Queer Places:
Bassetts, Southwell Park Road, Camberley, Surrey
Bible Christian Chapel, 11 Berkeley Vale, Falmouth TR11 3PL, UK

Celebrate an architecture pioneer – Ethel Mary CharlesBessie Ada Charles (1869 – 4 November 1932), was a British architect. In 1900, she became one of the first women to enter the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The Charles sisters were the first women to be elected associate members of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), in 1900 and 1898 respectively. Forbidden to train at the Architectural Association’s school because of their gender, they joined a practice in London in 1892 and learned on the job, working professionally (though sporadically) before the First World War.

Bessie Charles and her sister Ethel Charles were born in Calcutta to Thomas Edmonton Charles (1834–1906), a doctor in private practice, and Ada Henrietta Charles (1848–1931/2).[1] The family left India in 1877, settling at first in Cannes, then for twenty years spent their summers in Switzerland and winters in Rome, and visiting to England annually. Ethel and Bessie Charles were both educated privately and together read modern languages at Somerville College, Oxford for a year in 1891–2. Despite being presented at court, their father encouraged both daughters to explore a profession.

Between 1892–5 Bessie and Ethel were articled to Sir Ernest George and Peto, the architectural practice of Ernest George and Harold Peto. In 1892 they were proposed for membership of the Architectural Association School of Architecture, but withdrew after opposition. They attended the school of architecture at The Bartlett (University College London), studying architecture as a fine art, a course in architectural history (second class certificates, 1892–3); however, they did not take the professional elements of the programme, which were not thought appropriate for women students. They were the first women to study architecture at UCL.[2] In 1900, Bessie took the qualifying examination for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and was elected, one year after Ethel.[1] From 1898 to 1905 Ethel and Bessie Charles lived together in Marylebone, London, which provided accommodation for single professional women. Both sisters lived from time to time in the family home in Camberley, Surrey, but they shifted the focus of their architectural practice to Clift Cottage in Flushing, Cornwall. Their most notable work is the Bible Christian Chapel (now a cinema) in Falmouth, Cornwall (1907).[1]


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