Henry Cowell will be best remembered for his design of the Fruit and Produce Markets in the East End of Adelaide.
Born at Clarendon, South Australia on 28 March 1855 to early SA colonists, James Cowell and Eliza Hammond (nee Caulder), Henry James Cowell was educated at his father’s school in Clarendon before completing his studies in Norwood. Henry Cowell married Mary Ann Williams in 1877, and together they had four sons and two daughters. His sons, Hubert Henry Cowell (1881-1974) and Walter David Cowell (1885-1963) both practised as architects and the family had a substantial impact on the building trade and architecture in South Australia.
Henry Cowell was a member of the Masonic Lodge St Andrew’s No.19 and was a founder of the Lodge at Broken Hill. He was also active in the Baptist and Methodist Churches, having been an organist at Norwood Baptist, Flinders Street Baptist, and Fulham Methodist Churches. Cowell was a talented photographer, exhibiting photographs of architectural subjects at the Agricultural Society’s Shows (Burgess 1907: 547). Henry Cowell was also the inventor of the Cowell’s patent mortice lock which became commonly used throughout South Australia.
Henry Cowell began his working life employed by building firms, Baker & Humbly and then Brown & Thompson. Concurrently he was studying architectural drawing at the Adelaide School of Design on South Terrace under Mr Chas. Hill (Burgess 1907: 546). He and his brother started a business in Norwood as builders and timber merchants in 1875 and Cowell Brothers successfully supplied the local building industry. However, after eleven years found he had to retire from this business due to ill health, purchasing a large fruit orchard at Lockleys known as Willowy (Burgess 1907: 547). After a time he decided to enter business as an architect. In 1908 his son, Hubert Cowell, joined his father and brother, Walter, in the partnership of Cowell & Cowell architects, an affiliation that continued until 1932. Henry Cowell died in 1938.
Prior to 1908, Henry Cowell’s residential work had included large homes for some of Adelaide’s wealthy residents, including some on or near Victoria Avenue in Unley Park. He was the architect for Institute buildings at Marion, Thebarton, Freeling and Blumberg (now Birdwood)
The architectural work for which Henry Cowell is best known is the 1904 Fruit and Produce Exchange buildings on the corner of Grenfell Street and East Terrace, Adelaide, which at the time were described as ‘equal to any other buildings of a like character in the world’ (Burgess 1907: 547). The client for this development was William Charlick who commissioned Cowell to design and build the ‘seven attached two-storey buildings, each with shops on the ground floor, offices and other accommodation above, and a broad central arched passageway surmounted by a Tudor-style half-timbered gable [which] led through into the market area’ (Page 1986: 126). His son Walter continued as architect for the Fruit and Produce Exchange following his father’s retirement.
The partnership of Cowell & Cowell was responsible for the entrance and scoreboard at Thebarton Recreation Park in 1922, as well as banking premises for the Savings Bank of South Australia at Jetty Road Glenelg (1922) and at Renmark (1928).
As both sons were old scholars of Prince Alfred College, Kent Town, Cowell & Cowell contributed to the school through their designs for the Memorial Block of classrooms (1922). In 1923 Cowell & Cowell placed second in the Freemasons competition for its new Grand Lodge building on North Terrace (Page 1986: 156). The partnership designed the 1923 Presbyterian Church at Hawthorn, and following this, in 1924, Cowell & Cowell designed St Peter’s Lutheran Church at Loxton in Gothic style, which was opened on 7 March 1926 (St Peter’s Lutheran Church Loxton).
Citation: Collins, Julie, ‘Cowell, Henry James, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=60]