Sir Herbert Baker
9 June 1862 - 4 February 1946
Born on the family
farm Owletts near Cobham, Kent, in England, the fourth son of nine children of
Thomas Henry Baker and Frances Georgina Davis, Herbert was from the outset
exposed to a tradition of good craftsmanship, preserved through isolation in the
neighbourhood of his home. As a boy, walking and exploring the historical ruins
found in the area, were his favourite pastimes.He received his first education
at Tonbridge School which instilled in him his lifelong qualities of leadership
and loyalty. In 1879 he was articled to his cousin Arthur Baker, embarking on
the accepted pattern of architectural education comprising three years of
apprenticeship and the attending of classes at the Architectural Association
School and the Royal Academy Schools. Study tours of Europe were regarded as an
essential part of the course. In 1891 Baker passed his examination for
Associateship of the Royal Institute of British Architects and was awarded the
Ashpitel Prize for being top of his class. He worked initially for Ernest George
and Harold Peto in London from 1882–87, then opened his own office in Gravesend,
Kent in 1890.
He embarked for South Africa in 1892 ostensibly to visit his brother, and was commissioned in 1893 by Cecil Rhodes to remodel Groote Schuur, Rhodes' house on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, and the residence of South African prime ministers. Rhodes sponsored Baker's further education in Greece, Italy and Egypt, after which he returned to South Africa and stayed the next 20 years. He had the patronage of Lord Milner, and was invited to the Transvaal to design and build residences for the British colonials, Much taken with the country, and notably with the Cape Dutch homes in the Cape Province, Baker resolved to remain in South Africa and to establish an architectural practice, which went under the name of Herbert Baker, Kendall & Morris. Baker undertook work in widespread parts of the country including Durban, Grahamstown, King William's Town, Bloemfontein, George and Oudtshoorn, and even further afield in Salisbury Rhodesia where he designed the Anglican Cathedral and a house for Julius Weil, the general merchant. In 1902 Baker left his practice at the Cape in the hands of his partner and went to live in Johannesburg, where he built Stonehouse. On a visit to Britain in 1904 he married his cousin, Florence Edmeades, daughter of Gen. Henry Edmund Edmeades, bringing her back to Johannesburg, where two sons, the first of four children, were born. Baker quickly became noted for his work, and was commissioned by a number of the "Randlords" (the wealthy mining magnates of Johannesburg) to design houses, particularly in the suburbs of Parktown and Westcliff. He also designed commercial premises and public buildings. In 1909 Herbert Baker was commissioned to design the Government Building of the Union of South Africa (which was formed on 31 May 1910) in Pretoria. Pretoria was to become the administrative centre for the new government. In November 1910 the cornerstone of the Union Building was laid. Lord Selborne and H. C. Hull, a member of the first Union Cabinet, chose Meintjieskop as the site for Baker's design. The site was that of a disused quarry and the existing excavations were used to create the amphitheatre, which was set about with ornamental pools, fountains, sculptures, balustrades and trees. The design consisted of two identical wings, joined by a semicircular colonnade forming the backdrop of the amphitheatre. The colonnade was terminated on either side by a tower. Each wing had a basement and three floors above ground. The interiors were created in the Cape Dutch Style with carved teak fanlights, heavy doors, dark ceiling beams contrasting with white plaster walls and heavy wood furniture. Baker used indigenous materials as far as possible. The granite was quarried on site while Buiskop sandstone was used for the courtyards. Stinkwood and Rhodesian teak were used for timber and wood panelling. The roof tiles and quarry tiles for the floors were made in Vereeniging. The Union Buildings were completed in 1913, after which Herbert Baker left for New Delhi from where he returned home to England.
In 1897, Cecil John Rhodes started large scale fruit farming in the Drakenstein Valley and commissioned Sir Herbert Baker to design his country retreat on the farm Nieuwedorp at Boschendal. In contrast to the spectacular mountain views, the brief was to design a simple country cottage combining Cape cottage features and incorporating indigenous yellowwood and stinkwood in the interior. It was intended to accommodate only Rhodes, his secretary and a butler. The first name recorded in the guestbook was that of Sir Alfred Milner, erstwhile Governor of the Cape Colony and British High Commissioner at the outbreak of the South African War (Boer War). The cottage was later to host the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, the Earl of Athlone, former Governor-General of South Africa and his wife Princess Alice, granddaughter of Queen Victoria. In the 1990s the cottage was revamped and refitted while preserving its character. It stands on Estate 20, one of the Founders’ Estates which form Phase 1 of the residential development of Boschendal.
The North Block, New Delhi
houses key government offices In 1912 Baker went to India to work with
Lutyens on the Secretariat building and Parliament House in New Delhi and
the bungalows of Members of Parliament. Baker designed the two Secretariat
buildings flanking the great axis leading to what was then the Viceroy of
India's Palace, now known as Rashtrapati Bhavan (President's House).
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