John Hubert Worthington

Hubert, as he was always known, was born on the 4th July 1886 in Alderley Edge, Cheshire to Father, Thomas and his mother, Edith Emma. Edith was Thomas’ second wife. He was their youngest child.  The family were Unitarians, who used to worship at Dean Row Chapel near Wilmslow.

Thomas was a well known architect who designed many buildings in and around Manchester. Perhaps his best known work is the Albert Memorial in front of Manchester Town Hall. The family lived at ‘Broomfield’ on Macclesfield Road throughout Hubert’s childhood. Hubert was educated at Ryleys Preparatory School in Alderley Edge. Here he met Wilfrith Elstob, who was to become a lifelong friend. In 1900 he went to Sedbergh School in Cumbria, and stayed there for 5 years. He served in the School Cadet Corps for 3 years, reaching the rank of Corporal. Hubert qualified for a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Architecture at Manchester University before being articled to his half-brother Percy in order to commence his professional career.

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A photograph of Hubert in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/23/91/160

Hubert visited Italy in the years before the outbreak of the First World War, and ‘developed a lifelong love of Italian architecture’. In 1912 he began working in the office of Sir Edwin Lutyens, a famous and highly esteemed architect who was just beginning to design Lutyens Delhi, in India. Edwin’s work and personality both inspired Hubert greatly and they would remain friends for many years. In 1914, Hubert, now an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects applied to be commissioned as an officer in the 6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, where his brother Claude was serving. His ‘papers were returned from the War Office’ on the 17th. Hubert tried again a month later. This time he was accepted into the 1st City Battalion. This was being formed by the men of Manchester so that they could serve together. He became a Probationary Second Lieutenant on the 12th September and was confirmed in the rank on the 3rd October. Wilfrith Elstob joined the battalion on the same day, after Hubert had persuaded him to stay in Manchester rather than join a London based unit.

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Lt. Col Winifrith Elstob, Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre, Reference: MR4/23/91/81

On the 8th December 1914 Hubert became a Temporary Captain. He was given command of A Company with Wilfrith as his Second in Command. The 1st City Battalion became the 16th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. The unit trained at Heaton Park in Manchester until April 1915 when they moved to Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire. They moved to Larkhill in Wiltshire during September, and sailed for France in early November, arriving on the 8th. The 16th Battalion trained around Hebuterne and Louvencourt after their arrival in France. In January 1916 they moved to the area around Maricourt and stayed here, taking their turns in the front line, until the 1st June. They then began training to take part in the Somme Offensive, which was to begin on the 1st July. On this day the 16th Battalion attacked the village of Montauban. Although they took the village, heavy German fire killed and wounded a large number of soldiers, including Hubert. As he later related, ‘6 machine gun bullets hit me + I knew no more but the feeling I was killed. The next thing I knew was that I had been dragged to a shell hole where I lay 30 hours quite helpless’. Hubert was wounded in the left hip and hand, and one bullet had passed through his right lung, breaking at least one rib.

Hubert’s wounds were very serious. He was evacuated back to the UK on the 11th July for treatment at the 4th London General Hospital in Denmark Hill. He recovered well, and was discharged from hospital on the 19th September. He went on sick leave to Clovelly Court in Devon.

Hubert continued to have trouble breathing, and at the beginning of November he ‘strained muscles of right chest’. He was still ‘unable to pull or lift heavy weights’ in mid December. His sick leave was extended every few months until the 24th February 1917. On this day he was admitted to the Prince of Wales’ Convalescent Home for Officers in Marylebone, London, until the 21st March. He was passed fit for Home Service after 3 more weeks of leave. In mid April Hubert was ordered to join the 21st Officer Cadet Battalion (OCB) at Crookham, near Fleet in Hampshire. He was employed as an assistant instructor, helping teach officers under training how to lead their soldiers on the battlefield. He was easily exhausted, but at the 21st OCB he could ‘spend his nights in bed and can rest when knocked up’. His Commanding Officer did not believe he was ‘fit for anything more active than employment here’. Hubert stayed at the 21st OCB until after the end of the war on the 11th November 1918. He became a Company Commander there on the 28th November and held this job until he was released from the Army on the 8th February 1919. He had been ‘a most reliable and hard working officer’ and ‘an influence for good’ on the Cadets he had trained.

Wilfrith Elstob had not been as fortunate as Hubert. He went missing on the 21st March 1918, after leading the 16th Battalion in the defence of Manchester Hill near St Quentin. Hubert was determined to recover his friend, who he knew as ‘Bindy’. He travelled to France twice during 1919 with members of the War Graves Commission in the hopes of finding his body, but without success. Wilfrith, with no known grave was commemorated on the memorial at Pozières. Later that year though Hubert was instrumental in gathering the evidence that led to Wilfrith being awarded the Victoria Cross on the 9th June. He went with Wilfrith’s father to receive the Victoria Cross from King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 24th July 1919.

Hubert returned to the family firm, Thomas Worthington and Sons, and resumed his career in architecture. He designed a large number of buildings and monuments, including Manchester Dental Hospital and the Private Patient’s Home at the Royal Infirmary in Manchester. He also designed a new wing for Rossall School in Lancashire, rooms for Eton College, and the Memorial Cloister at Sedbergh School. In 1923 Hubert became Professor of Architecture at the Royal College of Art in South Kensington. One of his students was Sophie Joan Banham. They married in Chelsea between October and December 1928. They had 3 children, who were all born in the Brentford area of West London. Penelope Anne was born between July and September 1929, Anthony Crispin on the 1st February 1932 and Olivia Joanna between July and September 1935. Hubert and Joan’s marriage was long and happy. They shared ‘a common interest in the arts and humanities’, and worked together on many projects. As one friend remembered, ‘it was no uncommon matter, when pondering over a problem connected with a project for Hubert to say: ‘I would like to ask Joan about this’. And so the perfect solution was discovered’.

In 1943 Hubert was appointed Principal Architect for the Imperial War Graves Commission, North Africa. He would be responsible for selecting the sites for cemeteries and memorials, and then designing them and overseeing their construction. He and Joan went on a tour of North Africa for this purpose in early 1947, and then another, visiting the finished cemeteries, in 1953. Amongst his many designs were the Malta Memorial to missing airmen near Valetta, Tobruk War Cemetery and the El Alamein Cemetery and Memorial in Egypt.

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The El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt

Hubert was highly thought of as an architect who despite all his professional success, kept a special place in his heart for his former comrades in the 16th Battalion. He would always stop and greet any he met in the street, and never missed a reunion. At these events comrades ‘relished his after-dinner reminisces, as he was a raconteur and mimic of outstanding merit’.

Information Sources:

Museum of the Manchester Regiment

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

 

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