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TELFORD, Alexander Alan

Born: 1911 02 01
Died: 1976 01 11


Reg No: 630
Year registered: 1936

DipArch 1934 (Witwatersrand)

TELFORD's parents arrived in Cape Town in 1910, where his father became an engineer in the Post Office. A member of the Anglican Church, he was educated at the Grey Institute (now Grey High School) in Port Elizabeth and studied art under James Gardiner, the sculptor and artist. A slightly-built boy, he was a keen model maker and an avid reader, collecting cuttings of historical interest all his life. He matriculated in 1927, then studied architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand where he graduated with a Diploma in Architecture in August 1934. Herbert (1975) noted him as an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright. By 1936 he was in partnership with WH STUCKE & HARRISON in Johannesburg. In 1936 the firm exhibited his drawing for 'Department store and flats, Kerk St, Johannesburg' at the South African Academy [of Arts] Exhibition, although it is not certain which flats and store they described. In 1937 he had his drawings for Fatti's new building exhibited with drawings for Alro Gardens flats, at the South African Academy [of Arts] exhibition (1937). He won the £2 500 house category in the Natal Daily News 'Ideal Homes Competition' 1937/1938. By 1938-1939 he was in partnership with REID & MARTIN and then, by 1939-1940 with REID, MARTIN & PARTNERS. By 1945 the firm had become REID, MARTIN, MURRAY & TELFORD.

In 1938 TELFORD married Joyce Maude Malebysse Smith, granddaughter of Charles Thomas Smith, the last judge of the Cape Colony to be appointed by the British government. They had two sons and a daughter.

During the Second World War (1939-45) he enlisted in 1940, and was posted to the 20th Field Park Company of the South African Engineering Corps, before being transferred to Defence Headquarters to design camps and hospitals. His Christmas cards at this time became well known to the public. After the war he returned to private practice and was responsible for the enlargement of the Herbert BAKER church, St Martin-in-the-Veld, at Rosebank, Johannesburg, and later for the new church.

In 1956 he illustrated TV Bulpin's Lost trails of the Transvaal and later books by Thelma Gutsche, AN Boyce, AR Willcox, PJ Schoeman, DB van Wyk, AP Cartwright, Norman Moorat and lastly (in part) Patricia Storrar's George Rex: death of a legend (1974). His drawing of Schoonderzicht, Cape Town, in the above book (after a photograph by Dr Mary Cook and Mary Gunn) is the only picture extant of this historic building. TELFORD was also responsible for the large historical drawings entitled Scenes from South Africa, produced by the Shell Company of South Africa.

As well as writing and illustrating articles, such as that on the Drommedaris which appeared in Africana Notes and News and another on early land transport in SESA (both infra), he published A visit to the Dromedaris (sic) (1951), his first book, which was translated into Afrikaans by JLJ van Rensburg in 1969; Johannesburg; some sketches of the golden metropolis (1969); and Yesterday's dress: a history of costume in South Africa (1972).

His scale models of horse-drawn vehicles can be seen at the Transport Museum, Johannesburg, and his drawings of old ships and models at the Millwood House Museum, Knysna, where he retired in 1970.

A modest, helpful, and balanced man, with a photographic memory, Telford spent all his lunch hours in museums and libraries, carrying a pencil in his pocket to sketch anything of interest that might come his way. One of his sayings was that 'One life is not long enough to do all the interesting things I would like to do.'

(ISAA Ybks 1938-39; ISAA mem list; Natal Daily News Ideal Homes competition catalogue 1937/38)

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 by TELFORD

Telford, AA. 1969. Johannesburg; some sketches of the golden metropolis. Cape Town: Books of Africa

Telford, AA. 1972. Yesterday's dress : a history of costume in South Africa. Cape Town: Purnell

Books citing TELFORD

Bulpin, TV. 1956. Lost trails of the Transvaal. Cape Town: Timmins. pp Illustrations

Bulpin, TV. 1968. To the banks of the Zambezi. Cape Town: Books of Africa. pp Cover and all line illustrations

Bulpin, TV. 1959. Trail of the copper king. Cape Town: Timmins. pp All line illustrations

Bulpin, TV. 1969. Islands in a forgotten sea. Cape Town: Books of Africa. pp Cover and all line illustrations

Herbert, Gilbert. 1975. Martienssen & the international style: The modern movement in South African architecture. Cape Town - Rotterdam: AA Balkema. pp 161

HSRC. 1987. Dictionary of South African Biography Volume V. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pp 764-765

ISAA. 1959. The Yearbook of the Institute of South African Architects and Chapter of SA Quantity Surveyors 1958-1959 : Die Jaarboek van die Instituut van Suid-Afrikaanse Argitekte en Tak van Suid-Afrikaanse Bourekenaars 1958-1959. Johannesburg: ISAA. pp 97, 192

ISAA. 1969. The Yearbook of the Institute of South African Architects and Chapter of SA Quantity Surveyors 1968-1969 : Die Jaarboek van die Instituut van Suid-Afrikaanse Argitekte en Tak van Suid-Afrikaanse Bourekenaars 1968-1969. Johannesburg: ISAA. pp 101, 134

Potgieter, DJ (Editor-in-chief). 1974. Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa [SESA] Volume 10 Sle-Tun. Cape Town: Nasou. pp 568-572; 573-576