Willey Reveley

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Willey Reveley (1760–1799) was an 18th-century English architect, born at Newton Underwood near Morpeth, Northumberland.[1] He was a pupil of Sir William Chambers, and was trained at the Royal Academy Schools. In 1781-2 he was employed (under Chambers) as assistant clerk of works at Somerset House.

Willey Reveley's proposal to straighten the River Thames

Reveley is probably best known for an ambitious but unfulfilled proposal of 1796 to straighten the River Thames in east London. A new channel across the Rotherhithe, Isle of Dogs and Greenwich peninsulas would reduce the length of the river, improve the flow to remove pollution, and simplify navigation. Three large horseshoe bends of the river would have been left as huge wet docks, connected to the new channel through locks.

Elevation, section and plan of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon prison, executed by Willey Reveley, 1791

In 1790, he was commissioned by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham to prepare architectural drawings for Bentham's scheme for a Panopticon prison. He continued to work on the project with Bentham for the rest of the 1790s.

Like the Thames scheme and the Panopticon prison, most of Reveley's designs never came to fruition. Other ambitious but unexecuted projects included a public bath complex at Bath, and an infirmary at Canterbury. His most significant projects which reached completion were All Saints' Church, Southampton (constructed 1792–5, but destroyed in 1940); and Windmill Hill, Sussex, a country house built for W. H. Pigou, and completed in 1798.

In 1788 he married the talented Maria James, better known under her later married name of Gisborne as a friend of Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Their son, Henry Willey Reveley (1788–1875), subsequently became a civil engineer and architect in Australia.


  1. ^ C. W. Hind, Reveley, Willey (1760–1799), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 (available online, subscription required).