Much of Northampton’s building heritage that remains today is a credit to a succession of Victorian architects who were commissioned to erect new public, private and community buildings. Many of these buildings were funded by either public subscription or the members of particular organisations.
Northampton still has a significant collection of Nonconformist Chapels, although sadly some have been demolished after falling out of use, redevelopment and ‘improvement’ schemes and even some abandoned projects.
Hugh Henry Dyer, often known simply as ‘H H Dyer’ or Harry Dyer to his friends, has one of the longer lists of buildings to his credit. He was commissioned as the architect of several of the town chapels a few further afield. He does not appear to have formally trained as an architect and only joined that profession later in life having worked as a carpenter, then a builder before describing himself as an Architect and Surveyor.
Dyer was well-known in Nonconformist circles in Northampton and Northamptonshire, and even further afield. He was a staunch Wesleyan Methodist and a Liberal although he never took any very prominent part in public life. He attended Queens Road Church, now a furniture store on the corner of Queens Road and the Kettering Road, where at various times he has held most of the offices at the church. In church life, he was a treasurer, a Sunday School superintendent, and a year before his death he received a Sunday School Union1 long service diploma at Northampton for 40 years’ work in the Sunday School. Dyer however should be remembered in Northampton for the chapels which he designed.
The Dyer family
Dyer was born in Caversham, Oxfordshire2 in 1830 the son of Hugh and Ann Dyer. His father had died in 1835. In the 1841 census the family had split up and only his mother and two sisters remained in Caversham. Hugh next appears in the 1851 census aged 21 as a lodger and working as a carpenter in Leek, Staffordshire. Hugh married Catherine Freebody in Hungerford in 1853 and appears in the 1861 census still as a carpenter in Welford, Berkshire. Hugh seems to have progressed slowly in his career as by 1871 he was then living in Ramsbury, Wiltshire describing himself as a ‘builder’. In 1873 he had constructed a new police station for Swindon, although this may not have been a financial success he hoped for, from local press reports3
The family moved to Northampton in the 1870s to construct one or two villas on Billing-Road opposite St. Andrew’s Hospital. The family were living close by at 14 Vernon Terrace.
An early newspaper advertisement suggests that it may have been his own house that was put up for sale in 1877, presumably to fund a move or further house building projects.
In the following year, it is clear that chapel work as an architect was already contributing in part of his business, in this example of a Sunday School room at Moulton.
!878 was a busy year as the next month we find him engaged in the scheme to build the Abington Square Mission building. This interesting advertisement introduces another member of the Dyer family. Thomas Dyer was the younger brother of Hugh. Thomas had come to Northampton in the 1850s and lived at 14 Wellington Street. He worked as a leather merchant or currier. In the 1880s he was on several occasions a representative of College Street Baptist Church at regional and national meetings so may have been a Deacon of the church at the time.4 Thomas later moved to the Kettering Road Primitive Methodist chapel. He was also a director and treasurer of the Temperance Hall Company Ltd. In later life much of his time was spent as secretary of the Abington Square Mission a non-denominational mission hall and actively supported by both the Nonconformists and the Established Church5. The enterprise proved to be a great success, continuing in use until about 1974. Hugh supported his brother in this venture, participating in fund-raising events for the mission.
Later in 1878 one of the two villas on the Billing Road was ready for sale.
By the time of the 1881 census, still describing himself as a builder, Hugh and his family had moved to 42 St Michael’s Road which was to remain his home until he died in 1902. In this 1881 census, we also find his son Thomas Dyer, aged 18, now described as an ‘Architect’s clerk’.
It was not until the 1891 census that Hugh described himself as an Architect and Surveyor rather than a builder, but he found that profession ‘more congenial to his tastes’6.
Hugh Henry Dyer died on 19 January 1902. He seems to have suffered a mild stroke 10 days or so previously but was well enough to out and about a week before his death. He left his widow Catherine and four children, Hugh Dyer of Reading, Tom Dyer of Leeds, Miss Kate Dyer of Northampton and Miss Frances Anne Dyer of Kingsbridge, Devon.
The funeral took place at Northampton on Tuesday, 21 January at Queen’s Road Wesleyan Church, which the Dyer family always attended. The service was conducted by the Rev. H Hodder, who gave a short address appreciative of the life and work of Mr Dyer. The hymns sung were “Nearer my God to Thee” and ” A Charge to Keep.” The organist played the Dead March from “Saul” as the mourners left the church. The interment took place in the Billing Road Cemetery.
A memorial stained glass window was placed in the Queens Road Church. When the Queens Road Church closed in 1962 the window was moved to Kingsley Park Methodist Church where it remains.
He was the architect for the following buildings, and probably many others:
- Abington Square Mission Church (1878)
- Wesleyan School, Moulton (1878)
- Queens Road Wesleyan Church. Northampton (1887) (Now Jones the Furnishers)
- Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Northampton (1887)
- Northampton Temperance Hall, Newland (1887)
- Young Men’s Rooms at College Street Church, Northampton (1887) (Now New Testament Church of God)
- Princes Street Baptist Church, Northampton (1890)
- Independent Wesleyan Schools, Rushden (1890)
- Reordering the New Jerusalem Church, Overstone Rad for use as a Synagogue (1890)
- New Church (Swedenborgian), Northampton (1890)
- Board Schools, Castlethorpe (1891)
- Wesleyan Church, Towcester (1893)
- Freeman Memorial Church, Bletchley (1895)
- Wesleyan School Chapel, Osborne Road, Northampton (1895) (Now The Gospel Hall)
- Kingsley Park Wesleyan Church, Northampton (1898)
- Adapting the old Unitarian Church, King-street, Northampton, for the Young Men’s Christian Association (1898)
- Harlestone-Road Primitive Methodist Church, Northampton (1899)
- Stimpson-Avenue Wesleyan Church, Northampton (1900) (Later known as Trinity Methodist, Wellingborough Road. Now in retail use.)
- Baptist Church, Park Road, Rushden (1901)
- Several factories and villas in Northampton
- The Sunday School Union was an ecumenical organisation devoted to promoting Sunday schools in Britain and abroad. Most of the nonconformist chapels in the town were active members.
- Caversham was transferred to Berkshire in 1911 and is now part of Reading.
- ’The new Police Station at Swindon’, North Wilts Herald, 21 April 1873, p 5
- ’The Baptist Union at Leicester’, Northampton Mercury, 6 October 1883, p 6.
- ’Death of Mr T Dyer’, Northampton Chronicle and Echo 16 April 1910, p 4.
- ’Death of Mr H. H. Dyer, of Northampton’, Northampton Mercury, Friday 24 January 1902
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