May was born in 1853, and at the age of 16 he became the last pupil articled to the famous victorian architect Decimus Burton (who designed the Palm House at Kew Gardens), studying at the Royal Academy architecture school.
Once his articles had finished he joined Richard Norman Shaw’s practice and became part of an informal group of architects connected to Shaw, including the latter’s former partner, William Nesfield, who were intimately connected to the Arts and Crafts movement in architecture
One of his earliest responsibilities was as estate architect for the Bedford Park project in West London. After Shaw retired in 1880 it seemed natural that May should succeed him, and May took on the task of completing the layout; he also designed some of the buildings. May lived there until 1888 with his wife and growing family.
According to Andrew Saint’s book on Norman Shaw, Edward May was a ‘considerable architect, an excellent draughtsman, and a charming and humorous man‘, and he was widely respected as an architect, mainly on the smaller, domestic, scale, where his bent for for designing in simple and restrained fashion served him well.
It has been suggested that his drawings promised more than the buildings which finally emerged. A sketching tour abroad in 1876 seems to have developed his talent for draughtsmanship, and while working for Shaw he won the Pugin Scholarship with his drawings.
Following his work in Bedford Park he developed a practice in Bloomsbury, designing houses in virtually every county in Britain. His own style maintained the vernacular tradition, and he did not follow Ernest Newton into neo-Georgian. Darrell Spurgeon in his book Discover Chislehurst, comments that several of May’s houses reveal more of the influence of Voysey in their elegant white simplicity.
In 1891 he moved to Chislehurst. He lived originally on Willow Grove, before moving to a house on Heathfield Lane of his own design in 1913, which he originally called Lyneham (now called Wallings). He designed a large number of houses in Chislehurst, including the five villas on Shepherds Green, and a number of smaller houses round the corner in Holbrook Lane. His final work was the design of the tower of the Church of the Annunciation on the High Street.
At Chislehurst he was a Church Warden at the Church of the Annunciation, Chislehurst High Street as well as Secretary of the Parish Nurse Fund.
Edward May died on March 16 1941 at the age of 87, in Chislehurst. His obituary in the Builder includes the following:
‘Towards his pupils, assistants, clients and builders, he was always the same unruffled master of himself, though in a quiet way he could be more severe than any blusterer. His fairness in every dealing was crystal clear, and his perpetual joy and interest in those around him revealed a master in the art of living.’
According to Darrell Spurgeon’s Discover Chislehurst, Edward May was responsible for the design of the following houses or buildings in Chislehurst:
Shepherds Green: Nos 1-5 (1905/7) (No. 5 pictured on right)
- 9, The Homestead, 1909 (pictured below)
- 27, Mainstay Lodge, 1922
- 39, Lockers, 1927
- 41, Quatre Fils, 1926
- Antokil (formerly Oak House), 1912
- South Lodge, 1920
- The Foxearth, 1926 (possibly earlier)
- White Riggs, 1910
- Sweet Meadows, 1912
- Moorcroft, 1930
- Foxdeane, 1928
The Annunciation Church:
- Lych Gate, 1905
- Tower, 1930
- Saxby’s (redevelopment), St Pauls Cray Road, 1907 (shown below)
- Western Motor Works, Perry Street, 1909
- 1/5, Beaverwood Road, 1910/11
- The Gatehouse, Sidcup by-pass, 1928
- Wallings, Heathfield Lane, 1913*
- Four houses in The Meadow, 1920
- Martins, Willow Grove, 1895
- 165/169, Lower Camden, 1904
- Rosemount Cottage, Cricket Ground Road (conversion) 1920
- Elmstead Spinney, Wood Drive, 1920
- Dunoran House, Park Farm Road, 1907
*Description of Lyneham in The Building News, Nov 17 1913: ‘Lyneham has been built on a site overlooking Chislehurst Common for the architect’s own occupation. The walls are faced with many-tinted clamp-burnt bricks and the roofs are tiled. There is another sitting-room over the kitchen to obtain th same view. The drawing-room is lined with white-painted 18th-Century panelling from Catherine Court, Tower Hill, lately pulled down. The paved path to the front door is some 70ft long and the first part of the garden behind is laid out with stone-paved paths and forms a small rose-garden’.