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Langford, Clements (1853–1930)

by Mark Richmond

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Clements Langford (1853-1930), master builder, was born on 25 March 1853 at Portsea, Hampshire, England, son of George Langford, brewer, and his wife Betsey Dyer, née Clements. The family arrived in Tasmania in March 1864 and moved to Melbourne in 1868. After working with auctioneers Beauchamp & Rock, Clements was apprenticed to the builder David Mitchell in 1869 and won first prize for architectural drawing at the Richmond School of Design in 1874. In 1877-78 he worked as a carpenter and owned a house at Richmond and in 1879-88 a nearby grocery.

On 20 December 1882 at St Stephen's Church of England, Richmond—where he became senior church-warden—Langford married Sarah Ann Coverlid, a teacher. The couple lived in a house newly built by Langford, had eight children, and in 1902 moved to a larger residence (named Netley after a Portsmouth locality) which he had built, also at Richmond. From 1887 he had a holiday house at Sorrento.

In 1881 Langford had formed a partnership with Robert Hutchison and they set up as builders and contractors in Bridge Road, Richmond. From 1886 he continued the business in his sole name. Having insufficient capital structure to be vulnerable to the building boom collapse of the 1890s, the firm was involved in several major projects, by 1909 employing 300. Incorporated as Clements Langford Pty Ltd in May 1923, by 1930 it encompassed 'shop and office fitters, plumbers, painters [and] decorators', and boasted large joinery, timber-machining and plumbers' shops. Langford undertook an eclectic range of contracts including premises for Makower, McBeath & Co. Pty Ltd, additions to the university medical school, the Bryant & May factory, Centreway, Hoyts' Theatre in Bourke Street, the Melbourne Sports Depot, the Myer Emporium, Scott's Hotel, the Comedy Theatre, Ball & Welch's store, the Safe Deposit Building, the Adelaide Steamship Co. building, the Dunlop factory at Montague, the Australian Mutual Provident Society's new Melbourne office and the Herald Building.

Sarah died in 1916. On 10 December 1919 at St Philip's Church, Collingwood, Clements married Gertrude Saunders, a maltster's daughter. They lived at Riversmount, Camberwell, which Langford built to D. F. Stevenson's design. The firm worked with leading architects, and itself contributed the design element in many jobs, such as the alterations to Langford's beloved St Stephen's, Richmond. The culmination of his career as builder and churchman was the erection of the St Paul's Cathedral spires, which he commenced in 1926, following a 1925 trip to England, and whose completion he bequeathed to his son George.

Langford's other business interests included directorships of suppliers of building materials such as cement, bricks and timber. He was president (1913-14) and long-time treasurer of the Melbourne Master Builders' Association, president of the Master Builders' Federation of Victoria, and an executive member of the Victorian Employers' Federation.

A Freemason and Rotarian, in 1927 he became a lay canon of St Paul's Cathedral. Langford was handsome and of strong appearance, 'a tough employer, a driver'—and the owner of a Rolls Royce motorcar—but with a reputation for generosity to Church and needy employees. He died on 6 February 1930 at Sorrento and, after services at St Stephen's and at St Paul's, was buried in Boroondara cemetery. His wife and the five sons and three daughters of his first marriage survived him, inheriting an estate sworn for probate at £181,632. A mosaic portrait of Langford is in St Stephen's, Richmond.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), The Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • M. T. Shaw, Builders of Melbourne (Melb, 1972)
  • G. Wenzel, Pater: Builder of the Spires (Melb, 1998)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1909, vol 1, paper no D5
  • Building and Construction & Cazaly’s Contract Reporter, 10 Feb 1930, 3 Mar 1930, 4 Aug 1930
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 Feb 1930, p 1
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7 Feb 1930, p 6
  • Clements Langford Pty Ltd papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Mark Richmond, 'Langford, Clements (1853–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/langford-clements-13039/text23577, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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