The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Rare appreciation for Coates Carter

Member Paul Bridges contacted us to say how pleased he was to see reference to the architect John Coates Carter (1859-1927) in the recent Twentieth Century Society’s Building of the Month on Potter’s Church of the Ascension.

Church of the Ascension, Plymouth, by Robert Potter photographed by Martin Walker

Bridges lives in Coates Carter’s own Red House in Penarth and sends this appreciation of his work:

“It’s rare for Coates Carter to be acknowledged on a national level, despite his significant contributions to architecture – including modernism between the great wars. In the late 1800s, Coates Carter set up in partnership with JP Seddon (1827-1906) and worked from his practice in Cardiff. This was boom time for South Wales and Coates Carter was kept busy with domestic, civic and ecclesiastical commissions. While his early work favored the gothic priorities of his celebrated partner, the turn of the century saw him increasingly (and, unusually for this time) drawing on European (e.g. Olbrich) and American (e.g. H.H. Richardson) points of reference. Notably, Coates Carter’s wife was Swiss and he was apparently well travelled. His work evolved into a clever mix of Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau styles. Coates Carter’s largest commission was the little known Anglican monastery on Caldey Island – one of the largest groups of Arts & Crafts buildings in the UK.

The first world war saw his semi-retirement to Gloucestershire and Coates Carter’s later works increasingly left the historic themes behind for a new modernity. In particular, he began experimenting with new technologies, including experimental use of concrete.

St Luke's Church by Coates Carter, photographed by Susanne Durie (see link to her site below for more).

The fact that Coates Carter’s work is not better known reflects the change in the fortunes of South Wales over the last century, with the decline in the coal and shipping industries.  In this regard, Coates Carter’s St Lukes Church at Abarcarn – arguably his finest moment and an important building in terms of UK Modernism – stands as a sad case study of this neglect.

As the architectural historian, Dr Phil Thomas notes in his article on the Building conservation website, “use of local vernacular elements combined with an interest in the possibilities of new building technology suggest an art which faces in two directions at once”. In this way, this final work at Abercarn marks Coates Carter out as an important figure in architecture of the last century.

Footnote: The impressively quiet site of St Luke’s, Abercarn is now the centre of a proposed housing development scheme. It remains to be seen whether this important building has been saved from the vandals”


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