Decimus Burton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Decimus Burton
Decimus Burton.png
Decimus Burton by Thomas Lawrence
Born 30 September 1800
North House, Southampton Terrace, Bloomsbury, London
Died 14 December 1881
1 Gloucester Houses, Kensington, London.
Resting place Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
Nationality British
Education Tonbridge School
Alma mater Royal Academy
Occupation Architect
Notable work Hyde Park, London Gate/Screen, Wellington Arch, Athenaeum Club, London, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Cornwall Terrace, Chester Terrace, London Zoo, Carlton House Terrace, Fleetwood, St Leonards-on-Sea, Tunbridge Wells.
Relatives James Burton (Egyptologist) (Brother)

Decimus Burton FRS FRSA RA FSA FRIBA (30 September 1800 – 14 December 1881) was one of the foremost English architects of the 19th century. He was the son of property developer James Burton and brother of Egyptologist James Burton. He was taught by his father, James, Sir John Soane, and John Nash. His 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, and the villas of the Inner Circle, 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 10th child of the property developer James Burton (formerly James Haliburton)[1] and Elizabeth Westley (12 December 1761 - 14 January 1837), of Loughton, Essex, daughter of John and Mary Westley. He was a brother of Egyptologist James Burton.

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. Decimus was descended from John Haliburton (1573–1627), from whom Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet could trace his descent on the maternal side. He was a cousin of the American judge and author Thomas Chandler Haliburton and thence of the the lawyer and anthropologist Robert Grant Haliburton and Arthur Lawrence Haliburton, 1st Baron Haliburton.[2]

Education and Style[edit]

Decimus left Tonbridge School in 1816. Due to his father's social standing, he was able to enter the Royal Academy Schools directly, in 1817, without having been articled to an architect. Here he was taught by Sir John Soane, for whom his brother, James, had also worked. Decimus then trained with his father and thence came into contact with John Nash,.[3]

Burton was exceptionally learned, as the diversity of his library, part of which was auctioned by his nieces, revealed. The sale catalogue listed 347 separate lots, some of which ran into many volumes. The collection indicates a range of interests beyond architectural theory and practice: 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 or fellow, including the Royal Society of Arts, the Society of Antiquaries, and the Royal Society, as well as a complete set of the Histoire naturelle (70 vols.) of G. L. L. Buffon and B. G. E. Lacépède. 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. Alongside these, topographical views and surveys of cities and counties pepper the collection. There were also some foreign-language texts, including volumes by C. Percier and J.-B. Rondelet, a complete set of G. Piranesi's works, and several dictionaries. Although Burton travelled to France and Spain, about which journey little is known, the absence of an educative grand tour early in his career meant that his books and casts were his sources for design. This goes some way towards explaining the formal academic character of his architecture.[4]

Decimus was a leading exponent of the Greek revival style of architecture, although, uniquely, he was also significantly influenced by the styles of Ancient Rome. In his later career, he designed some buildings in the Gothic revival style, the ‘old English’ style, and the cottage orné style.[5]

Decimus was one of the first architects to consider the implications of architecture on the creation of distinct urban environments in which they featured. Evidence given by Burton to two parliamentary select committees shows the diversity of his experience and, by virtue of his being asked, the esteem in which his opinion was held by contemporaries. Burton's evidence to the select committee of the House of Commons (1840), which discussed plans to develop Trafalgar Square (of which the proceedings were reported in the Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, 7, September 1840), gave a more public platform to his views on urban planning. This is one of the first examples of public discussion about an urban space with acknowledged national and political significance. [6]

In 1832 Decimus Burton was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.[1] He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts,[7] a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.,[8] 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 a founding member of the Athenaeum Club, London, whose clubhouse he designed. His father was also a founding member.[10][11]


He taught the architects Henry Currey (architect) FRIBA, E.J. May FRIBA, and Henry Marley Burton FRIBA,[9] the eldest illegitimate son of his eldest brother William.

Later life[edit]

Decimus retired in 1869 and died in December 1881. He never married and died without issue, leaving his estate to his family. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

List of architectural works[edit]

(Listed by county in alphabetical order)[12]


  • 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 In 1828 Burton's father James bought up an estate in East Sussex, on which he developed the new holiday resort of St Leonards. The development had a frontage to the sea of about 1 km (two-thirds of a mile). Burton the architect of the West Marina, The Lawn, the Uplands, and the central section, a hotel with giant Corinthian columns, flanked by terraces in the Tuscan order.[13]

Greater London[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, Regent's Park (1822–5)
  • London Colosseum, Regents Park (1823–27). Circular in plan with a Doric portico,it resembled the Pantheon in form.[14] It was demolished in 1875; the site is now occupied by the Royal College of Physicians.
  • Clarence Terrace, Regent's Park (1823)
  • Hyde Park, London At the age of twenty-five Burton was commissioned by the Office of Woods and Forests to carry out a series of work "to bring Hyde Park within the monumental orbit of Buckingham Palace". He laid out the paths and driveways and designed a series of lodges and the Screen/Gate at Hyde Park Corner (1825), which was heralded as the ‘new Propylaea’, and the Wellington Arch(1826–8) . The Screen and the Arch originally formed a single composition, designed to provide a monumental transition between Hyde Park and Green Park, although the arch was later moved.
  • 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.
  • Cornwall Terrace, Regent's Park, London (1827)
  • Chester Terrace, Regent's Park, London.
  • 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. Burton's became a member of the club and had 30 years of correspondence with one of the club's founders, John Wilson Croker.[15]
  • Charing Cross Hospital, London (1831–9)
  • Putney Park House, Roehampton, London (1837–38)[16]
  • Devonshire House, London, added portico and remodelled the hall and staircase (1843) demolished
  • The library at 18 Hyde Park Gardens (c.1844)
  • Oriental Club, additions (1851)
  • 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.[17] Burton's buildings were in a " rustic" style, with the ticket office in the form of a thatched cottage.[18] The spa closed in 1856 soon after the opening nearby of the Crystal Palace.[19] Burton also drew up designs for a grand crescent of terraced houses on the hill above the spa, which was, however, never built.[18]
  • 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 (1827–1837) had impressed wealthy landowner and fellow Atheneaum Club member Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood who commissioned Burton to lay out his new port and seaside resort.


  • 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]


Martinstown House, Co Kildare (1833)


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Burton [Haliburton], James (1761–1837)
  3. ^ ODNB, Burton, Decimus (1880-1881)
  4. ^ ODNB, Burton, Decimus (1880-1881)
  5. ^ ODNB, Burton, Decimus (1880-1881)
  6. ^ ODNB, Burton, Decimus (1880-1881)
  7. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Decimus Burton
  8. ^ Dictionary of National Biography, Biographical Dictionary of the English Architects, 1660-1840 by H. M. Colvin, 1954, and The Life and Work of Decimus Burton by R. P. Jones in the Architectural Review, 1905
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ "Athenaeum Club, London. Homepage.". 
  11. ^ Decimus Burton video, 22 minutes in, RIBA. Retrieved 21 January 2013
  12. ^ List based on: Decimus Burton Esquire, Architect and Gentleman (1800-1881), Philip Whitbourn, 2003, The Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society
  13. ^ Pevsner and Nairn 1965, p.527–8
  14. ^ Elmes, James (1852). Sir Christopher Wren and his Times. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 144. 
  15. ^ Decimus Burton video, 22 minutes in, RIBA. Retrieved 21 January 2013
  16. ^ "Putney Park House". English Heritage list. English Heritage. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  17. ^ "London Borough of Croydon: The Lawns - The Lawns History". Retrieved 17 July 2011. 
  18. ^ a b Coulter, John (1996). Norwood Past. London: Historical Publications. pp. 80–4. 
  19. ^ Warwick, Alan R. "5". The Phoenix Suburb: A South London Social History. Crystal Palace Foundation. ISBN 0-904034-01-1.  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!'
  20. ^ a b c Homan, Roger (1984). The Victorian Churches of Kent. Chichester: Phillimore & Co. Ltd. p. 106. ISBN 0-85033-466-7. 


  • Summerson, John (1962). Georgian London (revised ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus; Nairn, Ian (1965). Sussex. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 

External links[edit]