RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collection
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings Collection
The life of Henry Flitcroft (1697-1769) could be described as a rags to riches story. Little is known about Flitcroft's early life other than that his father, Jeffrey Flitcroft, worked as a labourer in the gardens of Hampton Palace.
It was Lord Burlington who would secure his success. Burlington noticed Flitcroft's talent for design whilst he was working as a carpenter at Burlington House. By 1720 Flitcroft was employed as Burlington's draughtsman and architectural assistant.
Flitcroft worked closely with Burlington. He enjoyed privileged access to Lord Burlington's collection of drawings by Palladio and Inigo Jones, copying many of these for his patron. These were then engraved for publication, notably Burlington's 'Fabbriche Antiche' (c.1735). This probably explains why he remained so close to Palladio's and Jones's style throughout his career.
Lord Burlington ensured that his protégé went far. In 1726 he secured him a position at the Office of Works, Whitehall. Twenty years later, Flitcroft became Master Carpenter, and by 1748 he assumed the position of Master Mason and Deputy Surveyor. The pinnacle of his career came with his appointment to Comptroller of the Kings Works in 1758.
Flitcroft undertook a number of significant commissions, working closely with Lord Burlington, including:
- York Assembly Rooms (1730), based on Vitruvius's Egyptian Hall
- the church of St Giles in the Fields, London (1731-4), with its magnificent steeple
- garden buildings at Stourhead (1744), for example the Temples of Flora and Apollo
He also played a central part in the publication of William Kent's 'The Designs of Mr Inigo Jones' (1727), redrawing several of the key designs, which can now be seen in the RIBA Library Drawings Collection.
Flitcroft's presence is felt elsewhere in the RIBA Library: his portrait by Bartholemew Dandridge (c.1740) has to be one of the finest in the collections. This, with the accompanying portrait of Flitcroft's wife, Sarah, graces the walls of the RIBA Drawings Study Rooms at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Both continue to impress and celebrate Flitcroft's remarkable rise, thanks to his talent and Lord Burlington's favour.