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ELLIS, Thomas Gordon

Born: 1887 01 16
Died: 1940 12 10


Year registered: 1927

Reg Student RIBA 1910; Mem Council ATA 1918-9; MIA; ARIBA 1913

Senior partner in the well-known firm of COWIN, POWERS & ELLIS and son of Samuel Ellis of Nutbrook, Umtentweni in Natal, Ellis was born in Ladysmith and educated at Weenen County College (then Weston College, Highlands) where GE PEARSE was also educated. He studied architecture under Frederick CHATTERTON from August 1905 for just over a year, probably while Chatterton was working in Pietermaritzburg. In November 1906 he entered the office of McINTOSH & MOFFAT in Johannesburg, continuing his studies at the Transvaal University College in Johannesburg for six months. He the left for England arriving in London in July 1907, working again for Chatterton, as junior assistant in the office of Chatterton & Couch in London until March 1908.

In June 1908 he joined the office of Neville S Ward and prepared for his RIBA final examination under EG Page, sitting the examination in July 1910. During the winters of 1910 and 1911 he attended Professor AE Richardson's lectures on architectural design and history at the polytechnic in Regent Street, remaining in Ward's office until June 1913 as an assistant. He was given 'a good deal of responsibility' (ARIBA nom papers 1913), executing the Golf Club House, Denham in Buckinghamshire where Sir Banister Fletcher and Sir Giles Scott played golf. During this period Ellis spent most vacations on study trips: Italy (August 1909); Oxford (August 1910); Belgium (September 1911); Glasgow and Edinburgh (July 1912.) He passed his RIBA final examination in 1913, was elected an Associate of the RIBA and returned to South Africa in the same year. On his return he worked for a few months in the office of BAKER & FLEMING in Johannesburg before he joined GE PEARSE in partnership (cf. PEARSE & ELLIS), practising mainly on the East Rand in Germiston, Brakpan and Springs. On the outbreak of the First World War Ellis took charge of the partners' Johannesburg office and he and HW SPICER helped keep the architectural classes going at the School of Mines and Technology, Johannesburg thus helping to lay the foundations of a School of Architecture for the future University of the Witwatersrand.

In 1919 he returned to London at the invitation of Ward but came back to South Africa in 1921 to join COWIN & POWERS in partnership (cf. COWIN, POWERS & ELLIS) and taking charge of the Pretoria office. He also instructed evening classes at the Pretoria Technical College; the classes were the forerunners of the School of Architecture at the University of Pretoria. After EM POWERS settled in Durban, practising on his own account in 1936, the firm became COWIN & ELLIS. In 1915 ELLIS married Elizabeth Robertson (who had a Masters degree in classics from Edinburgh University), she later advised on the correct Latin inscription on the archway built over the centre part of the Hartebeestpoort dam wall, which may imply that TG ELLIS designed the triumphal arch, erected to provide structural mass to the wall's water-retaining strength (Ellis 1986). His last residence was 184 Eastwood St, Pretoria. Ellis was also a Freemason and a Past Master of Transvaal Lodge, Pretoria.

(Abbott 1991; ARIBA nom papers (1913) 2417; Building Mar 1921:454; Ellis 1985, 1986; SAAR Jan 1941:59-60 obit; SAWW 1931/32, 1935, 1940; TAD MHG 8/41) Publ: Professional ethics, Building Dec 1918:217; The pediment and the gable, Building Dec 1918:223-233; The pediment and the gable, Building Mar 1919: 246-53; Party walls, Building Sep 1921.

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.

List of projects

With photographs
With notes

Burlington Chambers: 1934. Pretoria, Gauteng - Project Architect
Masonic Hall: c1913. Brakpan, Gauteng - Architect
Mines Offices with PEARSE: c1913. Brakpan, Gauteng - Architect
Recreation Halls at Springs and Brakpan Mines: c1913. Brakpan, Gauteng - Architect

Books citing ELLIS

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

Herbert, Gilbert. 1975. Martienssen & the international style: The modern movement in South African architecture. Cape Town - Rotterdam: AA Balkema. pp 7, 8

HSRC. 1987. Dictionary of South African Biography Volume V. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pp 238-239

SAWW & Donaldson, K. 1935. South African Who's Who (Social and Business) 1935. Cape Town: Ken Donaldson. pp 63