Born In Ashton

Sir George Grenfell-Baines

by Simon Green

Click image for link to details of the sculpture



Sir George Grenfell-Baines (1908-2003) lived an impressive and principled life. Born the son of a railway worker in Ashton, he went on to found one of the UK's largest architectural practices.

'GG' as he was often known, studied first at Roebuck Street School, went on to Harris College in Preston and then gained his architecture qualifications at Manchester University. After qualifying, success, it seems, came almost instantly. Using his university thesis, he won third prize in a contest to design a new Parliament House in Southern Rhodesia. Sir George used the prize money to found his own practice.

Practice grows

Over the next ten years, and thanks partly to the Second World War, the practice expanded quickly to five offices located throughout the North. Later permutations of his business would expand to London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the company would work on projects in the US, the Middle East and Portugal. Such was his prestige that Sir George was the only northern architect to design a pavilion at the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Strong personality

According to The Independent's obituary, Sir George: 'used the force of his considerable personality to take modern architecture to the mill town of his birth and throughout Britain'. His strong personality meant that he was not afraid to clash with the established London-based architects of the day.


Buildings

The list of buildings that his practice created over the years includes towns across the whole of the UK.

  • Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire
  • Buildings for British Nuclear Fuels at Sellafield in Cumbria
  • The headquarters for the Halifax Building Society
  • Millburngate Shopping Centre in Durham
  • ... and many more.

In Preston his practice is perhaps most famous for the bus station, which, although controversial now, won numerous awards and accolades when built.

Principles into Practice

Sir George held on to his left-wing beliefs throughout his life. He put his principles into practice, pioneering the notion that all professions and trades in the building process were of equal value. He established a profit-sharing scheme with staff and provided health benefits, pension schemes and sabbaticals, concepts which many people take for granted now but which were almost unheard of at the time.

According to the Independent, Sir George's influence: "was less as an individual designer than in his dogged application of radical, co-operative, socialist principles to the management of design and engineering."

Sir George was awarded the OBE in 1960 and was given a knighthood in 1978. He died in 2003 but the company he founded is still going strong today, designing famous projects such as the Liverpool One development.

His example shows that Prestonians can reach the very top of their profession. Freddie Flintoff and Nick Park may be more famous Prestonians, but Sir George's achievements in his own profession are just as striking. Even today, years after his death, the company he founded celebrates his life on its website, reflecting the strength both of his personality and of his achievements.


Sources

Sir George Grenfell-Baines' obituary in The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1431794/Sir-George-Grenfell-Baines.html

We also used The Independent's obituary of Sir George Grenfell-Baines, which is no longer available online.

Thanks

Thanks to the ashtononribble.com reader who originally informed us about Sir George.

Thanks to BDP for giving us their kind permission to use the photo.


AJP Taylor

AJP Taylor, possibly the UK’s most famous historian, spent many of his formative years in Ashton. The place where he was brought up now has Ashton’s only blue plaque.

AJP Taylor was one of the first television historians beginning his appearances in the 1950s on the BBC. He was particularly famous as a controversialist, whose books were frequently at odds with established opinion.