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North, Alexander (1858–1945)

by J. Maidment

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Alexander North (1858-1945), architect, was born on 2 October 1858 at Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England, son of James North, linen draper, and his wife Lavinia, née Briscombe. Articled at Kendal, Westmorland, he studied at the Kendal and, in London, the Lambeth schools of art. In 1876 he helped to prepare drawings for the Islington Union Chapel designed by James Cubitt whose writings on church architecture strongly influenced him. He afterwards travelled in Europe and in 1883 won a gold medal for his cathedral drawings in the National Competition of Schools of Art.

On 12 July 1883, for reasons of health, North left London for Hobart where on 19 August 1885 at The Church of St John the Baptist he married Lucy Mariannie Hamilton Morgan. From November 1883 until June 1886 he was employed in the Lands and Works Department. Permitted a concurrent private practice, he was in partnership with L. G. Corrie at Launceston in 1884-93, although Corrie joined Henry Hunter in Brisbane in 1887.

With a changing succession of partners, W. H. Dunning, A. H. Masters, and then R. F. Ricards and F. J. Heyward, North became known as an outstanding church architect. His early Tasmanian churches were in a simple French Gothic idiom, but around 1900 he designed Holy Trinity and St John's, Launceston, on an impressive scale, using brick with sandstone ornamentation, St John's incorporating concrete vaulting and a crossing dome. Other Tasmanian church, domestic and commercial commissions were executed in stone, brick, timber and the reinforced concrete adopted for grain silos at Cataract Gorge, Launceston, in 1912. At the 1892 meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science North had spoken on 'The truthful treatment of brickwork' and in 1902 his paper, 'Rural churches', outlined design principles for wooden buildings. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in October 1902 and next year initiated the formation of the Tasmanian Association of Architects of which he was president until 1905 and again in 1911-12.

In 1913 North and his junior partner Louis Reginald Williams moved to Melbourne where they specialized in church work. North designed a large chapel for Trinity College, University of Melbourne; financed by John Horsfall, it was described as an 'architectural triumph'.

The many church contracts North secured, not only in Tasmania and Victoria, but in South Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, enabled him to develop an individual style akin to that of his English arts-and-crafts contemporaries and assemble a wide vocabulary of motifs, many derived from native flora and fauna. His churches are notable for their fine proportions and detailing. Among the craftsmen who furnished and ornamented them were Gordon Cumming and Hugh Cunningham at Launceston and Robert Prenzel in Melbourne.

North returned to Tasmania about 1920 and his partnership with Williams was dissolved. He continued architectural work, including the nave of St John's, Launceston, until the 1930s but was more preoccupied with his orchard at Holm Lea, Rowella. From his earliest years in Tasmania he had been interested in botany. The author of works on Australian ferns and forestry, he was secretary of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Forest League.

A practising Anglican, North died on 28 May 1945 at Holm Lea and was buried in Carr Villa cemetery, Launceston. Three children survived him. H. S. East described North as 'an outstanding church architect with an unrivalled knowledge of Gothic architecture and a genius for construction'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Freeland, The Making of a Profession (Syd, 1971)
  • National Trust of Australia, Trust News, 9, no 3, Sept 1981, p 10
  • Newsletter (National Trust of Australia (Tasmania)), 80, Dec 1982, p 1
  • Examiner (Launceston), 2 June 1945
  • J. Maidment, list of buildings designed by A. North (manuscript, privately held)
  • A. North correspondence with Mary McRae and Ian Pearce, State archivists (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • A. North papers and drawings (privately held).

Citation details

J. Maidment, 'North, Alexander (1858–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/north-alexander-7859/text13655, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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