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Sir Walter Tapper

from The Architect - September 27th 1935

Original article held by St Michael's Church, Little Coates.

The late Sir Walter Tapper, R.A. - Born April 21st 1861  Died September 21st 1935

With great regret, we have to announce the death, on Saturday last, of Sir Walter Tapper, Surveyor to the fabric of Westminster Abbey. Although he had reached the ripe age of 74, his passing has a certain tragic aspect, for it was only so recently as July 26 that we recorded that the King had conferred upon him a K.C.V.O. in recognition of his services to architecture and of his care of the great national fane that had been entrusted to his skilful charge; his enjoyment of this honour and of the Academician rank to which he had been elected earlier in the year, has thus been lamentably short.

A Devonshire man, born at Bovey Tracey, he served his Articles at Newton Abbot, afterwards entering the office of Bodley and Garner, a famous London firm of ecclesiastical architects in the closing years of last century. There he developed the bent for church design by which he was to become distinguished. St. Erkenwald's, Southend; St. Stephen's, Grimsby, and St. Mary's, Harrogate, were three well known examples of his work; and he designed also the Church of the Ascension at Malvern Link, Burhill Church, Surrey, and the church at Little Coates, Grimsby. In addition, he designed the War Memorial in the Lower Chapel at Eton. His London church, and probably his best ecclesiastical work, was the Church of the Annunciation, Quebec Street, near the Marble Arch. This building is an early and excellent adaptation of the Gothic tradition to a modern church in brick; and among notable features is the lighting confined to the clerestory, and the triforium carried over the nave arches.

His practice, started in 1900, was not, however, confined to church work, for he was responsible for a good deal of domestic work, either original buildings such as Bicton Hall, in his native county; Hull Place, Deal; Eartham Grange, Worcestershire; and Shipley Hall, Derbyshire; or restorations and alterations, as those at such famous seats as Penshurst, Kent, and Hengrave Hall, Suffolk. He was not, as is often supposed, a bigoted exponent of the Gothic style, as his domestic work shows; indeed, he had a great admiration for the best work of the Renaissance, and had devoted a year's study to it in Italy. His restoration of Torrigiano's Altar in Henry VII's Chapel at Westminster, which we noted in our issue of July 12 last, is one evidence of this, and more recently, he replaced in the Abbey the late Renaissance pulpit. Nor was his post at Westminster the first of such appointments. He was consulting architect to York Minster and to Manchester Cathedral. At York, in addition to supervising general repair works, he designed the screen, this and the reparation of the famous "Five Sisters" window in the North Transept, forming the Empire War Memorial to Women.

Tapper was exceptionally well-read and well-informed upon matters pertaining to his Art; he was courteous and considerate; and, although energetic and painstaking, was a quite and somewhat retiring man. Indeed, the only occasion upon which he came very prominently before the public eye was over the project of adding a much-needed sacristy to Westminster Abbey. His proposal to erect this building on the buried foundations of a former sacristy which had stood on the North side of the Abbey, although illustrated by a full-scale model, was strongly opposed, both by those who resented any addition to the present fabric and by those who disliked an addition in that particular position. The scheme eventually fell through, the offer of funds to defray the cost having been withdrawn. Tapper, however, carried out the reparation and strengthening of the fabric of Henry VII's Chapel, which was put in hand after the fall of a large boss from the fan-vaulted roof; and he also continued actively the external and internal cleaning work which had been started by his predecessor, W.R. Lethaby. He also designed certain alterations to and new equipment for the muniment room and library of the Abbey, and connected the two by a new gallery over the east cloister, making a very successful piece of work.

Elected an A.R.I.B.A. in 1889, Tapper become F.R.I.B.A. in 1912 and President of the Royal Institute, 1927-29. In 1926, he was elected A.R.A., and, as stated, attained Academician rank this year. He was also F.S.A. He married, in 1886, Miss Catherine Jotcham, who died in 1932. They had a daughter and a son, the latter, Mr Michael John Tapper, M.C., A.R.I.B.A., who was in partnership with his father, being a member of the present Royal Institute Council. Sir Walter was buried on Wednesday in the Cloisters at the Abbey.

Sir Walter Tapper ~ Sir Walter J. Tapper ~ Gothic Revivalist Architect ~ St Erkenwald, Southend-on-Sea ~ Church of the Annunciation, Bryanston Street ~ Church of the Ascension, Malvern Link ~ Guildford Grammar School Chapel