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John Burcham Clamp (1869–1931)

by Peter Reynolds

This article was published:

John Burcham Clamp (1869-1931), architect, was born on 30 November 1869 at 743 George Street, Sydney, son of John Clamp, a London-born hairdresser, and his wife Sophia, née Hunt, from Dublin. Known as Burcham, he was educated at Christ Church St Laurence School, and won the Mort scholarship in 1882. Next year he was articled to H. C. Kent, a leading Sydney architect, and attended evening classes at the University of Sydney and the Sydney Technical College. In 1886 he received honourable mention in the student design competition of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales, and in 1889 was awarded its gold medal; that May he was the first student admitted to its membership. On 22 June 1893 he married Susie Young at Auburn; they later lived at Cremorne and, from about 1914, at Greenoaks Avenue, Darling Point.

Clamp worked for Kent until he joined T. M. Smith in partnership in 1899. In 1901 he set up on his own and became known for efficient planning, competent design and secure construction. By 1910 he had been responsible for St James's Hall, Phillip Street; Victoria Hall, Manly; Lister Private Hospital and nurses' home, Darlinghurst; and such major projects as the enlargement of Winchcombe, Carson Ltd's Pyrmont wool store, and Wyoming and Castlereagh chambers in the city. His most controversial commission was to rebuild Farmer & Co. Ltd's Victoria House in Pitt Street—obliterating J. Horbury Hunt's 1874 building which had been acclaimed as 'our finest example of street architecture'. Clamp's meeting with Walter Burley Griffin in the United States of America led to a brief partnership with him in Sydney in 1914. Later he was joined by C. H. Mackellar and they designed several factories and other buildings in 1918-24.

An active Anglican and prominent Freemason, Clamp was building surveyor for the diocese of Sydney, and exercised considerable influence in ecclesiastical architecture: among other projects he designed the Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) chapel, North Sydney, St Matthew's Church, Manly (with Wright and Apperly) and converted a two-storey house at Rushcutters Bay into St Luke's Hospital. He was also a founder and councillor of Cranbrook School, altering the house after its use as the residence of the State governor in 1901-15, designing new buildings and landscaping its grounds. Clamp and (C. H.) Finch were the architects between 1927 and 1930 of Tattersall's Club, Castlereagh Street, the Buckland Memorial Church of England Boys' Home, Carlingford, Canberra Grammar School and the Ainslie Hotel in Canberra. Early in 1930 Clamp's son John replaced Finch.

An active and outspoken member of the local Institute of Architects, Clamp urged the federation of the separate State bodies and in 1907 had strongly backed the admission of Florence Parsons as an associate. He had a forthright but tactful manner, self-reliance and boundless energy. He was a member of the Town Planning Association of New South Wales, the Martin Place extension committee and of Tattersall's, the Millions and the National clubs. Fortunate to practise during two boom periods in 1901-14 and 1920-28, Clamp provided a bridge between the nineteenth-century romantic and twentieth-century functionalist styles, presenting an originality of design which combined character with sound commercial possibilities.

Survived by his wife, son and three daughters, Clamp died of acute broncho-pneumonia on 7 July 1931 at his Cremorne home and was buried in the Anglican section of South Head cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • J. M. Freeland, Architect Extraordinary (Melb, 1970), and The Making of a Profession (Syd, 1971)
  • D. L. Johnson, The Architecture of Walter Burley Griffin (Melb, 1977)
  • Building (Sydney), 12 Apr 1910, 13 July 1931
  • Sydney Diocesan Magazine, Aug, 1931
  • J. B. Clamp papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Reynolds, 'Clamp, John Burcham (1869–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 November, 1869
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


7 July, 1931 (aged 61)
Cremorne, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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