1884 - William Butterfield (1814-1900)

Keble College Chapel, Oxford

Designer: Butterfield, William (1814-1900)
Copyright: Reginald A. Cordingley/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (1950s)

Born in London, two years after the battle of Waterloo, Butterfield was the son of a chemist, who played on London Bridge as a child, and was apprenticed to a builder, decorator and furnisher in Middlesex as soon as he left school. He was then articled to a builder in Worcester before travelling in England and the Continent to study medieval buildings.


Not given to publicity, Butterfield’s first work is suggested to be St Andrew’s at Wilmcote (1841) or the non-conformist chapel in Bristol (1841-43). His contact with R Beresford-Hope led to work at St Augustine’s, Canterbury (1845-50) and the commission to build All Saints’, Margaret Street, London (1850-59). Through these works, Butterfield became famous for his use of constructional polychromy. Other works include St Matthias, Stoke Newington (1850-53); St Alban’s, Holborn (1859-63); and Keble College, Oxford (1870).


Butterfield maintained that throughout his work there was always a historical precedent for any detail.


Won the Royal Gold Medal 'for his revival of Gothic architecture - a true master of his craft'.
Its also interesting to note that Butterfield's style did not change throughout his working life, and he did not subscribe to any particular school of architecture.



Designer: Butterfield, William (1814-1900)
Copyright: Janet Hall/RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection (1990s)

As a young man Butterfield had a romantic view of the world and was perceived to be a happy, optimistic architect with aspirations that he could change the world through his work. However, after bitter quarrels with his friends, Hardman and Beresford-Hope, Butterfield came to believe that he was alone in the world. A bachelor, Butterfield lived above his practice in Adam Street, London.


Butterfield’s medal ceremony is unusual in that Butterfield himself chose not to attend, saying that if he did so, it would be ‘inconsistent with the habits of his whole life to appear in person publicly to receive the medal, and that if that were a necessity then he must regretfully decline’.