The Architectural Journey of John Graham

The Architectural Journey of John Graham

Suncourt Harlow

Our upcoming 24 October Homes & Interiors sale features a selection of the contents of Suncourt, the home of the late John Graham (1927-2021), an architect who worked with Frederick Gibberd, and became a key figure in the design of Harlow 'New Town' in Essex.

29 September 2023




As part of a programme of reconstruction, instigated by the New Town Act of 1946, Harlow was one of the government's designated towns where it was proposed to alleviate congestion through planning rather than sprawl, and to combine social responsibility with modern architecture.

Born in Manchester in 1927, Graham served with the Royal Engineers in Germany from 1945 to 1948, before returning to study at Manchester University where he obtained a first-class degree in architecture.  In 1952, he joined the Harlow Development Corporation, before being awarded the Rome scholarship in 1953, his time spent in Italy making measured drawings of Roman temples coming to influence some of his later work.


John and Britt Graham



In 1956, he joined the Harlow office of Frederick Gibberd & Partners, Gibberd having been responsible for drawing up the master plan for Harlow New Town in 1947.  Graham went on to become a partner in the firm in 1965.  He was the architect responsible for Harlow's Adams House retail and office block in the Market Square, with its iconic clock, completed around 1956 as one of the first buildings in the town centre; the realisation of Harlow's Harvey Centre shopping complex in 1980; and he designed the UK’s first purpose-built community sports centre.  His sensitive additions to Old Harlow high street in the early 1970s won a European Council Architecture Heritage award.


Photos of the interior at Suncourt, Harlow – John and Britt Graham’s home


When a new civic centre was planned some time after Gibberd's death, John pushed forward the idea of a gallery space in the building to house the significant watercolour collection Frederick Gibberd had bequeathed to the town, with the aim for the collection to be on permanent display and crucially to hold public exhibitions alongside. The Gibberd Galley opened in 2004 and today the gallery hosts community shows, an artist in residence, school workshops and contemporary exhibitions.


Photos of the interior at Suncourt, Harlow – John and Britt Graham’s home


John retired in 1983 and devoted himself to art, opening an art gallery in the town centre and becoming a trustee of Harlow Art Trust. For more than thirty years he helped grow the town’s fine collection of sculpture, which includes works by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Lynn Chadwick and Elisabeth Frink. 

Graham and his beloved wife, Britt Båckstrom, a Swedish singer, lived on the edge of Harlow from around 1960, in a prefabricated Colt timber house of John's design. They were both avid collectors, acquiring many items of Scandinavian furniture and ceramics, including pieces by Gunnar Nielsen, Fritz Hansen, the Gustavsberg Studio and Nittsjö Keramik, and pieces by other prominent artists including the St Ives Movement.  He generously donated the bulk of his collection and estate to the Harlow Art Trust.


Photos of the interior at Suncourt, Harlow – John and Britt Graham’s home


John represented values that evolved after the two world wars: a pride in civic duty – if we all work together, we can make things better for everyone – and a belief that culture (be it art, music, football, religion or even knitting!) is essential for a good life.


To view the property for sale, visit this link.

If you have any questions regarding this collection please contact John Black

For further information on the Harlow Art Trust, email Erleen Anderson



Homes & Interiors

Tuesday 24 October | 9:30am | 01279 817778







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