Was born at Mossel Bay in 1878, according to his son Edmund Robert DELBRIDGE and trained in the offices 'of the two most distinguished London Architects of his student days' from 1898 to 1904. From what DELBRIDGE wrote later, is is likely that these teachers were Claude Brewer (Smith & Brewer) and WR Lethaby or just Smith and Brewer: 'there he learnt how to design private houses in a singularly beautiful and human way, and how to appreciate architecture in all its forms' (obituary in 'Cape Press' (21 Oct 1946 by FK KENDALL.) DELBRIDGE admired the British architect William Lethaby, and frequently referred to him in talks he gave in Cape Town. On his return to South Africa he worked in the office of E SCHAUFFELBERG, a Swiss architect then living at the Cape, until Schauffelberg himself won a competition for an opera house in Belgium and returned to Europe. DELBRIDGE became an Associate member of the RIBA in 1904, unfortunately his RIBA nomination papers have gone astray. In about 1917 he entered into partnership with AH REID & W REID in Cape Town (cf REID & DELBRIDGE) and in about 1922 WAR FALLON joined the firm (cf REID, DELBRIDGE & FALLON).
In 1916 and 1921 DELBRIDGE was President of the Cape Institute of Architects. During the 1916 term of office DELBRIDGE showed particular concern for the controversial matter of registration of architects, later made law through the Architects' and Quantity Surveyors' Private Act No. 18 of 1927. He was closely involved in founding the School of Architecture in Cape Town. In 1917 DELBRIDGE helped found and was co-editor of the periodical The Architect and Builder, the title was changed to The Architect, Builder & Engineer in 1918, a leading professional journal in South Africa. In 1923 he represented the Cape Institute of Architects at the Conference on Architectural Education held in Durban. DELBRIDGE wrote a number of editorials which provide some insight into this period. A sensitive if reactionary critic of art and architecture, he rarely failed to speak out on a considerable variety of subjects and his views probably reflected certain colours of opinion during the first half of the twentieth century in Cape Town. He particularly admired architects such as WR Lethaby and found it hard to appreciate the new design such as that displayed at the Paris Exhibition of 1925 which 'filled him ... with a sense of restlessness and alarm ... (the buildings) were much worse than the extreme vagaries and vulgarities of the so-called new art movement which began little more than two decades ago.' He singled out the Czechoslovakian Pavilion, likening it to 'a worm in a fit' (AB&E Aug 1925:3). DELBRIDGE's opinions on modern architecture resembled those of Hilaire Belloc which received publicity about the same time and were also given space in the Architect, Builder and Engineer. He was articulate and defended what he valued. When, in the 1920s, it was proposed to demolish the Cape Town City Hall and build on the Grand Parade, DELBRIDGE battled to save both the city hall as a piece of Victoriana, not then a popular style. The city hall and the Parade survived. DELBRIDGE died suddenly of heart failure at the Tivoli Hotel in Klerksdorp while working there, and was buried in Plumstead cemetery. DELBRIDGE married Euphemia Garven Mackinlay, youngest daughter of John Mackinlay of Musselburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland in 1906; they had two sons and a daughter; one son, Edmund Robert DELBRIDGE, also became an architect. There is a portrait of DELBRIDGE in the Architect, Builder & Engineer (June 1922).
Obituary in the Cape Times of 1946 10 22
"Death Mr. W. J. Delbridge
Well-known City Architect
MR. WILLIAM JOHN DELBRIDGE, 69, a well-known Cape Town architect, died of heart failure in Klerksdorp on Sunday.
He was one of South Africa's pioneer architects, and it was due to his insistent efforts that the old Cape Institute of Architects was founded. He was its president in 1916 and 1921.
He was also the moving force in the formation of a national body of architects, the initial conference of which was held in Durban in 1923.
Mr. Delbridge, who was born in Mossel Bay, trained in the offices of two of the most distinguished London architects of his student days.
There he learnt how to design private houses in a singularly beautiful and human way, and how to appreciate architecture in all its forms. He travelled extensively on the Continent to study Gothic architecture, one of his main interests, especially French Gothic designs.
Throughout his life he was greatly interested in the arts and crafts associated with building, and was never more pleased than when he found it possible to include in a design the original work of some local craftsman.
He took a keen interest in the cause of architectural education and was the prime mover in the founding of the Cape School of Architecture in Cape Town. It was almost entirely due to his energy and enthusiasm that this school became so successful that it was ultimately taken over by the University of Cape Town.
Throughout his career he was most unselfishly concerned with the progress of younger members of his profession in Cape Town, and went out of his way to assist them in their professional careers.
He was at one time editor of the Architect, Builder and Engineer, a professional journal which was very highly thought of in the Union, but is no longer published. He was exceptionally well read and was a brilliant speaker on many subjects.
For many years he was associated with Messrs. A. and W. Reid. He designed the Polana Hotel at Lourenco Marques.
He is survived by his widow, a son and a daughter."
ARIBA 1904; FCPIA; ISAA 1927. (AB&E Jun 1920:15; AB&E Aug 1921:3-7; AB&E Jun 1922, port; AB&E Aug 1925:3; AB&E Jan 1934:41; Cape Press, 21.10.1946; Cape Times annual 1933:21-3, 204-25; DELBRIDGE 1984; Langham-Carter MS; SAWW 1916 TAD MHG 5198/46)
Publ: Wanted: a town planning act for the Union, Building Dec 1918: Men and materials, AB&E Aug 1921:13; The public gets what it deserves, AB&E Nov 1921:5; The copy cat, AB&E Apr 1928:7; Modern architecture in Cape Town, Cape Times Annual 1933:21-23; 204-25; Composing and detail curves in Greek architecture, A&B Nov 1917:105-8 ill; Exhibition monstrosities, AB&E Aug 1925:3; War and architecture, A&B Jun 1918:380-82; In memoriam - CCB, (CC Brewer), AB&E Dec 1918:7; The art-egg circle, AB&E Apr 1933; Simple talks on art no 2: the horse (again), AB&E Jun 1933:12; Simplicity in architecture, AB&E Sep 1937:9/11; Studies in the simpler arts, AB&E May 1933:24-25; The pipe of dreams: a tribute to FK KENDALL, AB&E Nov 1936:20-21; Our own building materials, SA Archt Jun 1940:112-13.
Submitted an entry for the Competition for the new Prime Minister's Residence - unplaced.
This record has been corrected by DELBRIDGE's granddaughter, Jackie Diesveld (nee Delbridge) who also sent the photograph and obituary.
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.