Who influenced Thomas Ellis Owen?
"The old adage 'too many irons in the fire' conveys an abominable lie. You cannot have too many. Poker, tongs and all – keep them all going.” Jacob Owen
Undoubtedly Thomas Ellis Owen’s father exerted a huge influence on him. The success of Jacob’s career and family life probably meant he was a charismatic role model. In Dublin he rose to the position of Architect and Principal Engineer to the Board of Public Works and became vice-president of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland (RIAI). As they grew up, many of his sons were trained by him and worked with him as architects and surveyors.
Some of the collaborative ventures Jacob engaged in whilst living in Portsmouth show that he was especially talented at working with other people. He was, for example, a committee member of the Portsmouth and Portsea Literary and Philosophical Society, joint-owner of the Portsea Island Gas Light Company and engaged in speculative land deals in both Portsmouth and on the Isle of Wight.
Jacob Owen in his 90s when he was living in Park Mount, Kent Road, Southsea
Jacob's energetic approach was still apparent in later life. A diary entry made shortly after his retirement at the age of 78! states:
"The day is not long enough for what I find necessary to do now that I am supposed to do nothing”.
Then, even later at the age of 84, his “1st music lesson” was noted.
The influence of Thomas’s wider family and their connections probably also enabled him to work with the methods and attitudes of a metropolitan architect and entrepreneur. During his early years he may, for example, have met many of the people connected with the extensive naval and military construction programmes in Portsmouth through Jacob’s work for the Royal Engineers' Ordnance Department. His brother-in-law, Sir Charles Lanyon, who we know he worked with, designed many public buildings in Belfast, became the County Surveyor of both Kilclare and Antrim, Mayor of Belfast and MP for the City.
“Whether Owen had been studying the problem or not is unknown but what I saw was his sitting down at a drawing board, pencil and scale in hand, and in about ten minutes dashing off the loading lines of the excellent classic front with the rustic Tuscan columns so gloomy but so entirely appropriate and this being applauded by all of us.” Young (1900) Description of the design of the Governor’s House in Crumlin Road, Belfast.
Dover Court and Swiss Cottage in Kent Road Southsea show Thomas's acumen for designing fashionable, picturesque, gothic villas.
Swiss Cottage in Kent Road, Southsea
His design of The Crescent at Alverstoke seems to hint that John Nash, architect of the Prince Regent, may also have exerted an influence. However, Nash's buildings were bold, stately and full of embellishments; a style that was also reflected in the bustles, hoops and corsets favoured by Victorian women. By comparison Thomas's architecture had a lightness of touch and deft stroke that seemed to reflect the simple flowing gowns, fluid movement and altogether prettier fashions of the Georgian women.