidi, vici," had not been selected. But the Board was probably more heartened by the letter from the Burial Board of Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey to say how satisfied they had been with the buildings designed in 1854 by Aickin & Capes for their cemetery at Bonner Hill Road. (Litten 3)

In this way the partnership retained the commission, and continued to be involved with it for some time, with negotiations about materials and costs, advice on appropriate trees and shrubs, and plans for the gate and piers. As late as 1857, furniture for the Waiting Room was ordered "according to the designs submitted by Aickin & Capes" (Litten 10). However, within a few years the partnership appears to have been dissolved.

Later Career: Aickin

As for their later lives, in 1864, having been a civil engineer in England for about twenty years, Aickin decided to emigrate. He secured the position of engineer of the Provincial Government of Canterbury, New Zealand, passage paid and with a salary of £850 p.a. plus expenses ("Aickin v. Bealey," 1), and sailed from Gravesend, with his wife and one child, on the passenger ship Amoor. The passenger list confirms the family details, though it fails to give the wife and child's names. They arrived in New Zealand on 1 July 1864. However, there were problems: Aickin resented having to submit his plans to the Executive Government as a matter of right. "The custom was not in force in England; and in the course of a long practice, I had never known such a course pursued," he protested later ("Aickin v. Bealey," 2 ). There was also a question as to whether or not he should be required to do architectural as well as engineering work. Before long he was dismissed from his post, claiming £5000 damages for unfair dismissal in the controversial court case of "Aickin v. Bealey." This is why so much can be gleaned about him in the newspapers. The jury, having adamantly refused to accept the Judge's directions, awarded him damages of £700 ("Aickin v. Bealey," 3), much less than he had asked for but clearly more than the Judge thought proper. Aickin evidently had his sympathisers.

Indeed, his career continued apace. In early 1874 he gained a position under the Central Government, and became Inspector of Public Works for Westland in June 1875 (see Furkert 90). During his time in this part of New Zealand he apparently gave his name to "a settlement at the junction of Otira with Teramakau" (Furkert 90 again): this is now the town of Aickens on the west coast. There is also a Mount Aicken, though it should be noted that a number of Aickens and indeed Aickins, also of Irish background, emigrated to New Zealand in this period: they may well have been related.

In the later 1870s "our" Aickin relocated to Auckland, where his address was Ripon House, in the pleasant suburb of Epsom. Here he was involved in yet another controversy, this time over the docks. But he built up a solid reputation, widening roads, designing a suspension bridge to cross the "cemetery gully," supervising "the improvements to Albert Park," and so on ("Untitled"). The death of his little 14-month-old daughter, Maud Augusta, was recorded in the New Zealand Herald on 7 October 1879, and the same newspaper, of 28 April 1882, recorded his own sudden death at the age of sixty, while sawing wood in the yard. One moment his wife could see him out there, and the next he had disappeared: he had collapsed with a heart attack. Among the bereaved family were some already grown-up children, including a son who had followed in his footsteps and was working as an engineer with a local firm. The untitled newspaper report concludes, "He was so well known that the tidings of his appallingly sudden death will be received with feelings of general regret."

Later Career: Capes

Capes remained in London. He appears in the 1861 census as an architect and surveyor, aged 45, in St Bride's, London. Clearly a patriotic man, he is recorded in the London Gazette of 1 January 1864 as having joined the 40th Middlesex Rifles Volunteer Corps, which was raised at Gray's Inn in 1860-61, and as having now been raised to the rank of Captain (3). He continued with his profession. Working from 30, Bedford Row, he was the architect of St Matthew's National School in St Pancras, completed in 1864 (see the National Archives: this would have been close to the lovely Gothic church of 1854, built by John Johnson and, sadly, demolished in 1977). In 1867, he was also responsible for "an attractive and well-maintained warehouse" in Cowcross Street, Clerkenwell (see Temple), which is now Grade II listed, and clearly deserves the listing. Genealogical records show that Capes got married that same year in Kingston upon Thames. He continued to practice from central London, where the 1881 census shows him living at 16 Doughty Street, his occupation at the age of fifty-five still being that of "architect and surveyor," but he does not seem to have put his name to any major projects. There is a fleeting mention of him in the Builder of 1884 in connection with the pulling down, rebuilding and altering of buildings in the Oxford Street area. There would, of course, have been plenty of such work in late Victorian London.

Capes lived to a greater age than Aickin. His wife Emma died in 1891, at the age of 63, as recorded on their grave. He himself died in 1901 in Torquay, at one of the large boarding houses on Belgrave Crescent, where he was probably staying for health reasons (Brodie 332, though Brodie has "Elgrave" by mistake). He had just turned 75 (see "Grave Record" and the inscription on his grave). Fittingly, he was brought back and buried with his wife in the graveyard in Kingston, for which he and Aickin had designed the cemetery buildings.


S. C. Capes's grave in Kingston Cemetery Inscriptions on S. C. Capes's grave in Kingston Cemetery

The grave of Emma and Silvester Charles Capes in Kingston Cemetery, with a closer view of the inscriptions. Click on the images for larger pictures.

Like so many in this period, Aickin sought to better his prospects by emigration. It was by no means plain sailing, and he was quickly embroiled in controversy. He seems to have resented the lack of autonomy: he was not used to it. Perhaps he was of a fiery temperament. But by the time he died he was a well known figure, at least in his community. Capes did not quite fulfil the promise of his bright start, and but for his unusual name would have been very hard to trace. He is not even mentioned in the listing text of the fine Cowcross Street building. As for the two men's partnership, that is also forgotten, except in those places where it added substantially to the built environment. But at least two of the partners' buildings are Grade II listed: the old Merthyr Union Workhouse, and the "Renaissance Revival style" Clarendon Chambers in Nottingham ("Clarendon Chambers"). And there are moves afoot to get their buildings at Kingston Cemetery listed too, as being of exceptional interest in their design. Perhaps more will be discovered about them as local resources become more easily available on the web.

Works (of both partners)


"Aickin v. Bealey," 1. The Lyttleton Times, Vol. XXIII, issue 1415, 20 June 1865, p. 4.Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand). Web. 24 September 2012.

"Aickin v. Bealey," 2 . The Lyttleton Times, Vol. XXIV, issue 1431, 14 July 1865, p. 5. Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand). Web. 24 September 2012.

"Aickin v. Bealey," 3. The Press, Vol. VII,. issue 964, 9 Dec. 1865, p. 3. Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand). Web. 24 September 2012..

Berlyn, Peter, and Charles Fowler Jnr. Crystal Palace, Its Architectural History and Constructive Marvels. London: Gilbert, 1851 (see Appendix, i). Internet Archive. Web. 24 September 2012.

Brodie, Antonia. Dictionary of British Architects 1834-1914. Vol. 1 (A-K). London: Continuum / RIBA, 2001. Print.

The Builder, Vol. 9. (free Ebook). Google Books. Web. 24 September 2012. [The Builder of 1884 has the information about Capes's rebuilding and alterations, but only in very small print, and in snippet form, which makes it hard to decipher.]

"Clarendon Chambers, Nottingham." British Listed Buildings. Web. 24 September 2012.

Furkert, F. W., rev. and ed. W. L. Newnham. Early New Zealand Engineers. Wellington: A. H. and A. W. Reed, 1953. Print.

Gardiner, Rev. Robert Barlow. The Admission Registers of St Paul's School, from 1748-1876 London: G. Bell, 1884. "Internet Archive." Web. 24 September 2012.

Grave Record, Kingston Cemetery. Web. 24 September 2012.

Lawrences (an auction site). Web. 24 September 2012.

Litten, Julian. "A History of Hardwick Road Cemetery, King's Lynn." Kindly provided by Dr Litten, Chairman of the Friends of Hardwick Road Cemetery.

London Gazette. 1 January 1864, p.3. Web. 24 September 2012.

London Metropolitan Archives: School Buildings. National Archives. Web. 24 September 2012.

Manby, Charles, ed. Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Vol. XIII (free Ebook). Google Books. Web. 24 September 2012.

Meller, Hugh. London Cemeteries: An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer. Andover: Avebury, 1981. Print.

"Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan." The Workhouse. Web. 24 September 2012.

Newman, John. Glamorgan (The Buildings of Wales series). London: Penguin, 1995.

Passenger list for the Amoor. Web. 24 September 2012.

Temple, Philip, ed. "Cowcross Street and Turnmill Street." Survey of London, Vol. 46: South and East Clerkenwell, 2008: 182-202. British History Online. Web. 24 September 2012.

Unititled account of Aickin's death. New Zealand Herald, Vol. XIX, Issue 6379, 28 April 1882, p. 4. Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand). Web. 24 September 2012.

Last modified 4 January 2013