Arthur Neville Ward was born on 5th June 1922. Educated at Wade Deacon Grammar School, Widnes, he graduated from Liverpool University School of Architecture and was admitted an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1944). He then read town planning at Edinburgh College of Art.
Ward enjoyed working with Gordon Russell on the Board of Trade Furniture Design Panel (1946-1948) and, although he was a young architect, he experienced ‘no hint of rank or status’ and said that Russell was ‘a quite splendid leader’. The RSA Journal for June 1981 carried a report by Ward on the celebrations held to mark the various ways his old friend and mentor, Russell had promoted design quality and education during his lifetime. Shortly before he died Russell wrote ‘a splendidly entertaining letter’ in which he told Ward that the mutual arrangement between the RSA and the Faculty had been ‘of great value not only to the RDIs themselves but, even more important…to designers as a whole’. Russell charged his friend to ‘mention this on any appropriate occasion’. Ward concluded that it was ‘a pleasure to do so’.
From 1948 he went into partnership with his wife Mary Ward and Frank Austin and they worked on a number of overseas exhibitions for the Board of Trade, their partnership soon discovered a demand for new thinking on the design of ships’ interiors and Ward & Austin had a long and fruitful association particularly with Blue Funnel Line, British Rail Ferries and Orient Line. The naval architect Marshall Meek RDI wrote in 1989 that many ‘naval architects and ship production engineers readily acknowledge how much they owe to Neville Ward for giving them an insight into the place that order, symmetry and some careful thinking can have in what was previously a pedestrian and pragmatic approach to layout and form within ships’ living and leisure quarters’. In 1973 Meek had co-authored a paper with Ward, ‘Accommodation in Ships’, which earned them a Silver Medal from the Royal Institution of Naval Architects.
His work ranged from interiors to exhibitions, from pianos to decorative laminated plastics. As well as a bedroom for the Britain Can Make It exhibition (1946) Ward designed a ‘living room looking through into a dining room’ for the Ideal Home Exhibition (1949) and the Thames-side restaurant at the Festival of Britain (1951). Ward designed the Design Centre, Haymarket (1956) and the British Carpet Centre, Regent Street (1967). When HRH Queen Elizabeth II commissioned Hugh Casson RDI to refurbish guest rooms and suites at Windsor Castle, including one in the style of the 1950s, he called on Ward to design special bedroom furniture for this room.
Elected a Fellow of the RSA (FRSA) in 1955 and RSA Council member (1965-70) Ward would prove to be a loyal supporter of the Society and its aims. He was appointed Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) in 1971 and when he became Master in 1977 he once again served on the Council. The following year, during his presentation of new RDIs to the RSA, Ward took a moment to tell the story ‘going the rounds of us designers in the fifties, that concerned an architect and a furniture designer in Denmark. ‘”What are you doing?” asked the architect. “A chair; and you?” “A New Town”. They met again a year later. “What are you doing now?” asked the furniture designer. ‘Oh I finished the town and now I’m working on an airport; and you?” “Ah”, was the reply, “I’m still working on the chair.” The architect wasn’t named but the chair man was cited as Finn Juhl’, who, Ward added, had accepted his invitation to become an Honorary RDI.
At the RSA’s 225th AGM the Chairman Sir Peter Masefield paid thanks to Neville Ward for the ‘remarkable number of initiatives, particularly with regard to the Faculty’s own programme of events and the Society’s Design Bursary Competitions’. Ward had already made a major contribution to the educational aspects of the design profession through his service on the National Advisory Committee on Art Exams, the National Advisory Council on Art Education and on the National Council for Diplomas in Art & Design, he also served on the Council of the Royal College of Art (RCA) and concerned himself greatly with the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers (SIAD) to which he had been elected in 1948, and served as their President in 1967.
With Mary Ward he published Living Rooms (1967) and Home in the 20s and 30s (1978), as well as contributing articles and essays to the Architectural Review.
He died on 5th May 1989 just one month short of his sixty-seventh birthday. His obituarist, Marshall Meek RDI, wrote that while some say that his self-effacing modesty resulted in his work not being recognized sufficiently, there will be many others who will confirm that his ability quietly to enthuse and educate the less-informed, or the prejudiced about design, amply compensated and had a lasting effect, including a legacy from his estate towards the running of the RDI Summer Schools.
Britain Can Make It Exhibition Catalogue 1946
- A Bedroom in a Detached Town House – page 130
Original image reference: GB-1837-DES-DCA-30-1-POR-W-12-1. Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.