Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brown, Alfred John (1893–1976)

by Helen Proudfoot

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

This is a shared entry with Doris Jocelyn Brown

Alfred John Brown (1893-1976), architect and town planner, and Doris Jocelyn Brown (1898-1971), landscape gardener, were husband and wife. Alfred was born on 8 October 1893 at Auckland, New Zealand, son of Daniel Chadwick Brown, an English-born schoolteacher, and his wife Annie Smith, née Henderson, a New Zealander. Educated at Auckland Grammar School, Alfred was articled in 1908-12 to a local architect. He worked in Sydney as a draughtsman for Kent, Budden & Greenwell, architects, while attending Sydney Technical College for two years, then for Mason & Wales, Dunedin. Enlisting in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 19 October 1915, Brown served with the 3rd Field Company, New Zealand Engineers; he was wounded in France in May 1917 and invalided to England. In August he was sent on a course at the Architectural Association School, London, and discharged from the army as medically unfit in June 1918. An associate (1919) of the Royal Institute of British Architects, he was appointed assistant-architect to Louis de Soissons at Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.

At the parish church, Hornchurch, Essex, on 12 June 1920 Brown married Doris Jocelyn Giles; they had been engaged since 1915. Jocelyn was born on 13 August 1898 at Toowong, Brisbane, eldest child of Sydney Reynolds Giles, an accountant from England, and his native-born wife Georgina Munro, née Hull. Brought up near Warwick, Jocelyn moved with the family to Sydney by 1909. She was educated at Summer Hill and attended classes at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales. Trained as a draughtsman, she was apprenticed to Jones & Jardine, commercial artists.

Alfred Brown adopted the current English town-planning ideologies exemplified at Welwyn Garden City, a model 'New Town' initiated by (Sir) Ebenezer Howard: with medium- to low-density suburban enclaves separated by minor roads, it had a modest industrial base; the housing was unpretentious, with Arts and Crafts overtones. Awarded the Soane medallion in 1922, Alfred travelled with Jocelyn in France and Italy. From January 1924 they were based at Auckland where she worked as a commercial artist; her clients included Arthur Yates & Co. Ltd, seed merchants.

Moving to Sydney with her husband and two sons in the midst of the Depression in 1930, Jocelyn worked for John Sands Ltd. Alfred found architecture unrewarding. In 1931-37 he was Vernon memorial lecturer in town planning at the University of Sydney and also lectured for the University Extension Board. He was president (1933-34) of the Town Planning Association of New South Wales and founding chairman (1934-36) of the breakaway Town and Country Planning Institute (later Royal Australian Planning Institute). Serving on various government planning committees, he wrote letters to and articles for the Sydney Morning Herald on topics ranging from church vestments to metropolitan sprawl. In 1940-45 he was employed by the Commonwealth government (to devise camouflage) and by the Department of Labour and National Service.

Brown expounded his ideas in Town and Country Planning (Melbourne, 1951, revised 1969), written with H. M. Sherrard. It influenced town planning in Australia and became the standard text for Denis Winston's course at the University of Sydney. Predictably, the book drew attention to English ideas and endorsed the 'garden city' concept; while it cited English and overseas examples, it paid scant regard to the Australian urban experience.

Influenced by her years at Welwyn, Jocelyn made gardens for herself in Sydney at Comely, Woollahra (1930-35), Fountains, Killara (1937-41), and Greenwood, St Ives (1941-45). She began to receive commissions as she became more widely known through her articles (December 1939-September 1942) in the Home. These were based on her practical experience, embellished by her drawings of flowers, and supplemented with plans and diagrams. She admired and emulated the ideas of the English gardener Gertrude Jekyll, an exponent of the Arts and Crafts movement. Jekyll saw the house and garden as a single composition, and was inspired by the cottage garden rather than by the grander landscapes of the eighteenth century or the exotic collections of the nineteenth.

Adapting this style to Australian conditions, Jocelyn structured her gardens around carefully chosen features built near the house—paving, steps, walls, a lily-pond or birdbath—and gave them a sense of coherent design by her use of contained vistas. The formal elements close to the house were combined with lawns, hedges and rockeries, and enhanced by larger vertical elements provided by trees farther away. Her gardens were planned to complement the Neo-Georgian domestic architecture championed in the 1930s by John Moore, Hardy Wilson, Leslie Wilkinson and by her husband: he designed Fountains where she laid out her first ambitious garden.

Becoming a skilled plantswoman, Jocelyn created garden 'pictures', with foliage and flowers in carefully structured settings. She employed subtle combinations of colours in her mixed borders and carefully detailed the plant varieties in her articles in the Home. Delighting in a lavish display of blooms, she especially liked silver-foliaged plants and traditional favourites—roses, campanulas, poppies, delphiniums, irises, daffodils and lilies—as did the English Edwardian gardeners upon whom she drew. Unlike Edna Walling, Jocelyn used Australian native plants sparingly, preferring eucalypts only as backdrops. The combination of ordered, flowery walks and native forest in the background is a particularly happy one at her best-preserved suburban garden, Greenwood. Her two most notable country gardens are at St Aubins, Scone (1940), and Coolabah, Young (1956).

Prominent in the Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales, Jocelyn was a member of the Business and Professional Women's Club, and lectured in landscape design at the University of Sydney. In 1952 she was elected a fellow of the Institute of Landscape Architects, England. A large, good-humoured, friendly woman, with brown, curly hair, she was generous with her advice and her gifts of plants. The Browns fulfilled a dream by moving in 1945 to The Hermitage, an old house between Camden and The Oaks, but in 1950 settled at Appin where they built a house and created a garden, Appin Water. From 1950 to 1970 Alfred practised at Wollongong. Both played chess and enjoyed painting in oils and water-colours; Jocelyn exhibited with the Art Society, Auckland, and the Society of Artists, Sydney. She was skilled in 'the gentle art of flower arrangement' and contributed a chapter to (Dame) Helen Blaxland's Collected Flower Pieces (1948). Jocelyn died on 3 October 1971 at Camden and was buried in Appin cemetery. On 12 September 1972, at Campbelltown, Alfred married a widowed nurse Alison Paterson, née Norris; they soon separated. Survived by her, and by a son of his first marriage, he died on 21 October 1976 at Wollongong and was buried beside Jocelyn at Appin.

Select Bibliography

  • Principal Women of the Empire, vol 1 (Lond, 1940)
  • H. Proudfoot, Gardens in Bloom (Syd, 1989)
  • Art and Australia, 25, no 4, 1988
  • Royal Australian Planning Institute, Journal, 15, no 2, May 1977, p 48
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 July 1933, 10 Aug, 26 Sept 1934, 19 Oct 1971
  • B. Stockton, The Gardens of Jocelyn Brown (B.Arch. Hons thesis, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of New South Wales, 1978)
  • A. J. Brown, curriculum vitae (copy held in ADB file)
  • A. J. Brown, notes on the gardens of Jocelyn Brown (manuscript, State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Helen Proudfoot, 'Brown, Alfred John (1893–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/brown-alfred-john-9596/text16915, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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