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SLOPER, Ernest Willmott

Born: 1871
Died: 1916


Changed his name from Ernest WILLMOTT to Ernest SLOPER prior to his arrival in South Africa in 1902. Born in Britain and educated at Queen's College in Taunton, Somerset Willmott attended evening classes at Taunton Art School while working for an architect in Taunton, one Roberts, to whom he was possibly articled. At some point (n.d.) he worked for the Great Western Railway as a contractor's engineer in charge of the Kingsbridge line in Devon. It was at this time that he changed his name to Sloper (reverting back to Willmott on his return to Britain after 1906). During this period he designed 'a few cottages (which) revived my desire to become an architect' (RIBA nom papers). In the course of his work in Devon he met with the architect GF Bodley who invited him to work in his office in London (Bodley & Garner). Willmott's entry in Who's Who in Architecture (1914) notes that his 'knowledge of architecture was acquired under the (late) Thos Garner (after separation from Bodley) and with FI Thomas'. With Garner he made the drawings for the Empire Hotel, Buxton. Sloper then (n.d.) set up independent practice doing some competition work and with S Adshead won the competition for the Carnegie Free Library in Hawick, Northumberland. About this time (n.d.) he entered into partnership with Ambrose Poynter with whom he reconstructed Arncliffe Hall for Sir R Bell (n.d.). Sloper came out to South Africa in 1902 where he joined Herbert BAKER's office in Cape Town before accompanying Baker to Johannesburg the same year. In 1903 Sloper became a full partner in the firm of BAKER, MASEY & SLOPER. Baker thought highly of Sloper saying 'he showed great gifts in educating builders and craftsmen to better methods of building and the use of local materials. The excellence of the walling built of koppie stone was largely due to his perseverance and encouragement to the masons' (Baker 1944:56). Among Sloper's best known buildings in Johannesburg are Timewell (1905-6) for Howard Pim, Sloper's own house Endstead (1903), and Bishopskop (1904) for Archbishop Furze. His particular concern was the setting of the house and for this reason he attached great importance to the garden. An example of this was Howard Pim's house Timewell where he built stone retaining walls to create terraces planted with indigenous shrubs. It is possible this garden influenced Howard Pim's daughter Joane Pim who became a notable landscape gardener in Johannesburg. Sloper was keenly interested in architectural education and Professor GE PEARSE credited Sloper with initiating architectural education in the Transvaal: in 1903 Sloper started the classes in architectural design, of which Pearse was one of the first six pupils, at the School of Mines and Technology in Johannesburg (known as the 'Tin Temple'), HS MORRIS taught the history of architecture.

Sloper served on the Council of the Association of Transvaal Architects from 1905 until 1906, delivering a paper on domestic architecture (of which unfortunately no record has yet been found) to the Association by special invitation of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1905 he was elected a Fellow of the RIBA, his RIBA nomination papers (1905) mentioning the buildings in Johannesburg for which he was 'practically solely responsible' while with Baker's office. Many of these were listed again in his obituary in the Journal of the Association of Transvaal Architects, written by JM SOLOMON with additional contributions from H Baker and FLH FLEMING. Solomon drew attention to buildings on which Sloper had been 'principally engaged and into which his own individuality had entered to a considerable extent' (Jnl ATA Sep 1916). These buildings are listed here, being representative of Sloper's work in South Africa. In 1906 he attended the 7th International Congress of Architects, London, representing the Transvaal Institute of Architects (RIBA Jnl 1905/6:447) and appears to have remained in England due to the depression in South Africa. He relinquished his share in Baker's partnership in 1907 although he continued to look after some of Baker's English business for a time. In England Sloper resumed the name Willmott under which name he wrote The English country house (1911), a critique of English domestic architecture of the late 1890s and early 1900s, Baker himself ordered two copies of the book from the publishers at the time of publication. His selection of work was significant and discerning since most of those included currently rank among the classic contributors in the field: Newton, Dawber, LUTYENS, May, Weir Schultz, Lorimer and others (he included his own design of the house at Shorne Hill) and of Baker's houses he illustrated interiors only.

Sloper went on to design Shorne Hill, an orphanage for All Saints Convent in St Alban's; Amersfort in Berkhamsted; a house at Lympne with Herbert Baker for Sir Phillip Sassoon and All Saints' Home in Margaret Street, Westminster. Towards the end of his life Sloper lived at Bramleys, Little Kingshill, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire in England where he died.

FRIBA Johannesburg 1906. (Baker Letter Books 1902-1907; Graddidge 1980; Greig 1970:270; FRIBA nom papers (1906); Jnl ATA Sep 1916:27, 28, 29, 30, 31 obits; Pearse c1960; Picton-Seymour 1977; SAAE&S Jnl Aug 1906:164; SAAR Jul 1946:163, 172; SESA 2:136; WW in Arch 1914)

Publ: English house design, Batsford 1911 Johannesburg (BAKER MASEY & SLOPER): 'A number of houses erected at Parktown by the Braamfontein Estate Co Ltd immediately after the Anglo-Boer War' (Eckstein's compound?) (Jnl ATA Sep 1916:27), '... and six others for the Eckstein Co' (FRIBA nom papers 1906) 1902;

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

Books citing SLOPER

Baker, Herbert. 1944. Architecture & personalities. London: Country Life. pp 56

Brown, SM. 1969. Architects and others: an annotated list of people of South African interest appearing in the RIBA Journal 1880 1925. Johannesburg: Unpublished dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand. pp