Bertrand James Waterhouse (1876–1965)
Bertrand James, ‘BJ’, Waterhouse was born in Leeds, Yorkshire England in 1876. He migrated to Australia in 1885 and at the age of 16 left school to be articled to the Sydney-based architect John Brain Spencer while studying architecture at Sydney Technical College.
Waterhouse was employed with the New South Wales Department of Public Works in 1900. He worked in the harbours and rivers branch and became a relieving architectural draftsman. There he met Walter Liberty Vernon and Edward Jeaffreson Jackson, both of whom had been central to the introduction of the English Revival styles of architecture to NSW in the formative years around Federation. Waterhouse sketched several of Jackson’s house designs that he admired.
Waterhouse went into private practice with JW Hamilton Lake in 1908. Together they built up a substantial practice, particularly in the Cremorne-Neutral Bay area.
Until the mid-1920s Waterhouse’s domestic architecture drew on the Arts and Crafts Movement, with steeply gabled roofs, extensive use of sandstone in the basements, shingle tiles and roughcast exterior wall surfaces. Following this period, his style showed a strong Mediterranean influence, a notable example being May Gibbs’s house, Nutcote, with textured stucco walls and symmetrical, twelve-paned, shuttered windows. His non-residential designs included warehouses, churches, picture theatres and university buildings, some with Leslie Wilkinson; in the 1920s he produced the winning design for the Young Women’s Christian Association’s new premises in Liverpool Street.
Waterhouse travelled extensively in Britain and Europe in 1926 and 1927 and talked about his travels in a series of lectures and articles delivered upon his return. In Britain he noted the work of the newly founded Council for the Preservation of Rural England, ‘formed not a moment too soon, as the spoliation of many beauty spots, the unnecessary destruction of many charming old buildings, not beyond renovation, me lovers of the beauty of England quake’. Waterhouse also visited the Mediterranean and found Spain to be ‘a land of enchantment for the architect, the beautiful skies, clarity of atmosphere, and vast spaces reminding one of one’s homeland’. He designed ‘Nutcote’ in 1925 prior to his departure but he revisited the Inter War Mediterranean style upon his return.
Most of his better known was completed before the Depression.
Waterhouse was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to architecture in 1939. He died at the age of 90 in 1966.
Brent Knowle, 33 Shellcove Road, Neutral Bay built in 1914 (Source: Ray White)
Nutcote, home of May Gibbs, Neutral Bay (Source: Historic Houses Trust)
Michael Waterhouse, ‘Waterhouse, Bertrand James (1876–1965)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 11 May 2020.
North Sydney Council, Architects, At Home in North Sydney, accessed online 11 May 2020.