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Mansfield, John Leslie Stephen (1906–1965)

by Howard Tanner

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

John Leslie Stephen Mansfield (1906-1965), architect, was born on 4 March 1906 at Double Bay, Sydney, only child of native-born parents Leslie McDougall Mansfield, a Lismore solicitor, and his wife Lucie Olive, née Huthwaite. In 1922 Leslie was gaoled for fraudulent misappropriation and his wife suffered a nervous breakdown. Her sister Florence, widow of Sir Henry Stephen, funded John's education at Cranbrook School, Bellevue Hill, and at St Paul's College, University of Sydney (B.Arch., 1929), where he studied under Professor Leslie Wilkinson. Lady Stephen took him on a European tour (1929-30) during which he found time to join the Royal Institute of British Architects (fellow, 1946) and to complete courses in town planning and interior design at the Architectural Association school, London. In deference to her, he added Stephen to his names. The Stephen family's influence and the connexions made at Cranbrook and St Paul's were important to Mansfield throughout his life.

Back home, there was little work, so Mansfield tutored briefly on a country property. His initial projects as an architect were modest, but academically competent. As the Depression eased he gained more substantial commissions, including one for a new wing at Tudor House school, Moss Vale. His most important individual design in the late 1930s was a mansion on the waterfront at Vaucluse for his college friend (Sir) Alexis Albert, which combined Georgian and modern themes. A founder (1934) and president (1939) of the Town and Country Planning Institute of New South Wales, Mansfield joined Joseph Fowell and Kenneth McConnel in partnership in 1939.

On 22 September 1941 Mansfield was commissioned lieutenant, Royal Australian Engineers; he performed staff and training duties before being seconded in July 1942 to the Australian Imperial Force as a captain. Postings to the headquarters of New Guinea Force and II Corps took him to Papua, New Guinea and Bougainville in 1943-45. He returned to Australia and transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 4 January 1946.

Resuming work with his firm, Fowell, Mansfield, Jarvis & Maclurcan, Mansfield served on the Sydney Fountains Committee and the State branch of the National Trust of Australia. An early believer in the sympathetic adaptation of historic houses, he remodelled Rona, Bellevue Hill, Springfield, Goulburn, and Harrington Park, Narellan. With Leslie Walford he redecorated Sydney Town Hall's centennial hall, and, with (Dame) Helen Blaxland, was responsible for restoring Kirribilli House for the Commonwealth government. He built comfortable new residences and holiday houses for private clients, among them (Sir) Roy McCaughey and G. B. S. Falkiner.

Mansfield undertook numerous commissions ranging from minor alterations to significant new buildings (often in his pared-back classical manner) for Cranbrook, Barker College, Hornsby, St Catherine's School, Waverley, and the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales. He used more contemporary themes in the chapels at St Paul's College (with James Kell) and (with Osmond Jarvis) H.M.A.S. Watson, South Head; both featured a bold use of abstract stained glass by Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France. Among Mansfield's final projects (both with Kell) were the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co.'s building, sheathed in glass, marble and sandstone, in Hunter Street, Sydney, and the Commonwealth Club, Canberra.

Of middle height, with brown hair and grey eyes, Mansfield was always carefully groomed and neatly dressed. He was a man of taste and a good public speaker. His interests included gardening and heraldry, and he belonged to the Union, Imperial Service and Royal Sydney Golf clubs. A sensitive and somewhat private person, he lived in a large terrace house at Elizabeth Bay, left to him by his father's sisters. Survived by his companion John Lane, Mansfield died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 23 January 1965 at St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate was sworn for probate at £105,094; he made bequests to Cranbrook, the National Trust, and to St Paul's College, which built a library that bears his name.

Select Bibliography

  • St Paul's College, University of Sydney, Pauline, 27, 1929, p 16, 63, 1965, p 75
  • Old Cranbrookian, Feb 1965
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Jan 1939, 25 Jan, 8 July 1965
  • P. Martin, Fowell, Mansfield, Jarvis and Maclurcan, 1929-1970 (B.Arch. thesis, University of New South Wales, 1988)
  • Mansfield papers (privately held)
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • Cranbrook School, Bellevue Hill, Sydney, Archives
  • St Paul's College, University of Sydney, Archives
  • The King's School, Parramatta Archives
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Howard Tanner, 'Mansfield, John Leslie Stephen (1906–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mansfield-john-leslie-stephen-11054/text19671, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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