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MOFFAT, John Abraham

Born: 1871 04 17
Died: 1941 02


Worked in Johannesburg from 1903 until his retirement in 1939. The most complete source of information about Moffat's life exists in the biographical files in the RIBA Archives, London. This has supplied most of the information for this entry.

Moffat was born in Manchester, England, the son of John Moffat. As a child he left with his family for New Zealand (either c1872 or c1876). After a short time in New Zealand the family settled in Sydney, Australia, where they remained until after Jack (John) had matriculated at the age of fourteen; his brother Walter (WG MOFFAT) was born in Australia (1880). The family then moved to Brisbane, Queensland where Moffat was articled to Clark & Pye and also attended Brisbane Technical College. He then joined his father's business. The nature of this business is not certain but seems to have been connected with building.

In 1895 he came to South Africa. After a period of service with the CAPE GOVERNMENT RAILWAYS he settled in Johannesburg, entering the office of CARTER & McINTOSH as chief draughtsman in 1897, the same year he married.

Men of the Times (1905:245) states Moffat came to Johannesburg in 1895 and 'immediately joined the firm of Carter & McIntosh, becoming a partner in the following year. Through the death of Mr Carter in 1900 the name was changed to that of McINTOSH & MOFFAT'. Following his father's death in Australia (n.d.), the whole family, his mother, elder brother William, five sisters and Walter, came to South Africa, only William returned to settle in Australia; since Walter was apprenticed to Carter & McIntosh in 1896, his father's death must have occurred 1895/1896 (?).

During the Anglo-Boer War, Moffat joined the ROYAL ENGINEERS and helped build hospitals, defence works, blockhouses and refugee camps, spending some time in Kimberley. He returned to Johannesburg in about 1902 and recommenced practice as a principal in McIntosh & Moffat (cf McINTOSH & MOFFAT). Moffat's interest in town planning was apparent from about this time. He may have been an owner and speculator in land himself since several areas in the Transvaal were named after him, among them Moffat View (proclaimed 1946) and Moffat Park in Klip River Township in Johannesburg. In 1904 he designed the layout of Waverley, a residential suburb in Johannesburg which he named after a suburb of the same name in Australia (Sydney?). The main streets are named after members of his family and colleagues. Moffat was involved in town planning for most of his career.

McIntosh & Moffat was a vigorous practice, by 1905 the partners had designed a large number of buildings north of Eloff Street near Park Station, mainly shops and offices. In about 1905, McIntosh having settled in Pretoria where he ran an office, Moffat looked after the Johannesburg office. A letter (BLB 13 Apr 1911) Moffat consulted Herbert BAKER about the design of the elevation, 'scale and verticality' of Chudleigh's Building, Johannesburg, for which advice he paid BAKER a fee. In 1906 Moffat wanted to return to Sydney but the great depression in Australia put an end to his plans. He was appointed to the Johannesburg Town Council on which he served from 1908 until 1919, with a break of a year in 1909, and was chairman of the Sewerage Committee for a number of years. His partnership with McIntosh ended in 1908, Moffat continuing on his own account in Johannesburg before entering into partnership with J HARVEY in 1928 (cf MOFFAT & HARVEY).

In 1911 Moffat visited England, one of several overseas trips having visited Australia on occasion. He resigned from the ATA in 1911. In that same year he had submitted two competition entries (No's 27 and 121) for the Canberra Parliament, Australia (Reps, 1997: 139, 342-343). About 1917 Moffat entered into partnership with his brother Walter, who was in Durban (cf MOFFAT JA & WG); c1925 JA was briefly in partnership with his son JAC MOFFAT and WA KELL (cf MOFFAT, SON & KELL), the two last working in Durban. In the General United directory of South Africa (1915) JA Moffat was listed working in Manica Road, Salisbury (Harare) in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and in 1920 he won the competition for the design of Warmbaths Township, which until that date had been known as Hartingsburg.

Moffat entered into partnership with John HARVEY in 1928 and during the partnership (1928-1936) came to depend greatly on Harvey, particularly after a severe car accident in about 1933 which Moffat had near one of his three farms, The Glen at Klipriviersberg in the Eastern Transvaal. For some years Moffat had turned more and more to farming. Besides The Glen, Moffat had two other farms in the Lydenburg district: Watanope and Eerstegeluk near Steelpoort.

In 1935, his health having further deteriorated, Harvey left much of the practice to Moffat and took a sea voyage to Mombasa, visiting Nairobi. Harvey died unexpectedly in 1936. His death severely affected Moffat and in the same year TN DUNCAN joined the office and took charge of it. Moffat retired in 1939, a sick man. He died in Johannesburg two years later and was buried on a koppie on one of his farms at his request. Moffat had practised in the Transvaal for a third of a century. He was survived by his son John Arthur Carter MOFFAT, ARIBA, who practised in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and by his youngest brother, Walter Goldshaw MOFFAT, ARIBA, Durban, his sisters and another brother. Run by TN Duncan, the firm of Moffat & Harvey continued for some time in Johannesburg. The John Moffat Building for the school of Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand was the first of the buildings to be completed in the University's post-war building programme and it was named in tribute to Mr John Abraham MOFFAT, he having bequeathed some £ 100,000 which was to be paid to the University fifteen years after his death on condition that the fund be used for some such purpose as a building.

FSA; Pres Soc of Arch (Lon) SA branch 1923-25; FRIBA 1925; ISAA 1927(?). (AB&E Jun 1936:25; Afr Archt Dec 1912:96; Afr Archt Apr 1913:185; Afr Archt Feb 1914:314; BLB 23:13 Apr 1911; Building Jun 1918:163,165-66 ill; Building Mar 1919:245; Building Jun 1924:45, 48; Building Dec 1920:425 ill; FRIBA nom papers (1925) 2204; Gen dir of United SA 1915; ISAA mem list; Jnl ATA Sep 1916:33; Men Tvl 1905; RIBA biog file; SAAE&S Jnl Nov 1906:20; SAAE&S Jnl Feb 1914:314 (?); SAAR Dec 1939: 499-504; SAAR Apr 1941: 157-9 obit; SAWW 1916; SESA 7:485a; SESA 11:371a; Smith 1971:341, 342)

Publ: New federal capital of Australia, Building Jun 1918:163 ill A note in his biographical file in the RIBA archives, London, lists the following buildings but no dates: 1st & 2nd Empire Theatre; Walter Mansions (Walter Block: Van der Wall 1987:133 - 1904) and St James Mansions (Van der Wall 1987:139 - 1904-5) in Johannesburg.

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

Chudleigh Building - Second, now OK Bazaars: 1912. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Hatfield House: 1904. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Herbert Evans, The Paint House: 1914. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Josette Towers: 1935. Springs, Gauteng - Architect
Lamprecht House: n.d.. Parktown, Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Lezard & Co Bldg, proposed: 1923. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Lombardy Bldg for Zoccola: 1926. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Magnet House for British Gen Elec Co: 1924. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Marie Court: 1936. Springs, Gauteng - Architect
Medical Chambers: 1931. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Opera House: 1892 : 1926 : 1985. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape - Architect 1926
Orpheum Theatre: 1919. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Park Lane Mansions: 1923 : 1928. Parktown, Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Parker Wood & Co: 1926. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Ritz - renamed Whitehall Court: 1925. Killarney, Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
St Andrews Bldg Soc: 1928. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Standard Theatre: 1891. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect

Books citing MOFFAT

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

Chipkin, Clive M. 1993. Johannesburg Style - Architecture & Society 1880s - 1960s. Cape Town: David Phillip. pp 70

ISAA. 1927. Register of Members the Institute of South African Architects. Johannesburg: ISAA (Unpublished Record). pp M19

Reps, John W. 1997. Canberra 1912 : Plans and planners of the Australian capital competition. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. pp 139, 342-343

Transvaal Publishing Co. 1905. Men of the Times : Pioneers of the Transvaal and glimpses of South Africa . Johannesburg, Cape Town and London: The Transvaal Publishing Co. pp 245

van der Waal, Gerhard-Mark. 1987. From Mining Camp to Metropolis - The buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. pp 125, 133, 137, 138, 220

Walker, Michael. 2013. The pioneer architects of Johannesburg and their buildings (1886 - 1899) with postcard illustrations. St James: The Kalk Bay Historical Association. pp 16, 54-59, 65