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Reminiscences on Pat Shillington

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Author:GLEN, Monica
In:Unpublished letter to Artefacts
Date:2012
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Pat SHILLINGTON

When I was 17 I was working for Franklin K. KENDALL, Architect and representative in Cape Town of Sir Herbert BAKER - that most successful of architects. Pat was, as well as a ‘partner’, supervisor of the office.s I got on well with him, mainly, I think, because I crossed his deafness handicap with his ability to lip read me. I used to answer the phone for him. It was quite a strain because he had a short fuse and so did his builders! There was swearing on both sides of the phone, which I filtered out, leaving the two men to accept the end of the phone calls - I had brothers who swore, so I was not fazed.

Pat kept a watch on the ‘office’ which consisted of F-f-f-f-f-Fleming, an English architect with the most appalling stammer, a kind heart and brilliant draughtsmanship at quazi-medieval drawings for the new building of a Neo-Gothic Cathedral across the street. There was "Woody", a draughtsman of great conceit and knowledgeable in Old Cape Dutch furniture. There was the typist, separate from the architectural staff. And then there was me, the junior, 17 years old, but not built for Architecture in those days. I was 5 foot 2 and too short to reach the top of my double-elephant drawing board. I did the blue-prints in the shed on the roof of the building, answered Pat's phone if he reached 'boiling point', and I was a general rouse-about, helping the typist with tea, etc. Often Pat, who worked on the other side of the partition, would come round to my side, pen in hand with a look of angry query at me. I had slammed back a large drawer in the partition wall chest and thumped his working hand. Or I did a little jig of tap-dancing in friskiness - he thought I was fighting with "Woody". Not so. I was just young.

I went with him, by train, to do his Final Check of his house in Rondebosch. It was a lovely modern house, and I let him know I appreciated it. He used a large panel of glass bricks so shed light on the dog-leg stair hall - wonderful - the first in Cape Town. He also installed a double-bowl-double drainer stainless-steel sink - the first in Cape Town, too. I was most envious of that, we lived in a fine, late Victorian house in Wynberg which only had a china sink with two teak draining boards.

On the way to Rondebosch by passenger train I was able to converse with him using only my lips - no-one in the train could know what we were talking about. His voice was harsh and took some time to understand.

On entering this grand new MODERN house we were confronted by a small stinkwood occasional table. It had cabriole legs and a white crochet cover with a small vase of stiff everlastings. Pat grimaced at it, I laughed - the new owners of this wonderful new Modern House - what did they do? They put their modern "antique" Dutch taste in it. What a shocker! Poor Pat. I did feel sorry for him.

I admired Pat. He had a dreadful handicap which he handled with angry determination. He gave me "Modern Architecture" magazines to read - full of "interpenetration of spaces" which I considered cods-wallop and which put me off "Modern Architecture" COMPLETELY. Pat was, I think, proud of his ability to speak and to lip read. I have seen him roughly brush aside a greeting in Deaf and Dumb language and go into normal speech.

I was detailed to design a bell-tower for the PNIEL Church, Groot Drakenstein, to be built for the Church which was a good 100 years old. It was to be in the the traditional slave-bell style - two plastered brick columns joined with a small plastered arch between for hanging the bell. The freed slaves had been Christian - unusual in the early 1800's.

With great enthusiasm I set to and did a beautiful piece of work. When Pat saw it he hit the roof. It was rubbish, not architectural - dreadful. He gave me a lecture on Architectural proportions and told me to re-do it. Which I did, to his satisfaction - it stands there today in the large open churchyard. I never saw the finished article, but my family calls it "MONICA'S church bell-tower".

I decided architecture was not for me, and switched over to Quantity Surveying instead at twice the pay but not the same cultural interest.

So, there you are, Pat Shillington as a young man, in the flesh. I was fond of him, if one could be fond of such a package of tight anger. He had no quarrel with my boring Roman Letter Choir stall memorials for the new cathedral, or even the heart-breaking memorial for Lord Hyde, commissioned by the grieving father, the Earl of Clarendon, the Governor General of South Africa.

I am now 93, it's a long way back to remember. By the way, technically am I the oldest surviving member of Sir Herbert BAKER's staff?

Sincerely yours,

MONICA GLEN (nee McMillan).

[2012]