Researched and written by Jenny Mukerji
Arthur Albert Messer (1863-1934)
Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Albert Messer CBE DSO FRIBA (i.e. Commander of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order, Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects) is buried in Plot 29 of Brookwood Cemetery. He trained as an architect and later worked for the Directorate of the Graves Registration Unit, the forerunner of the Imperial War Graves Commission (later it became the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).
Arthur’s birth was registered in Reading during the first quarter of 1864. He was the third son of John Messer and Mary Ann, nee Wade and his father was a timber merchant and town councillor. Between 1881 and 1884 he was articled to architect William Doubleday (1846-1938) of Birmingham and later worked for other architects in England. This was followed by a transfer to Messrs Withers & Dickson in New York in 1888. Later that year he had reached Fort Worth, Texas, where he was joined by his elder brother, Howard from 1892. Arthur’s designs included the Texas Spring Palace and Galveston’s Court House. He married Jessie Ligertwood Hickes in the Cathedral Church of St Matthew in Dallas, which he had also designed. Jessie was the eldest daughter of John Ligertwood of Aberdeen and came from the Scottish family which had connections to the Matador Ranch in Texas. The couple went to live in Locke Avenue, in one of the first great houses of Artlington Heights, another of Arthur’s creations.
In 1898 Arthur returned to England and began a partnership with Cyril B Tubbs (1859-1927) who was also born in Reading. Another partner was G Val Myers with whom they parted company in 1924. Tubbs & Messer had offices in London as well as at 10 The Broadway, Woking, and 7 Cantelope Road, Bexhill, Sussex. They were responsible for much of the design of the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company’s development of the Hook Heath Estate in Woking. Their designs included Comeragh Court, High Housen, Hohen Heid, Lingdown, The Links, The Patch, Stony Fore and Westward. Within Brookwood Cemetery itself, they designed the second Anglican chapel, built between 1908 and 1910, which is currently occupied by the St Edward Brotherhood, a small Orthodox Christian monastery who use it as their shrine to St Edward the Martyr. Tubbs & Messer had already designed the distinctive Moorhatch in Horsell (built by Drowley & Co) in 1905. They went on to design the West Surrey Golf Club House of 1910.
On 20 March 1911 Arthur became a Licentiate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), having been proposed by the architect Thomas Edward Collcutt (1840-1924). He became a Fellow of RIBA on 9 March 1931.
Arthur was widowed when his wife Jessie died at their home, Little Widbury, Hook Heath on 27 October 1911.
During the Great War Arthur first served with the 1st French Cavalry Corps and the 10th French Army, being commissioned in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in 1915. He worked for the Directorate of the Graves Registration Unit with Major-General Sir Fabian Ware (1869-1949), being his chief lieutenant. In 1916 Arthur was present at the first meeting of the National Committee for the Care of Soldiers’ Graves, established by the Prince of Wales. Also during this year he was placed in sole charge of the Graves Registration Units on the Western Front. On 2 December 1916 he was promoted from temporary Major to temporary Lieutenant-Colonel and for his work in the Graves Registration Section he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) medal on 4 June 1917 in the Birthday Honours List.
By 1918 he was in charge of his own surveying and planning office in France which was financed by the Red Cross and it was here that he made the initial arrangements for proper construction work in the military cemeteries. He suggested a budget of £10 for each grave in the permanent military cemeteries and this estimate was proved to be realistic. He continued to work with the Imperial War Graves Commission after the war and also designed some small cemeteries in Switzerland, Holland and Scandinavia.
Probably due to his work on the continent, it was not until 12 July 1927 that Arthur remarried. His bride was Lilian Hope Dowling, the third daughter of Charles Cholmeley Dowling, and the wedding took place quietly at St Michael’s Church, Chester Square, London. The couple went on to have a son and a daughter.
Arthur was present when Edwin Lutyens’s (1869-1944) Arras Memorial was unveiled on 31 July 1932 by Edward, Prince of Wales. He was also present when Lutyens’s Thiepval Memorial was unveiled, again by the Prince, the following day.
Arthur died at Little Widbury on 14 April 1934. His funeral took place at Brookwood Cemetery on 17 April at 1 pm. His death notice, in The Times, advised that the train left the Necropolis Station, 121 Westminster Bridge Road at 11:40am.
Fort Worth’s Arlington Heights by Juliet George (via Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Fort_Worth_s_Arlington_Heights.html?id=ExaiwJySh28C&redir_esc=y).
London’s Necropolis – A Guide to Brookwood Cemetery by John Clarke (Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2004)
The Times newspapers.