James Thomas Knowles (1806–1884)

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Silverton Park, south front

James Thomas Knowles (1806–1884)[1] was a British architect with an extensive practice in building upper-class houses in the Italianate manner more familiar in the work of Sir Charles Barry. His designs submitted in the competition for the new Houses of Parliament lost to Barry's design. In London, Knowles built the confident and technically assured palazzo at 15, Kensington Palace Gardens (1854).[2] Together with his son, (Sir) James Thomas Knowles (1831–1908), he was responsible for the Victoria Station Hotel - originally named The Grosvenor and recently rebranded and reopened under this name following an eighteen-month £20m refurbishment.[3]

His vast Italianate mansion at Silverton Park, Devon, for the fourth Earl of Egremont, who had inherited the title but not the great family seat, Petworth in Sussex, determined to build a rival structure. It was not fully complete when the earl died in 1845, and after a house sale in 1892 dispersed its contents,[4] it was demolished; only the stables remain.

He was also the architect chosen by Sir Francis Cook, to rebuild the Monserrate Palace in Sintra, Portugal. He rebuilt it by adding to the previous neo-gothic construction an amazing exotic decoration, made of mixed neo-Indian and neo-Moorish styles. Thanks to this wonderful work, the Palace of Monserrate, along with the Palace of Pena, is considered to be one of the most important examples of Romantic architecture in Portugal.

One of his sketchbooks is in the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects.[5]

His son, Sir James Thomas Knowles (1831–1908), was an architect in partnership with his father, and editor of the Contemporary Review, 1870–77.


  1. ^ His gravestone at West Norwood Cemetery (Friends of West Norwood Cemetery).
  2. ^ Today it is the official residence of the ambassador of Finland.
  3. ^ Guoman Hotels website
  4. ^ Over a century later, a brief, unillustrated catalogue description in the 1892 sale inspired the creation of the forgery of an ancient Egyptian portrait head, the so-called Amarna Princess.
  5. ^ National Archives.


  • Curl, James Stevens. A Dictionary of Architecture.

Further reading[edit]

  • Metcalf, Priscilla, James Knowles: Victorian Editor and Architect (Oxford: Clarendon Press) 1980, also contains some further biographical information on the elder Knowles.