Page 1: Biography
Luttrell, Alfred Edgar
Architect, building contractor
Luttrell, Edward Sidney
Architect, building contractor
This biography, written by Ann McEwan, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
Edgar Alfred Luttrell was born in Hobart, Tasmania, on 21 October 1865; his younger brother, registered as Edward Sydney, was born in Sydney, New South Wales, on 20 June 1872. The elder brother was known as Alfred Edgar, the younger as Sidney. Their parents were Alfred Ernest Luttrell, a cabinet-maker and contractor, and his wife, Thomasina Louisa Woollett.
The circumstances of Alfred Luttrell junior's early education are unknown, but about 1882 he began his architectural apprenticeship with Harry Conway in Launceston, northern Tasmania. Alfred learnt to design a wide range of building types in a variety of late nineteenth-century architectural styles. His invention of a hydraulic pump in 1896 was an early indication of his aptitude for engineering. In 1886 Alfred established his own practice in Launceston and subsequently developed a successful business which was responsible for the design of domestic, commercial and ecclesiastical buildings. He married Ellen Mary Croft on 1 April 1888 in Launceston; their three children were all born in Tasmania.
Sidney Luttrell was enrolled at the prestigious Launceston Church Grammar School in September 1888, which suggests that the family enjoyed a measure of prosperity by this date. After serving his apprenticeship with his elder brother, Sidney became a partner in the firm of A. & S. Luttrell in 1897. Alfred maintained the office in Launceston while Sidney ran branch offices in the west coast townships of Strahan, Zeehan and Queenstown. Henceforth the two men gradually assumed different responsibilities within the firm; Alfred acted as the principal designer and engineer while Sidney supervised major construction projects and liaised with clients and the public. This division of labour was undoubtedly less rigid in practice.
Sidney Luttrell married Elizabeth Dixon, the proprietor of the Royal Hotel in Queenstown, on 7 May 1898 in Melbourne. Two of their three children were born in Tasmania; their youngest daughter was born in New Zealand in 1903.
The date of the Luttrell brothers' move to Christchurch, New Zealand, is unknown, but they had both established residence there by October 1902 when their first joint tender notice appeared in the Christchurch Press. By 1906 they were employing their younger brother, George, who had previously worked for them in Tasmania. S. & A. Luttrell, as the firm was known in New Zealand, enjoyed a high level of professional and commercial success. From their base in Christchurch the brothers introduced the so-called Chicago skyscraper to New Zealand, fostered the use of reinforced concrete, became specialists in the design and construction of racecourse grandstands, acted as the unofficial diocesan architects for the Catholic church in Canterbury, and ran their own contracting firm which undertook a number of their major building projects. As in Tasmania, Alfred was principally responsible for the design work, Sidney for the business proper. For a time they owned the Golden Bay Cement Company.
The Luttrells' most notable works in Christchurch, executed between 1904 and 1912, included the King Edward Barracks, the Royal Exchange building (now the Regent Theatre), the New Zealand Express Company building, the Theatre Royal, and the chapel for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at Mount Magdala. They were also responsible for churches for the Catholic parishes of Hokitika, New Brighton and Sumner, and the racecourse grandstands at Addington (1912–15), Riccarton (1920–23), and Trentham (1919–25). Much of their work shows Alfred's debt to Harry Conway's involvement in engineering projects. The New Zealand Express Company building in Dunedin (1908–10) was notable for its use of pre-cast reinforced ferro-concrete slabs manufactured off-site. Their commercial buildings were among the first in New Zealand to show the influence of American architectural styles.
Sidney Luttrell's great interest in horse-racing seems to have been the catalyst for a significant number of the firm's commissions. It also resulted in his part-ownership of Sasanof, the winner of the 1916 Melbourne Cup. Nicknamed 'Luttrell the Limit', Sidney was known as someone of limitless energy who could achieve things where others would have failed. He was renowned for his willingness to take extravagant bets, and for his reckless daring: on one occasion, with his daughter in his car, he raced a train, zigzagging over the line at various points. Alfred was 'of a most jovial disposition' but seems to have been largely overshadowed by his younger brother.
Alfred Luttrell died at Christchurch on 7 May 1924, 15 years before his wife, Ellen. At the time of his death at Christchurch on 17 July 1932, Sidney had been separated from his wife, Elizabeth, for some 20 years. After Alfred's death the design work of the firm was undertaken by Jack Hollis and Allan Manson. The latter took over the practice when Sidney Luttrell died, and maintained its links with the racing world and the Catholic church.
Together the Luttrell brothers made a significant contribution to New Zealand architecture, both stylistically and technologically. Most of their New Zealand buildings survive today, providing visible evidence of their architectural ability and business acumen.