East Holme - The Architect

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The Architect.

John Hicks designed East Holme church to a commission of Nathaniel Bond, who paid the whole cost of about £1,500. Hicks was responsible for the building or restoration of at least 27 churches in Dorset, mostly in the gothic revival style, yet very little is known about him. However, we do know he was the son of a Gloucestershire rector and that he had been in architectural practice in Bristol before moving to Dorchester and setting up in offices at 39, South Street, some time before 1852. He was fond of telling the story of a dream he had in Bristol, which concerned a tower he had designed and was, at the time, being built. During the dream a large crack appeared. When he awoke he was so concerned that he immediately saddled his horse and rode out to inspect the structure, only to find the crack exactly as he had seen it!

Perhaps unfairly, he is often posthumously better known for his association with the author Thomas Hardy, who was articled to him from 1856 to '62 and, after gaining further experience in London, became his assistant from '67 until his death in 1869. (It is, therefore, unlikely that Hardy actually worked on the East Holme project, but he must have known about it.) As a result of this connection, Hardy's many biographers have bequeathed various sketchy descriptions of John Hicks, but most agree he was "an amiable, straight dealing man" and, being a classical scholar, exceptionally well educated for a provincial architect.

We know he was married because there is a reference to Mrs. Hicks "sending down" to ask Hardy and the other apprentice, Bastow, to "make less noise." Towards the end of his life he was severely afflicted by gout, which was why he was obliged to offer Thomas Hardy the position of assistant and probably the reason he was not present at the consecration ceremony. Hicks died at the early age of 53 on the12th February 1869.

Many scholars regard the church at North Poorton (1862) as his finest work, although similarities to East Holme can be found in Combe Keynes (1866) and Athelhampton (1861)

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