Burges, William

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Burges, William (1827–81). London-born architect, one of the least restrained of the Gothic Revivalists, whose philosophy was strongly influenced by A. W. N. Pugin. He trained as an engineer and was articled to Blore (1844) before moving to the office of M. D. Wyatt (1849). In 1851 he joined Henry Clutton, later becoming his partner, and assisted in the preparation of Domestic Architecture of France (1853). In 1854 the partners won the competition to design the new Cathedral at Lille with an essay in robust C13 Gothic, but their proposals were not realized. After a quarrel, Burges set up on his own, and won the competition for the Crimea Memorial Church in Constantinople (1857), a fine polychrome essay in the style of C13, again not executed. From this period he designed much furniture based on C13 French prototypes illustrated in Viollet-le-Duc's publications, and his work was shown in London at the Architectural Exhibition in 1859, the year in which his remarkable, muscular, and peculiarly tough east end of Waltham Abbey, Essex, was begun. From 1863 to 1904 his great Anglican Cathedral of St Finbar was erected in Cork, Ireland, with its three spires, the whole in a convincing French C13 style, with a noble, powerful interior.

From 1866 his alterations, extensions, and additions were designed and built at Cardiff Castle, and from 1872 to 1891 the reconstruction and decoration of Castell Coch, Glamorganshire, Wales, were carried out for the 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847–1900). These works are extraordinary for the richness of their polychrome decorations and French Gothic style, although the so-called Arab Hall at Cardiff Castle (1881) has a pronounced Islamic influence. For James McConnochie he designed and built a Gothic house at Park Place, Cardiff (1871–80), and at Melbury Road, Kensington, Burges built his own Tower House (1875–81), a Gothic building of red brick with a circular tower. Decorated and furnished to designs by its architect-owner, it was an instant success, being admired for its medievalism and massive construction. Each room had its own iconography, and symbols and allegories were used throughout. Perhaps partly because of these designs, Burges has a claim to be regarded as a herald of the Arts-and-Crafts movement.

Massive, tough detail is evident in the two churches he built in Yorks.: Christ the Consoler, Skelton-on-Ure (1870–6), and St Mary, Aldford-cum-Studley (1870–8). Skelton marked a move from French to English Gothic Revival of c.1270, but the French elements are still present, notably in the details of the spire and in the balcony of the organ-loft: the richly beautiful chancel is one of the most remarkable of the C19. At Studley, French and English sources again mix, and the piers are derived from English medieval precedents, but the whole is marvellously rich and integrated, with a complicated iconography concerning Paradise Lost and Regained. Burges's ecclesiastical master-work, it is probably the most perfect of his Muscular Gothic buildings, freely and imaginatively treated, yet backed by genuine scholarship. His designs for Trinity College, Hartford, CT (1873–82), were only partly realized, and then in watered-down form. However, his work influenced the executant architect for Trinity College, his American pupil Francis Hatch Kimball (1845–1919), and may also have impressed itself upon H. H. Richardson.


Crook (1981);
J. Curl (2002b);
Jane Turner (1996)

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William Burges

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