Decimus Burton

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Decimus Burton
Decimus Burton.png
Decimus Burton by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Born30 September 1800
North House, Southampton Terrace, Bloomsbury, London
Died14 December 1881
1 Gloucester Road, Kensington
Resting placeKensal Green Cemetery, London.
EducationTonbridge School
Alma mater
Notable work

Decimus Burton FRS FRSA FSA FRIBA (30 September 1800 – 14 December 1881) was one of the foremost English architects of the 19th century.[1][2]:72 He was a leading exponent of the Greek revival, Georgian and Regency styles. He was a founding Fellow and, later, Vice-President, of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and architect to the Royal Botanic Society from 1840. He was an early member of the Athenaeum Club, London, whose Clubhouse he designed and his father built.

Decimus's works include Hyde Park, London, including Gate/Screen at Hyde Park Corner and the Wellington Arch, London Zoo, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the clubhouse of the Athenaeum Club, London, Regent's Park, London, including Cornwall Terrace, Chester Terrace, Clarence Terrace, and the villas of the Inner Circle (including his own residence, The Holme), Green Park, London, Carlton House Terrace, and the layout and architecture of the seaside towns of Fleetwood and St Leonards-on-Sea and the spa town Tunbridge Wells. He also worked on Buckingham Palace, where he was responsible for the removal of Nash's Marble Arch facing the building to its present site and the subsequent enclosure of the forecourt.

Decimus was the tenth child of James Burton, the pre-eminent property developer of Georgian London,[3][4] by whom, Sir John Soane, and John Nash, he was taught. Decimus was a leading member of London society during the Regency era and Georgian era. His siblings included James Burton, the Egyptologist, and Henry Burton, the physician, and he was a cousin of the author and Thomas Chandler Haliburton, and of the British civil servant Lord Haliburton.

Decimus trained the architects Henry Marley Burton FRIBA, Henry Currey FRIBA, and Edward John May FRIBA.


Decimus was the tenth child of James Burton, the Georgian property developer, (who was formerly known as James Haliburton),[5] and of Elizabeth Westley (12 December 1761 – 14 January 1837), of Loughton, Essex, who was the daughter of John and Mary Westley.[5] On his father's side, his great-great grandparents were Rev. James Haliburton (1681–1756) and Margaret Eliott, daughter of Sir William Eliott, 2nd Baronet and aunt of George Augustus Eliott, 1st Baron Heathfield.[5] Decimus was descended from John Haliburton (1573–1627), from whom Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet was descended on the maternal side.[4] Burton was a cousin of the Canadian author and barrister Thomas Chandler Haliburton and of the British civil servant Lord Haliburton.[2]:71–73[6][7]

Decimus was born on 30 September 1800 in Bloomsbury, London.[8][5][9]


Decimus spent his formative years in his father’s mansion, Mabledon House, in Kent, which, coincidentally, after it had been sold by his father, he was commissioned to expand on several occasions.[10]

Decimus left Tonbridge School in 1816 to enter the Royal Academy Schools directly, in 1817.[8][11] He was able to enter the Royal Academy Schools directly, at an unprecedentedly young age, without having previously been articled to an architect, as a consequence of his father’s social position.[8] There he was taught by Sir John Soane, for whom his brother, James, had also worked.[8][11] Decimus then trained with his father, and received drawing lessons from George Maddox.[12][11]

Decimus entered the Royal Academy directly.


Decimus was a philomath who was and extremely erudite in both arts and sciences, as demonstrated by the diversity of his library, a part of which was auctioned by his nieces. The sale catalogue listed 347 separate lots, some of which ran into many volumes.[8] The collection demonstrates the diversity of his intellectual interests: it contained the Proceedings of the Camden Society complete in 135 volumes and transactions of many of the learned societies of which Burton was a member as well as a complete set of the Histoire Naturelle (70 vols.) of G. L. L. Buffon and Bernard Germain de Lacépède.[8] The architectural texts comprised mostly standard works on classical architecture, such as the five volumes of Colen Campbell, Vitruvius Britannicus by John Woolfe and James Gandon, James Gibbs's Book of Architecture, and William Kent's The Designs of Inigo Jones.[8] Alongside these, there were numerous topographical views and surveys of cities and counties in the collection.[8] There were also some foreign-language texts, including volumes by Charles Percier and Jean-Baptiste Rondelet, a complete set of Giovanni Battista Piranesi's works, and several dictionaries.[8] The absence of an educative grand tour early in his career meant that his books and casts were his sources for his early designs, which are technically formal and academic in style.[8][12] However, he proceeded to travel extensively in Europe and North America: his first tours were of France and Spain, in 1826; he toured Holland in 1846; he toured Germany in 1850.[8][11]

Decimus was a leading exponent of Greek revival architecture, although, uniquely, he was also significantly influenced by Ancient Roman architecture.[8] It was in his Neoclassical work that he attained the acme of his excellence.[8] Dana Arnold (2002) described his Neoclassical work thus:

"His use of the orders is always correct, but he showed a lack of pedantry in their application that sets him apart from some of his more doctrinaire contemporaries, such as Hamilton and Smirke. From Nash he had learned to combine the classical and the picturesque, and it is the picturesque that is predominant in much of his later work".[11]

In his later career, Decimus designed some buildings in the Gothic revival style; in the ‘old English’ style; and in the cottage orné style.[8][12] His Gothic revival designs are unoriginal: he had little sympathy for the style.[11]

Decimus was one of the first architects to consider the implications of architecture on the creation of distinct urban environments in which they featured.[8] The evidence given by Burton to two Parliamentary Select Committees demonstrates the diversity of his knowledge, and the esteem in which his opinion was held by his contemporaries.[8] Burton's evidence to the 1840 Select Committee, which discussed plans to develop Trafalgar Square, popularised his contentions on urban development.[8][a] This is one of the first examples of public discussion about an urban space with acknowledged national and political significance.[8][12]

Relationship with John Nash[edit]

Decimus came into contact with John Nash via his father, who was responsible for building many of Nash's London designs.[8] Nash was appointed architectural 'overseer' for Decimus's Regent's Park projects: Cornwall Terrace, York Terrace, Chester Terrace, Clarence Terrace,[9] and the villas of the Inner Circle, including The Holme.[8] However, to the animosity of Nash, Decimus disregarded Nash's advice and developed the Terraces according to his own style, to the extent that Nash, sought, unsuccessfully, the demolition and complete reconstruction of Chester Terrace.[12][8][3] Decimus also emerged as the dominant force in the design of Carlton House Terrace.[8]

Clifford's Inn[edit]

From 1830 to 1834, Decimus studied at Clifford's Inn. The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner believes that Decimus designed the Gatehouse of the Inn.[14]

Personal life[edit]


The inner circle of Decimus and his father and siblings included John Wilson Croker, John Nash,[8] Sir Humphry Davy,[3] Sir Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood,[15] and their cousin Thomas Chandler Haliburton, whom Decimus[2]:72 and his siblings, Jane, James Burton, the Egyptologist,[7] Septimus, the solicitor, Octavia, and Jessy, hosted on Thomas’s visits to London.[2]:72

Decimus and his siblings entertained their cousin Thomas Chandler Haliburton, the Canadian author, in London.

In 1832 Decimus Burton was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.[5] was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts,[12] a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London,[8][16][17] a founding Fellow and later Vice-President of the Royal Institute of British Architects and architect to the Royal Botanic Society from 1840.[9] Decimus was an early member of the Athenaeum Club, London, whose clubhouse he designed and his father, James Burton, the pre-eminent London property developer, built. Decimus's father James father was also an early member of the Club.[1][18] The cast of the Apollo Belvedere positioned in the recess at the top of the principal staircase at the Athenaeum was a gift to the Club from Decimus.[19] There is a photographic portrait of Decimus, taken in 1873, preserved at the Club,[11] and the Club retains some furniture designed by Decimus.[1] Decimus had over 30 years of correspondence with John Wilson Croker, a founder of the Club,[18] and was a close friend of Sir Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood, who was another early member.[15]


Decimus trained as an architect his nephew Henry Marley Burton FRIBA (1821 - 1880), the son of his eldest brother, William Ford Burton, who succeeded to his architectural practice on his death.[11] Henry Marley was a distinguished architect in his own right: in 1866, Henry Marley had commissioned by John George Dodson, 1st Baron Monk Bretton to design a mansion at Coneyborough; Decimus had designed Bineham in Chailey for Dodson's brother-in-law John George Blencowe. Decimus also taught the architects Henry Currey FRIBA and, together with his nephew, Henry Marley Burton, Edward John May FRIBA.[20][9]


Decimus retired in 1869, and Henry Marley Burton, his nephew, whom he had trained, succeeded to his architectural practice.[21][22] Decimus died in December 1881, at 1 Gloucester Road, Kensington, and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery,[23] in a tapering sarcophagus of grey Cornish granite, on a stepped base, with a shallow pyramidal cover.[23] His tomb became a Grade II listed building in 2001.[23]

Decimus did not ever marry and died without issue. On his death, his property, including his extensive library and all of his architectural draughts and notes and draughts, passed to surviving members of his family. Despite the fact that he had left his library to the Royal Institute of British Architects, of which he had served as President, most of it was instead received by his two spinster nieces, Helen and Emily Jane Wood, who subsequently sold it, and the remainder was received by other members of the family. As a consequence of this, according to Dana Arnold, there is a gross imbalance between the ‘scale and significance’ of Decimus’s work and the amount of documentary evidence of it that is in the public domain, which has, together with the fragmentary nature of the written sources of his work in the public domain, undeservedly ‘tended to relegate Burton to the margins of architectural histories’. However, in his work around London, especially at Regent’s Park and Hyde Park, Decimus’s style achieves a resplendent memorial.[8]

List of architectural works[edit]

The works are listed by county in alphabetical order. The list is based on the work of Whitbourn 2003, and on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for "Burton, Decimus (1800 - 1881)", by Dana Arnold. Any other sources are specified individually.


  • Stockgrove House, Buckinghamshire/Bedfordshire border (1831) demolished circa 1928



East Sussex[edit]

  • Oaklands Park, Sedlescombe (1830)
  • Adelaide Crescent, Hove (1831) (only numbers 1–10 were built, the remainder were completed from 1850 to a much grander design)
  • Wick Hall, Hove (1840; demolished 1936)
  • Holy Trinity Church, Eastbourne (1837-9; later extended)
  • St. Augustine's Church, Flimwell (1839)

St Leonards-on-Sea[edit]

In 1828 Burton's father James bought up an estate in East Sussex, on which he built the new town of St Leonard's-on-Sea as a pleasure resort for the aristocracy. Decimus designed the majority of the buildings.[4]

Greater London[edit]

Regent's Park[edit]

  • The Holme, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park (1818), Residence of the Burton family including Decimus's father, James Burton who built it. Architectural critic Ian Nairn wrote of the house, "If you want a definition of western civilization in a single view, then here it is".
  • Grove House, Holford House and Winfield House, South Villa (1819), the Marquess of Hertford's villa (designs exh. RA, 1822, 1825; MS book of drawings of the villa now in the Architectural Association Library, London); Grove House, Hanover Lodge, Holford House (1833). St John's Lodge, owned by John Mabberley MP, was let in 1829 to Marquess Wellesley, who employed Burton to enlarge it.
  • London Colosseum, Regents Park (1823–27). Circular in plan with a Doric portico,it resembled the Pantheon in form.[24] It was demolished in 1875; the site is now occupied by the Royal College of Physicians.
  • Clarence Terrace, Regent's Park (1823)[9]
  • Cornwall Terrace, Regent's Park, London (1827)
  • Chester Terrace, Regent's Park, London.
  • Zoological Society Gardens (1826–41)
  • Botanical Society Gardens (1840–59).

Hyde Park[edit]

Burton's work at Hyde Park, Green Park, and St James's Park begun in 1825, shows him to be one of the main executants of the vision of George IV and his ministers of London as a royal city rivalling its European counterparts. In collaboration with the king and his chief officials, Burton planned to create an urban space dedicated to the celebration of the House of Hanover, national pride, and the nation's heroes.[8] The project, which evolved in the 1820s, comprised creating two aligned entrances, the Wellington Arch at Constitution Hill into Green Park, London and the Hyde Park Gate/Screen at Hyde Park Corner. These two entrances would form part of a processional route for the monarch from Buckingham Palace to Hyde Park. The arch at Constitution Hill was left devoid of decorative sculpture as a result of the moratorium in 1828 on public building work, and was used instead, much to Burton's chagrin, as a plinth for an oversized and much ridiculed equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington by Matthew Cotes Wyatt, which was later removed to Aldershot. In 1883 the arch at Constitution Hill was turned and resited to make way for increased traffic, and Burton's two aligned entrances were thus knocked off their axis.[8]

Burton also laid out the paths and driveways and lodges of the Parks. He made new designs for the Stanhope, Grosvenor, and Cumberland gates. More ambitious plans for the parks that were not realized include the dramatic circular Bayswater Gate and Lodge and an entrance to Green Park from Piccadilly based on a Greek temple design.[8]

Other London Works[edit]

  • Parliamentary Stables, Westminster
  • London Zoo, various buildings (1826–28) and (1831–34); surviving buildings include the Giraffe House, the Camel House, the Raven Cage and the tunnel under the Outer Circle, connecting the two parts of the zoo. He also designed the llama building (1828) with a clock tower.
  • Carlton House Terrace (with John Nash)
  • The Geological Society's apartments at Somerset House (1828)
  • Athenaeum, Pall Mall (1828–30). The exterior is decorated with a full-size replica of the Panathenaic frieze. Burton later made alterations to the United Service Club.
  • Charing Cross Hospital, London (1831–9)
  • Putney Park House, Roehampton, London (1837–38)[25]
  • Devonshire House, London, added portico and remodelled the hall and staircase (1843) demolished
  • The library at 18 Hyde Park Gardens (c.1844)
  • Oriental Club. The construction of additions to the Clubhouse that were designed by Decimus Burton, in 1853, was superintended, when eventually commenced, in 1871, by his nephew Henry Marley Burton.[26]
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Layout of gardens and paths, The Palm House (1844–48) (at the time the largest greenhouse in the world), Main Gate (1846; renamed the Elizabeth Gate in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II) the Water Lily House (1852), The Museum, (1857, extended 1881), The Temperate House, (1859–1863) (the flanking wings, also part of Burton's design, were not built until 1897–98)
  • Beulah Spa, Upper Norwood (1831). Burton landscaped the grounds and designed the buildings for the entrepreneur John Davidson Smith. It became a popular society venue attracting large crowds to its fêtes.[27] Burton's buildings were in a " rustic" style, with the ticket office in the form of a thatched cottage.[28] The spa closed in 1856 soon after the opening nearby of the Crystal Palace.[b] Burton also drew up designs for a grand crescent of terraced houses on the hill above the spa, which was, however, never built.[28]
  • Vicarage, Isleworth, alterations (1865)
  • Holwood House, Keston (1823-1826 – now a Grade II listed building)


  • Bay House (originally Ashburton House), Gosport (1838)


  • Haydon Hill House, Bushey (1840s; later extended - now a Grade II listed building and converted into flats)



Burton's work with his father on the East Sussex town of St Leonards-on-Sea, between 1827 and 1837, had impressed their friend, and fellow Atheneaum Club member, Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood who commissioned Burton to design and lay out his new port and seaside resort, Fleetwood.[15]


  • Sennowe Hall, near Guist extended 1855–56, remodelled 1908 - very little of Burton's work survives.

North Yorkshire[edit]


  • Grammar School, Retford (1855–1857)


West Sussex[edit]



  1. ^ The proceedings were reported in the Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, 7 September 1840[13]
  2. ^ One widely publicized event was a "Grand Scottish Fete" on 16 September 1834 "with a tightrope performance by Pablo Fanque, the black circus performer who would later dominate the Victorian circus and achieve immortality in The Beatles song, "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!".[29]
  1. ^ a b c "Athenaeum Club, London. Homepage".
  2. ^ a b c d Davies, Richard A. (2005). Inventing Sam Slick: A Biography of Thomas Chandler Haliburton. University of Toronto Press. pp. 71–74, 79, 151. ISBN 978-0-8020-5001-4.
  3. ^ a b c Bowdler, Roger. "Burton [Haliburton], James". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/50182. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ a b c "Who were the Burtons?". The Burtons' St Leonards Society. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Pedigree of Decimus Burton (1800 - 1881), The Weald, Public Archives of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex".
  6. ^ Burton, James (1783–1811). "The Diary of James Burton". The National Archives. Retrieved 2018-06-18 – via Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.
  7. ^ a b Cooke, Neil M. R. "Haliburton [Haleburton; formerly Burton], James (1788–1862), Egyptologist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/11926. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Arnold, Dana. "Burton, Decimus". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4125. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ a b c d e Basic biographical details of Decimus Burton at the Dictionary of Scottish Architects Biographical Database.
  10. ^ "History of Mabledon House, Kent". Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Arnold, Dana (2003). Reading Architectural History. Routledge. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-1-134-53231-5.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Curl, James Stevens (1999). The Dictionary of Architecture. Vol. 1 Aba - Byz. Oxford University Press. p. 133. ISBN 0-19-860678-8.
  13. ^ "The Nelson Monument and Trafalgar Square". Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal. 7 September 1840. p. 304. Retrieved 2018-06-18.
  14. ^ Bradley & Pevsner 2002, pp. 293-294.
  15. ^ a b c Curtis & Curtis 1994.
  16. ^ Colvin 2008.
  17. ^ Jones 1905.
  18. ^ a b Decimus Burton video. RIBA. 22 minutes in. Archived from the original on 7 January 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  19. ^ "Victorian Web: Grand Staircase, The Athenaeum Club".
  20. ^ "ARCHIVE OF LORD MONK BRETTON OF CONYBORO IN BARCOMBE". The National Archives. Retrieved 2018-06-18.
  21. ^ Basic biographical details of Henry Marley Burton at the Dictionary of Scottish Architects Biographical Database.
  22. ^ "Fountain Design of Edgar Burton to commemorate James Burton". Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  23. ^ a b c Historic England. "Tomb of Decimus Burton (1389239)". National Heritage List for England.
  24. ^ Elmes 1852, p. 144.
  25. ^ Historic England. "Putney Park House (1300065)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  26. ^ Baillie 1901, p. 167.
  27. ^ "The Lawns". London Borough of Croydon. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  28. ^ a b Coulter 1996, pp. 80-84.
  29. ^ Warwick 1982, Ch. 5.
  30. ^ a b c Homan 1984, p. 106.
  31. ^ "David Lyon junior". Legacies of British Slave-ownership. Retrieved 2018-06-18 – via

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]