Richard Emrys Bonsall was born in Aberystwyth in April 1907 the son of John Bonsall, insurance agent. He was educated at the town's Ardwyn School. In 1923 he was apprenticed, then articled to Gilbert Thomas Bassett, architect, becoming Chief Assistant to the firm before passing his RIBA examinations in 1938. In 1939 his work included the design of Ebenezer Chapel, Penparcau.
Between 1940 and 1945 he and his wife lived in Wrexham where he contributed to the war effort at the Royal Ordnance Factories Planning Department. On returning to Aberystwyth he initially worked in the University's Planning Department before establishing his own practice. Although mainly engaged on local projects, he was also commissioned for buildings as far afield as Wrexham and Oswestry. In Aberystwyth he designed the distinctive new frontage of Siloh Chapel, completed in 1963, but now demolished.
An active Rotarian with a keen interest in photography and chess, he was forced into retirement in 1966 by ill health. He died in November 1982.
Several hundred drawings by Richard Emrys Bonsall display local buildings, particularly houses and outbuildings, ca. 1930 - 60. Mostly on tracing paper, they include entire building projects and smaller scale improvements or alterations. Bonsall's many post-war houses, functional in appearence with metal-framed windows are instantly recognisable in the architectural landscape of the area. Also in evidence are works by former local architect G.T. Bassett. A small collection of particularly attractive coloured conceptual designs for domestic and public buildings, ca. 1930 were conceivably his project work for RIBA membership.
A DESIGN FOR A HOUSING SCHEME
R.E. Bonsall, 1933
Ink and watercolour, 64 x 100 cm
Bonsall's conceptual works, possibly undertaken as project work for RIBA membership, are distinguished by their artistic merit and impact. The dwellings, although somewhat anonymous and utilitarian are set in the spacious, verdant environment of the 'garden city', a concept which gained momentum during the 1920s and 1930s but which did not take off in the form of a national new towns programme until after 1945. The aim was to relieve overcrowding of economic activities and populations in big cities so as to provide enhanced living environments in both the cities and the new satelite towns in their green field locations.
SMALL TOWN HALL
R.E. Bonsall, ca. 1930
Ink and watercolour, 94 x 66 cm
The classically inspired and elegant 'Small town hall' includes the anticipated offices and chambers of local government functionaries together with unexpected medical and dental surgeries.
Buildings of Classical or Georgian styling continued to be designed and constructed during this period, although it is apparent from British architecture that a battle of styles was occurring. Very influential were the brick geometrics of Willem Dudok's Hilversum Town Hall in the Netherlands, 1928 - 30. This International Style permeated town halls and later hospitals and schools.
R.E. Bonsall, ca.1933
Ink and watercolour, 53 x 82 cm
The Art Deco style exemplified in Bonsall's 'Theatre' was widely popular in 1930s architecture. Stimulated by the Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrieles Modernes of 1925, it is characterized by sharp angular or zigzag surface forms. Incorporating a projection room, this theatre could also function as a cinema.
Cinemas achieved immense popularity during the inter-war years and were the quintessential architecture of the era. In Britain cinemas provided the most widespread use of the Art Deco style. Buildings, like films are image-makers.
GARAGE FOR 200 CARS
R.E. Bonsall, 1931
Ink and watercolour, 68 x 47 cm
In a design evocative of its period the fundamental elements of grand Art Deco render some singularity to a building normally associated with mundane and utilitarian appearance.
The number of private motor cars in Wales increased from 29,000 in 1926 to 81,000 in 1938, a period which heralded a transport revolution which would dramatically affect our landscape.
PAIR OF COTTAGES, PENPARCAU, ABERYSTWYTH, FOR MESSRS EDWARDS BROS
R.E. Bonsall, 1938
Ink on tracing paper, 39 x 57 cm
Typifying drawings in the Bonsall collection, these were produced at a time of considerable residential growth in Penparcau on the south side of Aberystwyth. Inter-war growth in the population of this community was almost entirely due to large scale council house development aimed at rehousing disadvantaged local families.
HOUSE, PENPARCAU FOR MRS M.D. LLOYD
R.E. Bonsall, 1954
Ink and watercolour, 28 x 36 cm
Presumably prepared for the client's approval, this drawing of a small compact house is one of a minority of such drawings by Bonsall amongst his numerous pencil and ink tracings. One assumes that normally he had little time to indulge his talent as a colourist.