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BCD Special Report on
Historic Churches
17th annual edition
John Coates Carter
Building a sense of place
Phil Tomas
ohn Coates
Carter (1859–1927) was the
most distinguished architect working within
the Arts and Crafts tradition to base his
practice in south Wales. Although his work was
largely ecclesiastical, he designed a number of
public buildings, many houses, submitted entries
to national and international competitions,
and created one of the largest and least-known
ensembles of Arts and Crafts-infuenced
buildings in the British Isles, the monastery and
associated domestic and community buildings
on Caldey Island. In the context of recent
Welsh political resurgence and a widening
interest in those early-20th century architects
whose work does not pre-fgure Modernism,
his considerable output is long overdue for
serious examination and re-assessment.
Coates Carter’s works have tended to
puzzle critics, who regarded them as being
too restlessly wayward, too eccentric, or
too distant from the mainstream of British
architecture to be easily categorised. But in his
best buildings he achieves a personal mixture
of massive simplicity and lyrical charm, and
he was one of the few British architects active
around 1900 whose work is clearly infuenced
by contemporary developments in America and
Europe where he is known to have travelled.
In buildings like All Saints’ Hall, Penarth
(1906), his various schemes for Caldey Abbey
(1907–1913), and many designs for private
houses in south Wales, including the Red House,
Penarth, built for himself in 1901, he comes
close to a kind of Arts and Crafts expressionism
with a distinctly international slant. Tis is
unusual at a time when infuence was generally
regarded as fowing in the opposite direction
and British architecture, design and theory
were more highly regarded and fashionable
abroad than at any time before or since.
In his works after 1900, particularly in the
Welsh churches of his last decade, Coates Carter
was increasingly concerned to discover how
some sense of Welshness might be expressed
in the language of religious architecture. He
shared this urge with his closest north Wales
equivalent, Herbert Luck North (1871–1941).
Curiously, both men were outsiders; both
born in England and both middle-class, high-
Anglican architects working in the prevailing
nonconformist working-class culture of Wales,
and they approached the task in very diferent
ways. While North took his cue directly from
the landscape and indigenous materials of
Snowdonia, coloured by his interest in the work
of William Lethaby and symbolism, Coates
Carter seems to have been prompted by a more
complex and pragmatic mixture of motives.
Rough textured walls and roof timbers provide a startling foil for the plain round concrete columns of
the nave at SS Julius and Aaron, Newport (1923–27). Te altar is modern. (Photo Jonathan Taylor)
John Coates Carter was born and raised in
Norwich and articled to the local architect JB
Pearce, whose most impressive work, the Town
Hall at Great Yarmouth (1878–82), was designed
while Coates Carter was training in the ofce.
He became pupil and then assistant to London-
based JP Seddon (1827–1906), who he may
have met when Seddon was also in Yarmouth
around 1880 building his new church of
St James. Working with the Cardif based Welsh
architect John Prichard (1817–1886), Seddon
and Prichard had brought a new sophistication