During his working life, Fothergill employed many assistants in his architect’s office. His employees included Arthur Yeomans, John Poyser, William Herbert Swann, Frank Oldknow Wright and Henry Caunt Wright – a more detailed account in given in Darren Turner’s book – Catalogue of the Works of Watson Fothergill.
By far the longest serving assistant and probable right-hand man was Lawrence George Summers whose undoubted skills and abilities contributed greatly to the firm’s output for many years.
Lawrence Summers was born in 1854 in Nottingham and trained with another Nottingham architect, I. C. Gilbert. In 1878 he demonstrated his architectural skills by achieving First Class Honours in the Kensington Examination in Building Construction. His building designs won many medals and prizes, including a silver medal for the design of a Town Hall, later published in an article in the influential Victorian magazine The Building News. His talents were such that he was asked to give lectures on Building Geometry at the Mechanics’ Institute in Nottingham. He passed the RIBA proficiency examination in 1880, allowing him to proudly advertise as ‘L. G. Summers A.R.I.B.A., architect, Pelham Chambers, Angel Row, Nottingham’.
The Building News – December 25th 1875
“Design for a Town-Hall, Nottingham
“This is a design for a Town-hall, to suit the site on the east side of the great Market-place, Nottingham by Lawrence G. Summers, a student of the Nottingham School of Art. The design gained the silver medal in the National Competition, this year, at South Kensington. The building is supposed to be faced with a light coloured stone, with red Mansfield stone bands. The roof is to be covered with thick green slates, and surmounted by a bold iron ridge. The sculpture represents various historical events in connection with the town. The large tower is to contain the clock and carillon machinery. The small tower to serve as a ventilating and smoke shaft from the workshops and heating apparatus beneath. The tower on the north side would contain an observatory for the use of the borough engineer.”
Around 1882, Summers started to work with Fothergill, and from that time modestly dropped the letters from after his name, and listed himself in the trade directories as ‘architect’s assistant’. He was never made a partner in Fothergill’s business, but worked for him until the older man retired. Summers then continued to practice from the George Street offices that Fothergill had built in 1895 until he himself retired in about 1935. He died in a Forest Road nursing home on 11th September 1940, leaving behind his widow Louise Martha at their family home in Edwards Lane, Sherwood.
He clearly had a hand in many of Fothergill’s major building designs; his initials appear on several plans, including those for the row of houses and shops (still surviving) on Castle Road, opposite the entrance to Nottingham Castle. Summers also drew up plans for buildings in his sole name while working with Fothergill; for example, the plans for a major extension to a house on Elm Bank, off Mapperley Road, bearing all the hallmarks of a design from Fothergill’s office, were signed by Summers alone in 1893. As Ken Brand speculates in his booklet on Watson Fothergill, that Summers was ‘the anonymous but reliable anchorman back in the office, somewhat in the shadow of his flamboyant boss’. The year after Fothergill died, Summers was commissioned to build a house on Thorncliffe Road for Fothergill’s widowed daughter – clearly he was still held in high regard by the Fothergill family.
Lawrence Summers seems to have been a man of great talent and ability, certainly his obituaries give glowing accounts of a man much appreciated by those in the building industry. They talk of his contribution to the output of Fothergill’s office in preparing plans and building specifications, and refer to him as a quiet, unassuming man. Perhaps it was this retiring personality which led to him being so overshadowed by the more outgoing Watson Fothergill. Whatever the reasons, Summers’ contribution to the Victorian architecture of Nottingham has been greatly undervalued. Fothergill certainly had great talent and created some wonderfully striking buildings, but one wonders quite how much of this style and distinctiveness was due to the quiet, unassuming and almost unknown Lawrence Summers.