Home  / PP - Pritchard Papers

PP - Pritchard Papers

Reference code
Level of description
Pritchard Papers
Quantity & Format
44 series Mixed
Personal name
Pritchard, John Craven, 1899-1992
System of arrangement
The collection has been grouped into 43 series, which are in turn divided into files containing individual items. (At UEA the term‘series’ has been substituted for Newcastle’s ‘file’). Within this structure the contents may be arranged in sub-files or sub-items. The latter grouping is applied, typically, to bundles of homogeneous documents such as invoices. This hierarchical arrangement is reflected in the location codes assigned at each level of description; at the lowest level the location code acts as a unique identifier of the object described, usually an individual document.

It should be noted that dates in series or file titles refer to the scope of the contents, not to a subject’s vital dates.

The classification of the papers into series carried out by staff at Newcastle University has been largely retained. Within series a measure of reorganization has taken place, some of it extensive. Some very large chronological sequences have been superseded by classified structures. Inevitably this has resulted in some extended hierarchies - most noticeably in the business papers.

Personal papers relating to Jack Pritchard’s ancestry, his family and his everyday life are to be found in Series PP/1, PP/2, PP/13, PP/30, PP/31 and PP/41. Those relating to his business enterprises are in Series PP/3, PP/10, PP/15, PP/16, PP/17, PP/18, and PP/40. His involvement with furniture design and production is recorded in Series PP/18, PP/19, PP/20, PP/21, and PP/35, and with design and architecture in general in Series PP/7, PP/8, PP/9, PP/14, PP/28, PP/33, and PP/34 as well as those series specifically relating to individual architects and designers: Wells Coates, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Maxwell Fry, Gordon Russell, Charlotte Perriand, and Roman Terlikowski. The story of Lawn Road Flats is told chiefly in Series PP/16, PP/17, and PP/39. Jack’s not inconsiderable political interests and activities are described in Series PP/4, PP/5 and PP/11, the latter relating to his assistance to refugees from fascism.

Five new series have been created to hold material deposited since the collection came to UEA, one of which has supplanted a series now rendered redundant (‘Miscellaneous papers’). The following are those series where major changes have been made:

Series PP/1

This series of Biographical Papers has been classified in more detail and includes material received from Jack Pritchard and his family since the transfer of the collection to UEA.

Series PP/4

Originally titled ‘Economic Activities’, this has now been substantially re-organised and more precisely classified to become ‘Political and Economic Planning (PEP)’ and those (few) papers not relating to Jack Pritchard’s association with PEP have been dispersed. PEP-related papers from Series PP/3 (Business Activities) have been transferred to this file.

Series PP/13

Originally titled ‘Financial correspondence other than relating to Isokon’ this series has been revised and more precisely defined as ‘Personal financial papers’.

Series PP/15 and PP/16

These two large series (Isokon Ltd and Lawn Road Flats respectively) have been completely overhauled with many papers transferred from one to the other; the original long chronological sequences have been classified to reflect the boundaries and evolution of the various Isokon companies and the projects associated with them. Some papers originally in these series have been transferred to Series PP/18 (Isokon Furniture Company). Exceptionally, sub-files and sub-sub-files of File PP/15/1 have been listed together in this guide.

Series PP/18

The contents of this series (Isokon Furniture Company), originally in a few long chronological sequences, have been classified and augmented by papers formerly in other files, notably by correspondence with Venesta transferred from Series PP/3.

Series PP/19, PP/20, PP/21

The relationship of the contents of these three series (Furniture Working Party, Furniture Development Council, and Furniture Industry Research Association) has been rationalised, with some re-location of papers between them.

Series PP/30

This series (Family Papers) has been more precisely classified.

Series PP/38

Previously ‘Miscellaneous papers’, this series number has been re-allocated to a file of papers relating to the Polish [designer?] Roman Terlikowski, deposited in the collection after its transfer to UEA. There is no longer a ‘miscellaneous’series, and the use of this category has been kept to a minimum.

Series PP/40

This is a new series (Isokon Financial Records) created to accommodate the surviving large-format ledgers of the Isokon businesses.

Series PP/41

A new series created for correspondence with Jack Pritchard’s architect daughter, Jennifer Jones, and papers relating to her work, received after the transfer of the collection to UEA.

Series PP/42

Another new series for papers deposited since the move to UEA. The contents deal with such matters as house insurance and rates in respect of Jack Pritchard’s home at Blythburgh.

Series PP/43

A new series created for papers relating to Jack Pritchard’s association with the Aldeburgh Festival Council, deposited after the transfer of the collection to UEA.
Pritchard, John Craven,
Archival history
The Collection now known as the Pritchard Papers accumulated during the lifetime of Jack Pritchard as a material record of that life. At some point between late April and the end of May 1972 Jack Pritchard gave his papers to the University of Newcastle; this arrangement had been negotiated by Bruce Allsopp, Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture. It was in the School that the papers were deposited initially, to be classified and catalogued before transfer to the University Library where they would be known as The Jack Pritchard Collection of Documents. These arrangements are noted and the gift of the papers acknowledged in a letter from Douglass Wise, Professor of Architecture in the University and Head of the Department, to Jack Pritchard dated 31.5.72. Jack Pritchard continued to add papers to the collection as they came to light, passing them to Bruce Allsopp.

From the time of deposit the School of Architecture encouraged use of the papers for research, particularly by post-graduate students, one of whom, Alan Moody, began the work of sorting, arranging and listing the papers.

Douglass Wise’s letter of May 1972 had estimated that classification and cataloguing would take about a year, but clearly this target was optimistic and in 1977 the collection was still in the School of Architecture. On 6.10.77 Wise’s successor, Ralph Crowe, wrote to Jack Pritchard proposing that a formal record of the gift should be drawn up, apparently unaware of the existence of his predecessor’s letter on the subject. An exchange of correspondence with Jack and within the University followed, in the course of which Jack insisted that any agreement must ensure that his conditions for proper storage and access arrangements would be met by the end of 1978 (letter, Jack Pritchard to Ralph Crowe, 12.11.77).

By October 1978 Cheryl Buckley, a graduate of the University of East Anglia (UEA) taking a higher degree at Newcastle, had been appointed full-time to carry on the work begun by Alan Moody. At that time Jack and Alan estimated that it would take another six months to complete the work (memo., Jack Pritchard to Ralph Crowe, entitled ‘The Archive’, 30.10.78). A year later Lesley Milner took over from Cheryl Buckley, who had completed her degree, on a part-time basis (letter, Ralph Crowe to Jack Pritchard, 31.10.79). Although work on the papers was still in progress Jack felt sufficiently happy with arrangements to confirm the gift of his papers to Newcastle (letter, Jack Pritchard to Ralph Crowe, 29.11.79).

For the next six years the papers, arranged, boxed and manually listed, were available for use by researchers from within Newcastle University, the wider world and by Jack himself.

In 1985 negotiations were opened, apparently with Jack Pritchard’s approval and perhaps at his instigation, between the University Librarians of Newcastle and UEA, Drs B.J. Enright and D.M. Baker, and Dr Alastair Grieve of UEA’s School of Fine Art and Music, to arrange the transfer of the papers to UEA. In April 1986 Dr Baker wrote to Drs Grieve and Enright confirming acceptance of the collection by UEA (letters, D.M. Baker to Alastair Grieve, 26.4.86 and to B.J. Enright, 28.4.86).

A memorandum, entitled ‘Pritchard Archive’, dated 11.8.86, summarises the origin of the collection, its cataloguing, the finding aids available, its extent and its use up to that date.

By December 1986 the papers had been transported to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA) at UEA (letter Margaret Wills, Librarian of the School of Architecture, Newcastle University, to Veronica Sekules, Deputy Keeper, SCVA). In February 1988 they moved from the SCVA to UEA’s Library.

Since their arrival at UEA the papers have been available for public consultation, the vast majority of users coming from outside the University. Until 1996 the only finding aids available had been the card catalogue and handlist produced at Newcastle, copies of the latter being supplied free on request. In 1995 the collection was awarded grant-aid by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) for conservation and the production of an online catalogue and a guide in both electronic and hard-copy form. That work, including re-boxing the papers has now been completed.
Scope and content
General papers, correspondence, plans, photographs, slides, and film accumulated during the lifetime of John Craven (Jack) Pritchard (1899-1992).


When asked his profession, Jack Pritchard would reply, mischievously, "entrepreneur". Though trained at Cambridge University as an economist and engineer, he became deeply involved in reforming the British furniture industry, in the new design and architecture evolving on the Continent, in education, gastronomy, in the patronage of the arts, in travel, in yachts and dinghies, and much else. To all these activities, Pritchard brought a mind always open to new ideas and the ability to succeed.

Born in Hampstead in 1899, he served as a midshipman in World War I. At Cambridge afterwards, he met Mansfield Forbes who was aware of the first stirrings of Continental modernism, and two other people who were to effect deeply the direction of his life. One was Molly Cooke, whom he married in 1924. She qualified as a doctor, worked as a bacteriologist but soon became a practising psychiatrist. The other was Henry Morris, who was to become the Chief Education Officer for Cambridgeshire. Morris taught the Pritchards that work should be socially useful and that all the arts, including not only the "high" arts but also the "minor" arts such as cooking, needed to be studied and become part of daily life.

While at Cambridge, Jack Pritchard already showed his interest in the practical application of theoretical knowledge. He investigated time and motion by organising trips from Cambridge to London by car, canoe, aeroplane and bicycle. The fusion of theory and practice continued after Cambridge, in 1922, when he went to work for the Michelin Tyre Company. This firm gave him training in ergonomics and market research.

In 1925 he joined the Venesta Plywood Company. The company imported plywood from Estonia. It was used then as a cheap substitute for solid wood. Pritchard started to look for more imaginative uses for it. In about 1928 he designed, with E.A. Brown, a small sideboard in Plymax, a new metal faced plywood of great strength and rigidity which was developed for flush doors. About then too, he met the engineer/architect Wells Coates who was using plywood to form bold curves and unbroken planes in shop designs for Cresta Silks.

Friendship with Coates reinforced both Jack and Molly’s enthusiasm for the new architecture which was developing strongly on the Continent. While working for Venesta in Paris in 1929-1930, Jack looked at Le Corbusier’s villa Les Terraces at Garches and he commissioned from Le Corbusier ’s office a stand for Venesta at the Building Trades Exhibition at Olympia in September 1930. In 1930 and 1931 Pritchard visited the Weissenhof Siedlung and the Bauhaus in Germany. He and Coates were shown some of Erich Mendelsohn’s buildings in Berlin by the architect himself. More, eye-opening, trips followed, for example to Switzerland in 1934, and to Finland in 1935 where Pritchard and the architectural theorist Morton Shand were taken by Alvar Aalto to see his sanatorium at Paimio and his furniture factory at Obo.

These visits and contacts made Jack Pritchard one of the best informed people in Britain about "International Style" architecture and design. The new style came partly from the abstract art movements developed during and shortly after the First War, Suprematism and Constructivism in Russia, De Stijl in Holland, the work of artists and architects at the Bauhaus, and the simplified forms of the Purists in Paris. Indeed, all these movements were concerned with simplicity, all used clear basic forms and colours held in asymmetrically balanced relationships. In architecture the use of new materials, flat roofs, strip windows, white rendered concrete, created a sense of lightness and machine like functionality, akin to that of ocean liners.

The very lives of Jack and Molly and of their children, Jonathan (b.1926) and Jeremy (b.1928), became infused with the new enlightenment. The Pritchards believed firmly that children should be self-governed. The boys were sent to Dora Russell’s Beacon Hill School and then to Bryanston. Molly and Jack also openly enjoyed extra-marital affairs, Molly with Wells Coates and Jack with the nursery-school educationalist Beatrix Tudor-Hart.

Fiona MacCarthy has pointed out that the early ‘thirties was a time of energetic acronyms. Jack was a leading member of the DIA (Design and Industries Association.) He was also heavily involved in PEP (Political and Economic Planning) and an offshoot "Techplan", which aimed to cut across political parties and produce a shared planning policy. Jack always believed in the possibilities of planning, in a rational use of resources and a directed economy. Yet he also welcomed chance encounters and was extraordinarily gifted in bringing together people with different interests and creating a creative spark between them. He was an entrepreneur in a very positive way. An example is his introduction of Henry Morris to Walter Gropius, leading to Gropius’s involvement in the design of Impington Village College.

ISOKON, another acronym, was the most practical realisation of the enlightened ideas held by the Pritchards and Wells Coates about the form modern living should take. It was the name they gave to a firm set up in December 1931 to provide houses and furniture, or rather equipment. The name echoed Coates’s fondness for isometric drawings and for unit construction and Jack Pritchard’s concern with economic planning. The Pritchards had bought a plot of land in Lawn Road, Hampstead, and Coates made designs, first for houses and then for a block of "minimum" flats to be built there. A full size mock-up of one of the flats was shown in the summer of 1933 at an exhibition of "British Industrial Arts in Relation to the Home" at Dorland Hall and the Lawn Road flats themselves were finished a year later.

This block of flats is one of the earliest and most impressive "International Style" buildings in Britain. It is built of reinforced concrete, with strikingly sculptural stairways and access galleries and a frank expression of the functions of its interior spaces in the differently sized windows. The flats were designed for young professional people and each was basically one large room with a fully equipped, "minimum", kitchen, bathroom and dressing room. Coates described the approach to life which lay behind his planning in an interview published in The Listener, 24.5.33: "We cannot burden ourselves with permanent tangible possessions, as well as with our real new possessions of freedom, travel, new experience -- in short, what we call ‘life’".

"Freedom" from mundane burdens was helped by the provision of services such as cleaning, bed making and of meals from a central kitchen. From 1937 the gastronomic provision was enhanced by the creation of the Isobar, run for a time by Philip Harben, and the activities of a dining club called the Half Hundred. The Isobar became a centre for the circle of creative men and women gathered in Hampstead at this time.

Prominent among them were the refugees from Hitler’s Germany. Walter Gropius, ex director of the Bauhaus, had arrived in October 1934. He was joined by former colleagues, Marcel Breuer and Moholy-Nagy. For them the Lawn Road flats and the Isobar, which Breuer designed, were something of a home from home. Gropius and his wife Ise lived in the flats until they left for America in 1937.

Pritchard attempted to expand the activities of Isokon using their skills. He involved Gropius, working with Maxwell Fry, in designing more blocks of flats for a site in Windsor Great Park. This scheme foundered through lack of adequate finance. Attempts to produce Isokon experimental furniture proved more successful. In 1936 Breuer designed what have become his best known pieces in plywood, the Isokon Long Chair, the dining chairs and tables and the nesting tables. Prototypes were illustrated in the avant garde publication Circle, International Survey of Constructive Art, in 1937, where Breuer explained: "the plywood is not used merely as a panel or as a plane surface borne by separate structural members; it performs two functions at one and the same time -- it bears weight and forms its own planes." Publicity material for this new Isokon furniture was designed by Moholy-Nagy.

Following the departure of Gropius, Breuer and Moholy-Nagy for America, Pritchard worked with another refugee, Egon Riss, on designs for furniture which fully exploited the ability of plywood to be formed into curves. But these designs only reached prototype stage before the outbreak of World War II ended the supply of materials from Estonia. Isokon furniture had to go into hibernation.

During the war Pritchard worked for the Ministries of Information, Supply and Fuel and Power. For the last he led a fact finding trip to the USA in 1945-1946, investigating the efficiencies of various types of domestic heating. Following this he had an unsatisfactory short employment with a large furniture firm and then, from 1949 until his retirement in 1963, he directed the Furniture Development Council.

Both Molly’s and Jack’s families had long standing connections with East Anglia and in 1961 they bought land in Blythburgh, Suffolk, and commissioned Colin and Jennifer Jones to build them a single storey house of wood and glass. It is one of the very few houses in East Anglia to use the ideas of the modern movement.

The Pritchards connection with the University of East Anglia began in 1968 when they lent pictures and furniture to an exhibition, ‘Art and the Machine’, in Denys Lasdun’s new library. The University’s collection of abstract art and design was started then and soon Jack and Molly generously donated examples of Isokon furniture to it. Their archive, meanwhile, had been lent to the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. It seemed a good idea to bring the collection of furniture at UEA together with the archive which contained much material connected with its design, manufacture and sale. In 1986 the University’s librarian, David Baker, successfully negotiated for the archive to be united with the furniture here.

Alastair Grieve, March 1998
  • PP - Pritchard Papers
Powered by CollectionsIndex+ Collections Online