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date: 23 February 2024

Sudell, Richardfree

(1892–1968)

Sudell, Richardfree

(1892–1968)
  • Annabel Downs

Sudell, Richard (1892–1968), landscape architect and author, was born at Newton-with-Scales, Kirkham, near Preston, Lancashire, on 22 September 1892, the eldest of four children of George Sudell, a hay and straw dealer, and later a farm worker, and his wife, Annie, née Sattersthwaite. Interested in the land but not in agriculture, he left elementary school when he was fourteen and worked as an apprentice gardener at The Larches, Ashton-on-Ribble, Preston, in a ten acre garden belonging to William Birley, a cotton mill owner. Sudell spent six years working in the walled kitchen garden and glasshouses under the supervision of John Bradshaw, who noted the devotion and thoroughness with which Sudell went about the work.

Sudell spent some of his spare time studying at the Harris Institute in Preston, passing Board of Education certificates in botany, chemistry, and geology. Geology and mountaineering were to remain lifelong hobbies. He also gave talks to Preston's Gardeners Mutual Improvement Association. After a few months working on orchids for William Duckworth, he joined the garden contractors William Addison & Co. of Lancashire from 1912 to 1914, and then gained a post as gardener at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He returned to Preston in March 1915, but by 1919 was back in London, having set up in practice as a horticultural consultant. On 18 August 1920 he married Emily Daisy Williams, née James, a Post Office clerk, the 31-year-old daughter of Edward Henderson James, commercial traveller.

At the Royal Horticultural Society in the 1920s Sudell encountered a group of distinguished members including Thomas Mawson, George Dillistone, and Edward White who were involved more in landscape and garden design than in pure horticulture. The society responded to this growing interest by holding occasional lectures and expanding its range of show gardens. In October 1928 it hosted an international exhibition of garden design and conference on garden planning. In addition to overseas exhibitors, there were fifty-nine British participants, including Brenda Colvin, Percy Cane, Edwin Lutyens, Clough Willams-Ellis, Reginald Blomfield, Jock Shepherd, Geoffrey Jellicoe, Edward Prentice Mawson, and Stanley Hart, a colleague of Sudell's. Hart's observation that the exhibition demonstrated a 'lack of unity' in the British camp spurred Sudell into convening a meeting at his Gower Street office, in February 1929, to discuss the formation of a 'society of garden architects'. At a further meeting, held on 23 May in the design tent at the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea flower show, Sudell was elected chairman of the renamed British Association of Garden Architects. Deciding that it should be a professional organization, the founding committee invited others with shared interests and growing (or established) reputations to join. Thomas Mawson was elected president at the first council meeting on 11 December 1929 and Sudell, now surrounded more by qualified and some very senior architects and town planners than by horticulturists, resigned from the chair, and was appointed vice-president. A month later the title was changed to the Institute of Landscape Architects and Sudell and nine others were made fellows.

Sudell spent three years working in partnership with Marjory Allen, also a founding member of the institute, on her innovative initiative to design and maintain a roof garden for Selfridges in Oxford Street. With an English garden of old-fashioned flowers, lawn, formal pool, pergola, a cherry walk, and fantail pigeons, it was opened to the public in 1930 with 35,000 people a week visiting the gardens. Divorced from his first wife, Sudell married, on 14 May 1931, Ida (b. 1907/8), daughter of Emil Schlittler, doctor of medicine, and settled at Sandy Lane, Cobham, Surrey.

Sudell had meanwhile become a prodigious author of practical books and articles on gardens, gardening, and the design of gardens and landscape, much based on his own experience. He was appointed garden editor for Ideal Home magazine (and later also for the Daily Herald, Ideal Home and Gardening, Practical Home Gardening, and Landscape Gardening). His book Landscape Gardening (1933), which was aimed at garden owners, town planning committees, students and teachers of horticulture, and 'all persons interested in the design and use of outdoor spaces', championed the work of the new landscape architects. He urged the development of gardens and landscape in factories, hotels, on roofs, for airports, and as part of new estates. Spring 1934 saw the first issue of Landscape and Garden, a quarterly illustrated journal devoted to garden design and landscape architecture, which he edited in association with the Institute of Landscape Architects until the journal's demise in 1939. Over a twenty-year period, until the mid-1950s, he was producing at least one book a year, practical books, well illustrated and with clearly presented information mostly on aspects of his real passion: creating educated gardeners.

Sudell was a radical voice on the council of the Institute of Landscape Architects, especially during the Second World War, when he urged the importance and urgency of the institute's role in promoting reconstruction: 'it is our job to see that the new Britain arises on better lines than the old' (Sudell to Geoffrey Jellicoe, 21 March 1941, Landscape Institute membership files, Sudell). 'The present ruling class will never radically change Britain', he wrote, fearing that at the end of the war 'all the vested interests will drop back into their old positions of power and prestige and we shall have the devil's own job to get things done' (31 March 1941, ibid.). He was outspoken on possible mergers proposed with the Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institution of British Architects. His own term as the institute's president, from 1955 to 1957, was largely uneventful and he stood down from institute activities in 1961.

With less work in private garden design after the war, Sudell became involved with designing memorial gardens, including these at Frimley, Oxford crematorium, and Silver Town. Most notable was the City of London cemetery and crematorium near Manor Park, London, one of the few known surviving examples of his work. He designed a sequence of hedged enclosures with geometric beds planted predominantly with red roses, but also trees and shrubs and annuals, arranged in grass or paving and surrounded by larger trees. A straight path connects the gardens, terminating in a shelter. His plan 'reflects much of post-war and post-Festival of Britain design theory—egalitarian and determinedly modern' and used 'modern materials, extensive paving, bright colours in hard and soft landscaping, geometrical forms and economical choice of plants' (D. Lambert, Conservation Management Plan for City of London Cemetery, 2004). He specialized also in sports grounds, pavilions, allotment gardens, and playgrounds, working in Barnet, Hainault, and at Merton College, Morden.

Sudell died in Kuwait on 18 November 1968, on his way to Pakistan trying to find work on a low-cost housing project, and he was survived by his wife and three daughters. Genial and kindly, 'he made no one shrivel' (private information) and remained intensely loyal to his profession and his colleagues, while maintaining his independent convictions and passion. The institute that he took part in founding probably did not become as broad or egalitarian as he had hoped, modelled as it was on variations of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Royal Institution of British Architects, and the Town Planning Institute. Mainly through his writing he promoted contemporary, practical, and functional design and materials to ordinary people. Not many lasting reputations are built out of designing for suburban living and only a few of his contemporaries recognized the quality of his skills as a designer, and the significance of his publications.

Sources

  • membership files and council minutes, Landscape Institute, London
  • Quarterly Notes (1931–67)
  • Landscape and Garden (1931–67)
  • Journal of the Institute of Landscape Architects (1931–67)
  • ‘B. Colvin, the president: a profile’, Journal of the Institute of Landscape Architects (1955)
  • Journal of the Institute of Landscape Architects (Feb 1969), 5
  • The Times (23 Nov 1968)
  • L. J. Fricker, ‘Forty years a-growing’, Journal of the Institute of Landscape Architects (May 1969)
  • S. Harvey, ed., Reflections on landscape: the lives and work of six British landscape architects (1987)
  • M. Allen and M. Nicholson, Memoirs of an uneducated lady: Lady Allen of Hurtwood (1975)
  • T. Aldous, B. Clouston, and R. Alexander, Landscape by design (1979)
  • b. cert.
  • m. certs.
  • census returns, 1901
  • private information (2008) [L. J. Fricker]

Likenesses

  • C. Gregory, portrait, exh. RA 1920

Wealth at Death

£4212: probate, 10 Feb 1969, CGPLA Eng. & Wales