Reginald Blomfield

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Blomfield in 1921

Sir Reginald Theodore Blomfield (20 December 1856 – 27 December 1942) was a prolific British architect, garden designer and author of the Victorian and Edwardian period.

Early life and career[edit]

Blomfield was born at Bow vicarage in Devon, where his father, the Rev. George John Blomfield (d. 1900) was curate. His mother, Isabella, was a first cousin of his father and the second daughter of the Rt. Rev. Charles Blomfield, Bishop of London. He was brought up in Kent, where his father became rector of Dartford in 1857 and then of Aldington in 1868. He was educated at Highgate School[1] in North London, whose Grade 2 listed War Memorial he later designed,[2] and then Haileybury school in Hertfordshire, and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he took a first-class degree in classics. At Oxford, he attended John Ruskin's lectures, but found "the atmosphere of rapt adoration with which Ruskin and all he said was received by the young ladies... was altogether too much for me". Although he had a clear learning towards the polite arts, his family did not have the means to sustain him as a gentleman artist, and Blomfield at this date had no clear career. After Oxford, he spent a year travelling on the continent as a tutor before accepting an offer from his mother's brother, Sir Arthur Blomfield, to become an articled pupil in his London practice in the autumn of 1881. He also enrolled in the Royal Academy Schools, where Richard Phené Spiers was Master of the Architectural School. He found the atmosphere in his uncle's office uncongenial and the practice's traditional Gothic Revival output hard and soulless, although he gained valuable mechanical skills at draughtsmanship and site experience. He prospered more at the Academy Schools, taking the junior prize in 1882 and the senior prize the following year, with a design for a town house in the fashionable Queen Anne Revival style, of which he was later ashamed. During his years in his uncle's office, the practice produced two uncharacteristic schemes (for work at Marlborough College and Shrewsbury School) that appear to foreshadow Blomfield's enthusiasm for classicism, and in the design of which he was presumably involved.

Design work[edit]

At the beginning of 1884, having completed his training, he left his uncle's office and spent a further four months travelling in France and Spain before returning to London and establishing a practice at 17 Southampton Street, off the Strand, in London; E.S. Prior had an office in the same building. Through Prior, a former pupil of Richard Norman Shaw, Blomfield met others of Shaw's circle, including Mervyn Macartney, Ernest Newton and Gerald Horsley. Although he never worked in Shaw's office, Blomfield was, like them, henceforth a great admirer of Shaw. With this ground, Blomfield was involved in the founding of the Art Workers Guild and was at first made its Honorary Secretary, but he attended infrequently and when admonished about this, resigned in a huff. In retrospect, however, he paid tribute to these efforts to set a new direction for architecture: "I think it is due to these young men of the 80s that the arts were rescued from the paralysing conventions of the Victorian era". In 1890, with the idea of designing and making fine furniture, Blomfield, Ernest Gimson, Macartney and William Lethaby joined forces to establish Kenton & Co. Although the venture had the makings of a success, it lasted only two years, as the partners decided to concentrate instead on their increasingly successful architectural practices.

In 1886 Blomfield married the daughter of Henry Burra of Rye, Sussex, where he designed several houses, including his own, the very informal Point Hill, Playden, where his family still live. One he let to the American novelist Henry James. The same year, Blomfield and the printer T.J. Cobden Sanderson (1840–1922) built themselves a pair of pretty houses in Frognal, Hampstead, Middlesex; 51 Frognal remained Blomfield's London home and he died there.

Regent Street, London

The heyday of Blomfield's practice, between 1885 and 1914, was dominated by the construction of new country houses and the renovation and extension of existing ones on the most generous scale. Notable among these works are the alteration of Chequers, Buckinghamshire (mostly 1909-12), Heathfield Park, Sussex (1896–1910) and Brocklesby Park, Lincolnshire (1898–1910). The completely new buildings are mostly slightly smaller but still substantial; houses such as Wittington at Medmenham, Buckinghamshire; Caythorpe Court, Lincolnshire; Moundsmere Manor. Hampshire; or Wretham Hall, Norfolk. Much of this work was carried out in a manner inspired by Blomfield's studies of both English and French Renaissance styles. Blomfield's fairly numerous university and commercial buildings also included a number of prestigious commissions, including the college buildings for Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and the United Universities Club in London. He played a major part in the completion of the Quadrant in Regent Street, London when Richard Norman Shaw withdrew from the project. The First World War put an end to the type of building projects on which he had been engaged, and after it ended in 1919 his practice never returned to its former size. He was 65 in 1921, but continued working at a gradually decreasing pace into his late 70s, producing a large number of war memorials in the 1920s, including the Menin Gate at Ypres. His last major project was the reconstruction of 4 Carlton Gardens, London, in 1932.

Publications[edit]

The Cross of Sacrifice in Bayeux War Cemetery in Normandy

Blomfield had a gift for sketching and writing. His first book, Formal gardens in England, illustrated by Inigo Thomas, appeared in 1892. His views invoked the criticism of the gardener William Robinson, who pursued a lengthy dispute with those architects who dared to interest themselves in gardening, especially Blomfield and John Dando Sedding. In 1897 Blomfield's first major historical work, A history of Renaissance architecture in England, 1500-1800 was published by George Bell and Sons. The architecture of the Wren era in particular appealed to him, and he came to regard it as the era of England's finest architecture. This book was complemented by the appearance of a companion study, A history of French architecture, published in two volumes covering 1494-1661 (1911) and 1661-1774 (1921). Together with the work of Blomfield himself, Sir John Belcher and Mervyn Macartney, the arrival of a serious account of architectural development in the 17th and 18th centuries led not only to the preservation of many previously neglected buildings of those periods, but also increased interest in the neo-Georgian style.

His other published works include Studies in Architecture (1905); The Mistress Art (1908), Architectural Drawing and Draughtsmen (1912); The Touchstone of Architecture (1925); Six Architects (1925); Memoirs of an Architect (1932); the controversial anti-Modernist polemic, Modernismus (1934) and the sketchy Richard Norman Shaw (1940). A further collection of autobiographical material, 1932–42, continuing his memoirs, remains unpublished and is in the possession of his descendants.

Archival materials[edit]

The British Architectural Library Drawings Collection has a number of his perspective drawings produced for Royal Academy exhibitions and an incomplete collection of his sketchbooks, photographs and papers. Other documents remain in the possession of his descendants, but he disposed of the majority of his drawings during the Second World War. A bronze bust of Blomfield by Sir William Reid Dick is in the National Portrait Gallery.

List of works[edit]

The following list of major works is selected from that given in R.A. Fellows, Sir Reginald Blomfield: an Edwardian architect, 1985, with additions from The Buildings of England and other sources cited in the bibliography:

Lincoln Public Library
Westgate Water Tower, Lincoln
The Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium
The Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium
The Usher Art Gallery, Lincoln
R.A.F. Memorial, London
Lambeth Bridge, London
The Headrow, Leeds

Among war memorials for which he was responsible are:

Awards and honours[edit]

Blomfield was made an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1881 and a Fellow in 1906; an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1905 and elected to the Academy in 1914, where he had been Professor of Architecture 1907-11 and awarded the Royal Gold Medal in 1913. He was President of the RIBA in 1912-14 and was knighted in 1919. In 1933, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Corresponding member.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Highgate School Roll 1833-1912, Unwin Brothers Ltd 1913
  2. ^ "English Heritage". Retrieved 30 August 2014. 
  3. ^ "Caythorpe Court, Grantham, England". Parks and Gardens UK. 27 July 2007. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  4. ^ Canadian Encyclopedia Monuments, World Wars I and II

References[edit]

  • Blomfield, Sir Reginald, Memoirs of an Architect, London: Macmillan and Co, 1932
  • Fellows, R. A., Sir Reginald Blomfield: an Edwardian architect, London, 1985
  • Fellows, R. A., Edwardian Architecture: style and technology, 1995
  • Gray, A. S., Edwardian Architecture: a biographical dictionary, 1985
  • Riddington, Peter, et al., Regent Street, History and Conservation. Donald Insall Associates, London 2001.
  • Service, A., Edwardian Architecture, London 1977
  • Wikipedia - Derby School 2014

External links[edit]

  • Reginald Blomfield: Veterans UK
  • Blomfield, Reginald (1911). A History of French Architecture from the Death of Charles VIII till the Death of Mazarin London: G. Bell. Vols. I (copies 1 & 2) and II (copies 1 & 2) at Internet Archive.
  • Blomfield, Reginald (1921). A History of French Architecture from the Death of Mazarin till the Death of Louis XV, 1661–1774. London: G. Bell. Vols. I (copies 1 & 2) and II (copies 1 & 2) at Internet Archive.