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FREEMAN, Charles AS

Born: 1833
Died: 1911 01 19

Architect


'I was lucky in getting engaged by a well-known architect, but found he was most unprofessional - being an agent for Macfarlane's Castings and plate glass. Naturally every building had these materials freely used in them. The present expanse of plate glass shop fronts in Adderley (Street) is greatly due to old Charlie Freeman, the Architect, and a well known figure in those days, walking the streets in shirt-sleeves with his coat over his arm on hot days' (COPE CHRISTIE 1944:1). Freeman was born in Prestbury, Gloucestershire, England and was apprenticed for four years to George Clarke, an architect and builder at Wotton Haven near Warwick in England. He worked in Cheltenham and in Warwick for several years and supervised the erection of St Mark's Church in Cheltenham which had been designed by one Middleton. Freeman also apparently designed St Mark's Parsonage and several villas on Bay's Hill in Cheltenham. He arrived in Natal about 1863 to take up a position with the Government in Pietermaritzburg, supervising the erection of the Law Courts and Government House. He also apparently designed the Government Buildings in Durban and several bridges in Natal, spending about eight years in Natal before leaving for health reasons. He apparently intended returning to England when a job with the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in Cape Town was advertised and he was appointed draughtsman and surveyor (temporary) under the Chief Inspector of Public Works in December 1871. Picton-Seymour points out (DSAB IV:166-7) that Freeman never became a member of an architectural institution nor did he join any architectural society. His initial training with an architect/builder seems to have led him to adopt an architect/builder stance in his professional life. Freeman's most important work was his design for the new Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, a full account of which see Radford (1979:237-8). Freeman was one of seven competitors, and the only colonial, for the new building and in November 1874 he was announced the winner. His subsequent dismissal from this position in February 1876 led to the case being led before a select committee. The ensuing discussion centred on both unrealistic initial costs and general lack of experience in handling the commission by all involved. Freeman was not re-appointed architect and building was resumed only in 1879, the job being taken over by HS GREAVES. Freeman left the PWD in 1876 and went into practice on his own account. Wendland (SALQB Dec 1967:53-4) pointed out that Freeman's career did not suffer as a result of the publicity surrounding his dismissal. He went on to execute a great number of works, including most of Victorian Adderley Street. AG HOWARD remarked 'from 1876 his name became well-known in the town, in fact at first he had the field to himself' (SAAE&S Jnl Aug 1907:196). Freeman apparently employed a large staff once his business was established and, as already noted, he became an agent for MacFarlane's Castings and set up business in Cape Town as 'Freeman & Co' in 1894 dealing in hardware. His business premises in Strand Street were built in about 1902-1903 after his amalgamation with Thomas Ross. The Architect and Builder (May 1918:343) shows a large, five-storeyed building with a steeply pitched roof surmounted by sky-writing in cast iron advertising his wares and the building is comparatively free of surface decoration, representing a later trend in his work. Freeman was also a director of the Green Point Tramway Co. His vigorous practice and his flamboyant and eccentric personality was well-known. The builder Benning recorded that Freeman was known to be fond of pulling down yesterday's work, his eccentricity being that he freely paid for such rectifications. Freeman died at his home Thornhill, Green Point, Cape Town.

(Juta's CT dir 1902; SAB Dec 1932:11, 13: Reminiscences by a pioneer builder, A Benning; SALQLB Dec 1967:51-59 by W Wendland; Day & De Wet Gift, UCT Libr)

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.