Kenneth Anns: A Biography

Burt family
Alfred Burt’s grandchildren. Kenneth top left, standing

‘Kenneth Anns was born on the 24th March 1891, at 38 Abbeville Rd, North Clapham, his mother Susie Anns, né Burt came from a Swanage family who exported Purbeck stone to London. Susie was 26 years old in 1887 when she married Walter, Henry Anns, aged 28, a canvass merchant. Kenneth was a gifted artist and on leaving Whitgift he joined the atelier of Walter Sickert.

2014 was the centenary of Kenneth Anns’ signing up for the First World War., We now know it was to be the first of two terrible world wars that decimated populations across Europe and Central Asia and also killed and maimed countless millions of horses.

Trench warfare was yet unknown and was thus invented, righteous people paid with their lives, and this war was no different the death toll was colossal. All those wonderful young lives so full of potential lost forever. Alain Fornier, Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Owen, and so many more. Kenneth signed up with the Surrey Yeomanry, this giving up a career as an artist, where he had been studying in the atelier of Walter Sickert. He was sent out to France in 1915, and was in the Somme. When awarded an MC in 1916, he held a dinner for the officers.

Kenneth on his 1st World War motorbike

He quickly obtained a commission and was made a Captain. He spent from 1914 to 1917 in France. During that time he constantly led his men over the top. Recorded in the War Diaries, East Surrey’s 7th Battalion:-

The East Surrey’s were ” in ORVILLERS POST on the 7th 8th July (Somme) and were in trenches, K.b. C. 77 – 67 – – 66 right. From the 18th November to the 19th November, K Anns was the Capt. & Adjutant and signed off the War Diaries. He must have been captured on the 11th or 12th December, 1917.

4th August 1916 “At 1 am we received orders from the brigade to send A Coy up in support to the Buffs, and as wee had not had any news from them since 11.40 pm, owing to their wires having broken, we sent 2 Lieut. Anns with this Coy to bring us back some news.” Later: 2 Lieut. Anns return from the Buffs at about this time (2.40 am) & told us that the BUFFS had captured the whole of their objective without much loss.”

10th August 1916. During the night 2 Lieut. K. Anns took out a patrol on our right and obtained some very useful news about the enemies dispositions and also brought back helmet cover to identify the regiment opposite to us.”

in His courage in the field was rewarded with a Military Cross on 2nd September 1916. It is recorded that on the 9th September, ‘he held a dinner in the evening to celebrate the occasion of his winning the Military Cross.’ (The medals were sold by Margaret Anns after Kenneth died and I am actively looking for them.) 

He had to shoot horses after battles. He never forgot this and had a great love and respect for them and was delighted that his two children from his second marriage took up riding. He would come with them to the stables and paint and sketch.

He said very little about the war, but he shared some memories with his family. He became a dispatch rider and above is a photograph of him on his motorbike. He told us that one night in the pitch black he suddenly swerved not really knowing why. When he stopped the bike and went to look at the road he had by luck missed a massive shell hole. When things were quiet he would put on a German’s trench coat, no shortage of them I would guess, and go and visit the Germans in their trenches. He spoke german and had no difficulty passing himself off as one. This and going out and shooting horses after the battles, were stories he told us as children. He spoke very little about the war.

The description of life in the trenches was grim beyond belief, with sodden clothing and rotting feet. Kenneth did not talk about it, but he did confide to family members about the effects of the war.

He survived nearly three years in the trenches and was finally taken captive at Cambrai on the 12th December, or before) 2017. During the battle of Cambrai, the allies used tanks for the first time and the speed of the tanks was not properly calculated and Kenneth’s battalion got left behind and was surrounded by Germans. Kenneth surrendered with 7 men from his battalion. “the following officers are or have been at this camp in Karlsruhe :- Lieut. col Baldwin, (slightly wounded) Captain Anns. Captain Little (wounded in arm) Captain Dillon Kelly.  Lieut Binstead. The officers I know to be killed are Captain Ward and Golds, and Lieut Kemp. Wounded severely, Lieut Bridgwater. Sergeant Comber and Cpl. Leeds are prisoners. (signed R.H. Baldwin, Lieut.Col.) ” I wish the following brought to notice for conspicious gallantry, during the counter-attack and subsequent defense – Major Scott, Captain Anns, Captains Ward etc.”  Capt. Anns was subsequently recommended for D.S.O.

Karlsruhe, POW camp 1917.

Injured with a shrapnel in his helmet, he was taken to Karlsruhe. He told us how he faked passports’ and copied maps and painted identity photos. He was rather good at it.

After the First World War Kenneth worked for Waring and Gillow, established in the 18th century, a furniture firm making high-class classical furniture. He also made contact with the Brett’s of Norfolk and spent much time purchasing furniture from Frank Brett’s warehouse near Norwich. In 1920 he travelled out to India on the Kaiser Hind, first class, to Bombay. He was contracted to design a set of crown jewels for a Maharaja, Records suggest that it was either the Maharaja of Moti Bagh, Shish Mahal.  He would have returned by ship in the same year, (but this has yet to be researched).

In 1927 he was given the commission to redesign the interior of the Park Lane Hotel along with Henry Tanner. They redesigned the Ballroom, Bars and Dining rooms. Some of it remains today, including the Ballroom and some of the bathrooms.

Kenneth travelled to France in 1926-7? dates to be confirmed) and visited the south sketching and painting St Paul de Vence, a walled city in France and the interior of a chateau.

In 1921 on the 23rd February, Kenneth married Cicely Mary Willcox adopting her daughter, Irene, and in 1928 their son Michael was born.

Kenneth renewed his career taking up interior decorating and worked for some very high profile clients, until the Second World War broke out when he once again signed up, but too old for active service he was made a Major in the Royal Engineers and went to Aberdeen and on to Elgin where he trained troops. He was very fit and really enjoyed the hills in Scotland and was known as ‘The Mountain Goat’.

His wife, Cicely, became ill with cancer and was moved from Inverness to Aberdeen Hospital, where she died. in September 1944. Kenneth and Michael were living in Elgin at that time and Michael was visiting his mother as often as he could, a long bus ride. Kenneth was subsequently transferred to the Preston Barraks. There he made contact again with Margaret Spon who has nursed Michael when he was ill as a small boy. Michael it seems was not altogether welcome in the new family and was sent off at the age of 16 to spend some time with Kenneth’s older brother Frank.

In later life Kenneth suffered from deafness, which is not surprising, but he remained very fit. His face was slightly marked by shrapnel. He married Margaret Nora Spon and had two girls one born in 1946 and the other a year later. He qualified as an architect working from No.1 Lincoln Inn Fields, in London and was responsible for some of the first high rise buildings in London. He real love was Georgian architecture, and he created the little Georgian town house. His knowledge of the history of architecture was well known and he gave lectures and private tuition.

His mother Susie, died 16th September 1949, at 14 Duppas Hill Rd, Croydon. I recall being very small and visiting an elderly lady who was in bed in a small room. I recall she had lovely hair, which still had colour to it.I was 2 years old. This must have been Susie Anns, ne Burt.

As a child, I quickly realized that something about my father was deeply special. He would decorate the flat in Forest Hill with the most wonderful designs at Christmas. One-year Jerusalem, cut out in gold shapes of houses. Another year, fir trees and igloos’. These freezes went round the dining room. He was always painting, always drawing and I always wanted to sit for him. He told us a few things about the war. But mostly I recall the long journeys to Poole where his cousin Muriel lived and during the journey he would teach us the First World War songs.

‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile boys smile, There’ll be a Lucifer to light your fag, smile boys that’s the style. What’s the use of worrying it’s really not worth while, so strike up a Lucifer to light your fag and smile boys, smile boys, smile.

We learned, ‘It’s a long way to Tipparary; We also used to sing the Who Killed Cock Robin song. One that as a child I found quite strange and although I understood the other songs this one disturbed me. Why would anyone want to kill a cock robin I used to think?. Of course as a child one does not understand allegory.

Yorkshire farm house
Preston Farm, cattle shed.

He had many friends, people who clearly thought the world of him, like Cecil Pell and Frank Brett, Randel Bell, and the millionaires Harold and Leslie Good. We would be invited to Bridge House in Essex for incredible dinners. I was so glad we as children we were allowed to experience these events. I remember so well sitting on a cushion at along table, glittering with candelabra sat on polished mahogany, silver set out in great detail. fine china.

All the grown-ups beautifully dressed and Leslie at the end of the table in a dinner jacket. I have no idea what or why the dinner had been arranged. I do recall that we went to Leslie’s funeral and I met a woman there so beautiful I could not take my eyes off her. She was small slim and oriental with wonderful eyes that hinted at a mixed heritage. It turns out she was one of National Ballet who were always invited by the Goods to their summer parties.

Harold and Leslie would think nothing of hiring the whole dress circle of a theatre and invite their friends. Her name was Madame Seignon. I was one day to go to her Fashion School in Lester Square. And it was there that I met her again. I did not recognise her, she had aged and my memory was of a long time before, but when I heard her on the phone to Harold Good. I was amazed. We became real friends and she came to dinner parties at the Cedars, Chertsey.

Kenneth loved Georgian architecture, he understood how space created emotions, pride, comfort, happiness, and also the negative effect of badly designed spaces. He strove to find a proportion of height to width that would create a sense of well-being.

He painted all his life, and his family is lucky to have his paintings a record of his hard work and natural talent. In 1959 he went back to art school signing on at St Martins in London for life drawing classes. He never ceased to be interested in shape and form and colour and the environment. He loved Sark, he loved walking around the island, he was a very fit man for his age and a great swimmer. Wherever he went people took to him and he made special friends. Over the years he made many wonderful paintings from around the island.

Kenneth died on the 20th February 1962 of lung cancer probably not helped by the use of mustard gas during the First World War.

Appraisal of his work. ‘Murder in the rue Morgue’

Murder in the rue morgue
Dupin and author in the murder house. Reviewing the evidence.

Kenneth was asked to do some illustrations for Edgar Allen Poe’s, ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’. Examining both these illustrations and reading the book it is obvious that Kenneth was something of a Maverick. He clearly delighted in producing the work that he wanted and was not tempted to follow instructions. Kenneth created his own version. Judging by the result of his rather unusual interpretation of the text these illustrations were turned down. They were then placed in a folder and buried for many years.

‘The apartment was in the wildest disorder- the furniture was broken and thrown about in all directions. There was only one bedstead, and from this the bed had been removed, and thrown into the middle of the floor. On a chair lay a razor, besmeared with blood. On the hearth were two or three long and thick tresses of grey human hair, also pulled out by the roots. Upon the floor were found four Napoleons, an ear-ring of topaz, three large silver spoons, three smaller of metal d’Alger, and two bags, containing nearly four thousand francs in gold.’

Kenneth has left the window open, but in the text the windows were clearly all locked and held down with nails. There is no sign of furniture broken and draws in a chest open. There is no torn from the scalp, grey hair, and no gold coins. The daughter’s body was pulled down from the chimney, where it had been stuffed. Of Madame L’Espanaye no trace was found. Her body was eventually discovered in a small paved courtyard at the rear of the building. Her head was nearly severed and her body broken. She had clearly been hurled out of a window.

So of one was going to do an illustration from the book the quoted description should be followed. Much as the illustration is quite remarkable in its detail it clearly sprung out of Kenneth’s imagination and did not meet the brief.

This happened again with his illustration of the Pit and the Pendulum.

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe.

The pit and the pendulum
Kenneth Anns’ version of this gruesome story.

‘Like a razor also, it seemed massy and heavy, tapering from the edge into a solid and broad structure above. It was appended to a weighty rod of brass, and the whole hissed as it swung through the air.’ …

‘The vibration of the pendulum was at right angles to my length. I saw that the crescent was designed to cross the region of my heart. It would fray my robe- it would return and repeat its operations-again-and again.’

Clearly the other descriptions in the book give a quite different version of the pit, although I do find the one Kenneth created as deeply frightening and atmospheric. He leaves out the robe and makes the pendulum rather unusual.

Kenneth’s detail is wonderful in its invention and utterly scary. The skulls and fiends are mentioned in the text, “The figures of fiends in aspects of menace, with skeleton forms, and other more really fearful images, overspread and disfigured the walls.

I observed that the outlines of these monstrosities were sufficiently distinct, but that the colours seemed faded and blurred, as if from the effects of a damp atmosphere.’

He is also told that: “The vibration of the pendulum was a right angles to my length.’  Kenneth changes it around, so that it is swinging the length of the body. So judging by the result of his rather unusual interpretation of the text these illustrations were turned down. They were then placed in a folder and buried for many years.

The Blue Pool

Blue pool ?
The Blue Pool

The painting is very small and needs restoration –  a program of restoration is being carried out – this painting could easily be the Blue Pool and yet Kenneth completed another painting which was clearly a copy of the Frank Brangwyn, Valley of the Lot. Have a look at the Landscapes section.

He knew what the Blue Pool looked like, he nearly drowned there, happliy being dragged out by Michael and Cecily. It is puzzling that he should want to do this, but clearly he loved to reinvent. To challenge the status quo and was clearly part of his methodology. It is cheering to know that he was very much his own man.

it would also seem that due to the number of paintings that ended up in the loft, and cut from their canvasses, he was quite critical of his efforts. Some paintings were hung, such as the nude oil on canvass, others were forgotten like the Havre Gosselin sunset which I would consider to be one of his most atmospheric paintings.

I do recall that Kenneth was offered 3 impressionist paintings instead of money for a design job. He turned down the Cezanne because he said it was not a good painting. Mother never forgave him. He did admire the impressionists and kept quite a few copies in his art binder. I found them recently while sorting out the drawings.

I will continue to appraise and discover his work with great interest.

Kenneth Anns, Letter to RIBA Journal. June 1961.

Suggestions for the Brains Trust.

Dear Sir, – Emerging from the somewhat decorative scaffolding we now can see three great lumps of buildings on the South Bank of the Thames.

They are grouped round the Festival Hall like a posse of police round a holiday car with luggage on the roof. On the other side of the river we have a series of pre-war buildings ranging from the 18th century to 1939.

I suggest that the RIBA and the Town Planning Institute call a brains trust to be held on Waterloo Bridge, preferably in a stationary motor-bus, and let us hear what the experts have to say about the present and future prospects of contemporary London.

Yours faithfully,

Kenneth Anns.

Architectural Designs and Internal Design Commissions.

wwwElectronic instruments Richmond
Illustration for the Electronic Instruments Building on change of address card.
wwwAJ E I building article
Article in The Architect & Building News
www Electronic instruments
Steel frame for Electronics Instruments building in Architect & Building News

This new laboratory-type factory, situated in Lower Mortlake Road, cost approximately £56,000. It was built in the short time of 35 weeks.

That this was achieved is due to the policy of the C.A.S. (Industrial Developments), Ltd., that there should bea complete integration of both professional and contracting sides all on an equal fotting as members of a team.

The total floor area of the building is 16,000 sq ft. It consists of a multi-storey labopratory-type factory block on six floors, 75ft long, 30ft broad and 60ft high, with a two-storey office bvlock 25ft long, 20ft broad and 20ft high. The total site area is 8,750 sq ft and the ratio of site to buidling 2:1. Considerable foundation work was entailed by a large wartime air-raid shelter and some old wells found on the site.

www EI plans
Layout Electronic Instruments Ltd.

Internal Layout

The main block contains a series of open floors, internally divided only where required for laboratories, control offices and the canteen, with staircases at either end of the building.

The two-storey block forms the administration sectionof the factory and the single-storey block the stores section.

The plan is completely simple and dictated by the size of the site, which is very restricted, and by angles of light affecting adjoining buildings.

The main cladding to the steel frame is of exposed aggregate precast concrete slabs with Derbyshire Spar or Criggion granite on the face. These slabs are backed with no-fines concrete with the same breeze interior surface. Brickwork is 11in cavity work.

Structural floors are in reinforced concrete, designed for a loading of 100 lbs/sq ft. The finishes are, on the factory floors, Semtex Fleximer jointless flooring, wood block in the administration block, and all internal wall and ceiling surfaces are plastered.

Water heating , by oil-fired sectional boilers, is divided into two circuits. One for the central heating systems which has radiators on the down-feed return sub-mains, the other is coupled to indirect cylinders in the hot-water supply tanks on the roof.

The electrical layout contains a comprehensive system of lighting and power circuits with provision for intercom., telephone and flood-lighting requirements. The fire detection equipment is the :Minerva” systems, a product of Electronic Instruments Ltd., Gas is supplied to the research laboratories and the kitchens, the layout of which was designed by Intel. There is an wight-person fully automatic passenger-operated lift serving all floors.

wwwEI plans 2
External construction Electronic Instruments Ltd.

External Finishes

The main block has brick to ground floor, faience to cill of second floor and Derbyshire spar aggregate slabs above. End walls are in Criggion green granite. The two-wing sections are in brick, whilst the end wall of the two-storey wing is in Derbyshire Spa.

All frames, cills, dressing and copings are in reconstructed stone. Unbonded brick has been used to give a vertical pattern effect to the two-storey wing. All windows are metal and colour has been used to effect a pattern. Cills are in pressed metal and finished a Post Office red. All glazing is internally fixed. Roofs are Asphalt.