BJ Waterhouse was involved in the design of at least 18 houses and two blocks of flats in Cremorne and Neutral Bay between 1908 and 1920.
Bertrand James, ‘BJ’, Waterhouse was born in Leeds in 1876. He migrated to Australia in 1885 and at the age of 16 left school to be articled to the Sydney-based architect John Brain Spencer. He attended lectures by John Sulman at the University of Sydney in the 1890s and studied art with Julian Ashton in the Sydney Art School.
Waterhouse’s ability with a pen led to employment as an architectural draftsman with the New South Wales Department of Public Works in 1900. There he met Walter Liberty Vernon and Edward Jeaffreson Jackson, both of whom had been central to the introduction of the English Revival styles of architecture to NSW in the formative years around Federation. Waterhouse sketched several of Jackson’s house designs that he admired. Possibly, as an English immigrant, he saw the transplantation of the Revival style to Australia as a confirmation of the cultural connection between the two places.
Waterhouse went into private practice with JW Hamilton Lake in 1908. Four houses, including 'Ailsa', built in Shellcove Road, Neutral Bay, between 1908 and 1914 form an important group which show the local popularity of contemporary English–inspired Arts and Crafts architecture among the area’s middle and upper class.
Waterhouse travelled extensively in Britain and Europe in 1926 and 1927 and reflected upon his ‘rambles’ in a series of lectures and articles delivered upon his return. In Britain he noted the work of the newly founded Council for the Preservation of Rural England, ‘formed not a moment too soon, as the spoliation of many beauty spots, the unnecessary destruction of many charming old buildings, not beyond renovation, me lovers of the beauty of England quake’ .
The comments were hardly surprising given the Anglophilia evident in the Shellcove Road houses such as 'Brent Knowle'. But interestingly, Waterhouse also visited the Mediterranean and found Spain to be ‘a land of enchantment for the architect, the beautiful skies, clarity of atmosphere, and vast spaces reminding one of one’s homeland’. It perhaps confirmed an association he had already made when he designed ‘Nutcote’ the Inter-war Mediterranean-style cottage built for May Gibbs in 1925. It was a style he revisited upon his return.
Waterhouse was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to architecture in 1939. He died at the age of 90 in 1966.