A brief biography of George Fellowes Prynne.
George Halford Fellowes Prynne was born on April 2nd 1853 at Wyndham Square, Plymouth, Devon. He was the second son of the Reverend George Rundle Prynne and Emily Fellowes. As well as his elder brother, Edward Alfred, he had a brother, Albert Bernard (known as Bernard), and two sisters. His father was a well-known figure in religious circles of the time, being outspoken in his support of the revival of so-called high churchmanship in the Anglican Church, and espousing the views of the Oxford movement.
Very little information is available to give an idea of George Fellowes Prynne’s childhood. However, he cannot have failed to be influenced by his father’s constant striving and indomitable spirit. St. Peter’s was a church with a mission, and by all accounts Prynne senior was heavily involved in education, ministry to the sick, supporting the poor and preaching the gospel. He was aided by a community of Sisters, on whom fell much of the day-to-day work of the church in what was a very deprived area.
George junior was sent away to school, first of all to St. Mary’s College, Harlow. He went on to Chardstock College, and thence to Eastman’s Royal Naval academy at Southsea.
An impression of his life as a young man can be obtained from Prynne’s own notes, which were current on his 44th birthday in 1897. It is clear that architecture was not a profession that he had countenanced from an early age. Indeed, he spent some time studying privately with a tutor near Oxford with a view to becoming ordained, but, as he puts it
…difficulties arose as to the expense of a University education.
He first became interested in the study of architecture when his brother Edward was aiming to enter the office of George Edmund Street, R.A. Little did he know at that time what an important influence that eminent architect was to have on his life. George Fellowes Prynne takes up the story:
At the age of 18….an offer came from an uncle, to get me a berth with a nephew of his who had taken land, and was farming in the Western states of America. I started on my new life’s career. The experience of Western farming life was both trying and severe, especially during the last nine months of the nearly 2 years spent in the then wild West. 26 years ago the states of Iowa and Nebraska presented a very different aspect to what they do at present….
It was in these parts that one got one’s first experience in practical building, from log houses and barns, to a more respectable kind of brick and wooden house. It was here that I was initiated into the Mysteries of door and window-sash making – rough, but strong and practical.
Seeing the uselessness of throwing my life away in these parts, and that few Englishmen succeeded in making more than a bare living, and yet not wishing to return home like a bad penny, I started for Canada, landing at St. Catherines in winter of 1872, but I could obtain no employment. So I went on to Toronto, where I obtained temporary work in the office of an architect in the small way of business, but later on, through the introduction of the Rev. Darling upon whom I had called, I got a place of Junior Assistant in the office of one of the best known Toronto architects, R. C. Windyer, who was at the time carrying out new Custom House buildings for the government.
The terms of my employment were to work for what I was worth, and very little it must have been at the time, considering that my only credentials were my natural taste for drawing and my experience in the Wild West. But work I did for dear life…. With the kindness and sympathy that it would be hard to exaggerate, Mr. Windyer helped forward my studies giving me the use of his library and drawings….
By January 1875 I had gained a senior position in the office, and it was shortly after that my father received an offer from the late G. E. Street, R.A., to take me into his office.
I may here remark as a point of interest that my father gave Mr. Street his first church, and that he (Mr. Street) had often expressed his gratitude to him for giving him this start, as the immediate outcome was 3 other churches in Cornwall.
On my return from America I worked in Mr. Street’s office during 1875 and 1876, in after years, working with Swinfern Harris, R.J. Withers, A. Waterhouse R.A., and at the London School Board offices. I was a student at the Royal Academy 1876 and 77-78.
Fellowes Prynne set up in his own practice in 1880, stating that his first work “of importance” was the building of his father’s church, St. Peter’s, Plymouth. The sanctuary, which was already built, was by G. E. Street, and thus the link between the lives of Street and Fellowes Prynne continued.
He went on to design many parish churches in England, mostly in the South East and South West, and almost always on a grand scale of high-church Gothic revival. He also did much restoration work, and in all is said to have been involved in over 200 buildings – though I haven’t traced all of these!
George Fellowes Prynne was a deeply religious man – family prayers were said daily for the whole household – and this deep sense of faith is communicated so clearly in all his work. He was totally committed and totally dedicated, not just to the use of his skills as an architect and designer, but to the greater whole that he, through his skills, was striving to express. Particularly in the latter years, he was heavily involved in the life of his parish in Ealing, being on the Ealing Ruri-Decanal Conference, the Parochial Church Council and the Ealing Education Committee. He was also a sidesman at St. Saviour’s Church.
Fellowes Prynne was also totally dedicated to his family, and family life was not without tragedy. He never recovered from the loss in the First World War of two of his sons, Edgar and Norman, and serious injury to sons Aubrey and Harold. His designs subsequent to this catastrophic event were almost exclusively war memorials, up to his death on the 7th May, 1927.
To conclude, it is appropriate to reproduce Sir Edward Clarke’s obituary to Fellowes Prynne, published in the monthly magazine of St Peter’s church, Staines.
GEORGE FELLOWES PRYNNE
All who are, or at any time have been, interested in our beautiful Church, will have heard with regret of the death of its gifted architect. George Prynne was the eldest son of the revered and beloved Father Prynne, who was for fifty years vicar of St. Peter’s, Plymouth. For twenty of those years he was my kind and faithful friend, and when the time came for the division of the Parish of Staines, and the building of a new Church, it seemed natural that the name of St. Peter should be used here, and that the son of my old friend, who had already at Plymouth and at Budleigh Salterton shown a special capacity for ecclesiastical architecture, should be entrusted with the duty of designing the new building and superintending its erection.
He performed that most congenial task with a skill that amounted to genius, and an untiring diligence in supervising every detail of the work, even the dossal and frontal and the sanctuary kneelers and cushions were designed by him. And his success at Staines had not a little to do with him being afforded subsequent opportunities of showing his great qualities as an architect. At Roehampton and Dulwich and Bournemouth and Ealing there are notable examples of his skill, at Columb [sic] there is a partially erected cathedral, which if completed according to his designs, will be a notable example of the expression in architecture of religious devotion. His life and work were cruelly shadowed by the great war. The building of beautiful churches appears for the time to have ceased. And two of his sons gave their lives for their country. Through it all he was a Christian gentleman; modest, kindly, diligent and patient. His brother, Edward, eminent in another form of devotional art, supplied the beautiful windows of our Church, and before his death, completed the designs for the windows still unfilled. And St. Peter’s stands as a worthy monument to the two brothers.
May 1927 EDWARD CLARKE
The images below are facsimiles of photocopies of the hand-written notes from which most of the biographical information above has been taken. The notes were written by a secretary, but you can see Fellowes Prynne’s comments in his distinctive handwriting. There are also a few notes of mine. The first image gives the date, and a close-up of Fellowes Prynne’s handwriting.