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Ashworth, Henry Ingham (1907–1991)

by Roy Lumby

This article was published online in 2014

Henry Ingham Ashworth (1907-1991), architect, educator and soldier, was born on 20 February 1907 at Manchester, England, the son of Charles Stanley Ashworth, hotel proprietor, and his wife Edith Jane, née Ingham. As a child Harry was interested in architecture and building. Educated at North Manchester School and Manchester Grammar School, he was indentured to a firm of architects for about a year before beginning study at the University of Manchester in 1924 (BA, 1929). Completing a professional course in architecture as part of his degree, he graduated with first-class honours.

Becoming an associate member of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1929, that year Ashworth worked briefly for an architectural firm before obtaining a junior teaching position at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College, London (UCL). He was appointed as a lecturer in 1931. The same year, on 25 July, he married Ella Needham at the parish church, Poynton, Cheshire, with Church of England rites. He had formed a partnership with Frank Scarlett in 1930 and the pair collaborated on a competition-winning scheme for a major development along Ferensway, Hull, Yorkshire. In 1933 the partnership was dissolved and Ashworth published Architectural Practice and Administration. Between 1934 and 1937 he was also lecturer at the Regent Street Polytechnic, London. He undertook postgraduate study at the University of Manchester (MA, 1936), and published a second book, Flats: Design and Equipment (1936). Continuing to undertake private commissions, he became a fellow of the RIBA in 1938.

Work toward a PhD was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. In 1939-41 Ashworth administered the planning and building of air raid shelters for the Harrow Urban District Council. Following the temporary closure of UCL, he worked for the Ministry of Defence. He was released from his reserved occupation and commissioned in the Corps of Royal Engineers on 31 December 1941. Posted abroad in 1942, he served as a staff officer largely in the Assam and Burma theatres and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. Twice mentioned in despatches, he was demobilised on 12 October 1945.

For a short time Ashworth resumed his pre-war career. Dissatisfied, he applied for appointments at several universities outside Britain and in November 1948 was selected for a new chair of architectural design and history at the University of Sydney. He arrived in Sydney with his family on 25 February 1949. His early years at the university were stimulating, but he was not universally popular with students, being perceived as too British and conservative, and holding traditional views about the place of women in the workforce that discouraged female students.

In 1950 Ashworth became dean of the faculty on the retirement of Alfred Hook. Within a few years, assisted by the appointment in 1953 of Henry Cowan as professor of architectural science, he had overhauled the undergraduate course in architecture, introducing a common core course for first-year students and modernising the curriculum to reflect international trends. Serving on the university’s building and grounds committee (1951-63), in 1953 he designed the War Memorial Arch (later Gallery) with his predecessor Leslie Wilkinson, and a memorial to Professor Sir Francis Anderson.

Having applied for registration as an architect on 22 March 1949, Ashworth became extensively involved with the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. A member of the Board of Architects (1950-72), in 1954 he was elected to the council of the New South Wales chapter of the RAIA (president 1956-58). Vice-president of the federal council in 1960-61 and president in 1961-62, he became a life fellow in 1970. He was also a member of the (Royal) Australian Planning Institute, a fellow of the Australian Institute of Building, and an honorary fellow of the Royal Architects Institute of Canada.

Ashworth played a central part in the design and increasingly controversial construction of the Sydney Opera House. He was a member of a committee set up by Premier Joseph Cahill to investigate the site and design. After the decision was made to hold an international design competition, he was appointed chairman of assessors. The panel—Ashworth, New South Wales government architect Cobden Parkes, English architect (Sir) Leslie Martin, and American architect Eero Saarinenchose Danish architect Jørn Utzon as the winner in January 1957.

An opera house executive committee was formed in 1957. Two advisory panels were appointed: a music and drama panel and a technical panel, chaired by Ashworth, which was to advise the committee on building matters. The project was plagued by escalating costs and delays, which were causing considerable concern by the time the Liberal Party-Country Party coalition came to power in May 1965. When Utzon resigned in February 1966, Ashworth attempted to achieve a compromise in discussions with the premier, (Sir) Robert Askin, the minister for public works, (Sir) Davis Hughes, and Utzon, but to no avail. Utzon left Australia in April 1966, believing Ashworth had not been supportive; Ashworth denied this, pointing out his continuous support and efforts to reach a resolution. The final technical advisory panel meeting was held in December 1967, and Ashworth became a member of the newly formed Sydney Opera House Trust.

Ashworth entered a new stage in his career when, invited by the vice-chancellor, (Sir) Philip Baxter, he joined the University of New South Wales on the retirement of Frederick Towndrow. He became dean of the faculty and head of the school of architecture and building in January 1964. During his tenure the departments of town planning and of building, previously part of the school of architecture, became separate schools, and a department of landscape was established. Other achievements were the restructuring of the undergraduate architecture course and the setting up of the Architecture Foundation, a sponsorship scheme enabling prominent architects to visit the university. He retired, as emeritus professor, in 1972.

Although dedicated to his academic and committee work, Ashworth made time to consult on various architectural projects. During the 1960s he worked on the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney. Other consultancies included Moore College in Sydney, the arts and architecture buildings at the University of Adelaide, the Reserve Bank in Sydney and Canberra, and new stands for the Australian Jockey Club at Randwick. He was appointed OBE in 1963.

A fit, healthy-looking man who had suffered from poor eyesight since the age of twelve, Ashworth enjoyed golf and woodworking. He was a member of the Anglican Church. Survived by his wife and three daughters, he died on 26 November 1991 at Wahroonga, Sydney, and was cremated.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Ashworth, Henry I. Interview by Susan Ogg, November 1984-January 1985. The University Interviews Project, edited by Victoria Barker and Linda Bowman. University of New South Wales Archives
  • Daniels, Eric. ‘Retirement.’ Bulletin (Royal Australian Institute of Architects New South Wales Chapter), no. 9 September 1972, 2
  • Johnson, Paul-Alan. ‘Ashworth, H. Ingham.’ In The Encyclopedia of Australian Architecture, edited by Philip Goad and Julie Willis, 47-48. Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2012
  • National Library of Australia. MS 4500, Papers of Henry Ingham Ashworth, 1954-1968
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘An Architect of Foresight.’ 29 November 1991, 9
  • University of Sydney Archives. G3/187, Personnel file H. I. Ashworth
  • Wollaston, Barry. ‘Emeritus Professor Harry Ingham Ashworth.’ Uniken, 6 December 1991, 6.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Roy Lumby, 'Ashworth, Henry Ingham (1907–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ashworth-henry-ingham-15498/text26714, published online 2014, accessed online 15 December 2018.

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