...Wisdom had been among the gifts that God had bestowed on the young Wren, and that it had led him into architecture: a field where the results spoke for themselves, and in which it was necessary to remain on speaking terms with large numbers of one's fellow humans for years at a time. -- from The System of the World, Neal Stephenson, 2004
Sir Aston Webb was a highly regarded Victorian architect. His most famous works in London include the eastern facade of Buckingham Palace, the Admiralty Arch, and the Cromwell Road facade of the Victoria & Albert Museum. His architecture is scattered across England, with bits and pieces in other parts of the world.
Sir Aston Webb's work in the restoration of St. Bartholomew the Great established his credibility and reputation as an architect.
Used with permission from the National Portrait Gallery, London
Part of Webb's responsibility as a architect of well-known public buildings, like Buckingham Palace, including answering questions from enquirers. I assume he no longer minds if this letter is published.
An entresol is a mezzanine floor.
|This photo of Webb's coat of arms was taken inside the Smithfield Gate, on the St. Bartholomew's churchyard side (October 2004).|
|Aston Webb's drawing of the Minstrel's Gallery, in the Worcester Commandery.|
But more relevant than Buckingham Palace to my interests, Webb's family was long associated with the Smithfield area. According to the preface to the monumental 2 volume Records of St. Bartholomew, published by the architect's brother in 1921, Webb's maternal grandfather John Evans took up residence in Bartholomew Close in 1828. His father Edward married Anna Evans at St. Bartholomew the Great in 1844; the books themselves sport an address of 60 Bartholomew Close as their publisher's location.
Photo of the young E.A. Webb, Aston's brother. contributed by and used with the gracious permission of Oliver Webb.
Webb's brother Edward, who was more familiarly known by his middle name Alfred, was appointed Rector's Warden in 1884, giving him unrivalled access to both parish records and his brother's papers.
Photo of E.A. Webb (Alfred) contributed by and used with the gracious permission of Oliver Webb.
Aston Webb employed his sons Maurice and Philip later in his career. [Philip, whose middle name was Edward, is frequently confused with Philip Speakman Webb, an unrelated Victorian architect.]
|The iron screen installed at the entrance to the Lady Chapel is inscribed with a dedication to Emily Fuller Webb, died 20 Jan 1896, "the wife of one privileged to share in the restoration of this church." Emily (b. 9 June 1853) was Alfred's wife.|
At the time of his death, Webb was a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, the first British order of chivalry entirely within the personal gift of the sovereign, granted in recognition of personal service to the Queen or King. Webb was appointed as a commander of the Royal Victorian Order on 16 May 1911, and was named a Knight Grand Cross on 30 December 1924. He was also a Companion of the Order of the Bath.
As published in the London Gazette, Webb was made a Knight of Grace of the Order of the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem in England on 7 June 1921, although this honour is not mentioned on his St. Paul’s memorial.
Named as a commissioner to the newly-established Royal Fine Arts Commission in 1924, Webb is listed as Our Trusty and Well-beloved:— Sir Aston Webb, Knight Commander of Our Royal Victorian Order, Companion of Our Most Honourable Order of the Bath, President of the Royal Academy of Arts, Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Sir Aston Webb is buried in Gunnersbury Cemetery, London. Like other presidents of the Royal Academy, Webb is memorialized in St. Paul's Cathedral, with a wall tablet near the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren, in the crypt (the O.B.E. Chapel, formerly the Chapel of St. Faith).
The architectural archives reveal that on 31 January 1933, Mr. W. McMillan, A.R.A. was paid £150 for his work in designing the monument.
Photo contributed by and used with the gracious permission of Kieran Smith.
For most of his career, Webb worked out of an office at 19 Queen Anne's Gate. Maurice shared this location with his father. They were joined by Hamilton H. Turner, a quantity surveyor with whom they worked - Hamilton's company is still based in this location, although the firm merged with Trinick Warr in 2004.
Many thanks to Jon Callas for the photograph!
It's amazing what you can find on E-Bay.
Aston Webb's children did not themselves have children, but Alfred's son Christopher's grandson (Martin Webb) and great-grandson (Oliver) are stone masons, working in church restorations in Worcestershire.
I'd like to thank the following people for their assistance and encouragement in tracking down information about Sir Aston Webb:
Ian Dungavell - whose Ph.D thesis on Webb's architecture is the only published work on the topic, and whose meticulous research on the family's association with the church and Bartholomew Close filled in a lot of gaps for me;
Nancy Sparrow - assistant archivist at the University of Texas Alexander Architectural Archive, who provided me with details of their holdings relative to St. Bartholomew's, and then copied them for me; and
|Oliver Webb - the great man's great-grand-nephew, who filled in a lot of the information presented here on the Webb family, and granted me permission to use some of Webb's unpublished drawings in this work. Visit him at Fine Stone Miniatures.|
Jo Wisdom, librarian and keeper of muniments at St. Paul's Cathedral
1881 census showing Webb's family, recorded for Kensington, London - includes birth records for Webb's oldest son, Maurice, as well as the family's servants
Find a Grave listing for Sir Aston Webb, including photos of the grave and the St. Paul's monument
Fine Stone Miniatures - E. A. Webb's grandson and great-grandson are stone carvers, producing replicas of ornaments from a number of English churches and cathedrals. The site includes a lot of fascinating photographs and other information about working on these amazing buildings.
Grove Dictionary of Art: Biography of Sir Aston Webb
London Gazette archive of honours and awards
Notes on the life of Sir Aston Webb
Sir Aston Webb: An Inventory of his Drawings, Photographs, and Printed Material, 1868-1936 - The University of Texas (Austin) has an archive of materials related to Webb.
Victoria & Albert photograph of Sir Aston Webb
Wikipedia entry on Sir Aston Webb - the most thorough discussion I've found on the Web
Photographs and text copyright Tina Bird 2003-2006
Last modified: 4 November 2006