James Savage (1779-1852) is best remembered now for St Luke's, Chelsea, an early and striking example of a Gothic Revival church, "much praised in cultivated circles" at that time (Clark 82). But his earliest work was in bridge-building, and he was responsible for the fine bridge leading up to the Four Courts in Dublin, originally known as the Richmond Bridge but since 1923 called the O'Donovan Rossa Bridge. He also built a number of other Gothic churches besides St Luke's, mostly in London and what is now London's commuter-belt, including Holy Trinity in Tottenham Green (1828-29), St Mary's in Ilford, Essex (1829-31; locally listed and nicely renovated), and St Paul's in Addlestone, Surrey (1836-38). His only classical church, St James with Christ Church and St Crispin, Bermondsey, in south-east London, is listed Grade II*, though now partly used as a doctor's surgery. Several of his other churches have been either demolished or rebuilt. He built a number of church schools and union warehouses as well. Active in professional circles, Savage was president of the Surveyors' Club for 1825, and chairman of the Fine Arts Committee of the Royal Society of Arts.
Up into the early 1840s, Savage was clearly a force to be reckoned with. For example, he advised on the competition designs for the restoration of Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford, carried the case (with L. N. Cottingham) against demolishing the Lady Chapel at St Saviour's, Southwark (now Southwark Cathedral), was consulted on rebuilding work at Westminster, and advised and arbitrated in various legal cases (see Port). He became surveyor to the Middle Temple in 1830, and (after failing to win the competition for the new Palace of Westminster in 1835) made a stir in 1836 with his publication, "Observations on Style in Architecture," a pamphlet in which he criticised the competition and rejected the idea of slavishly imitating earlier architectural styles. This had an "extensive circulation" ("The Late James Savage"). But the high costs of his designs for restoring the Temple Church in the early 1840s proved to be his undoing: Sir Robert Smirke's enquiry ruined his reputation and consequently his career, making it a "personal tragedy for Savage" (Whyte 198). Nevertheless, the church was restored largely according to his plans.
Was Savage a man whose work apart from St Luke's is unjustly forgotten, or one "whose reputation is grossly overvalued" (Nairn et al. 89)? Taking into account the designs for the Temple Church restoration particularly, the former seems nearer the mark. — Jacqueline Banerjee
- St Luke's Chelsea
- The Temple Church, London
- Entrance to Middle Temple Hall
- Plowden Buildings, Middle Temple (with Henry Hakewill)
Clark, Kenneth. The Gothic Revival: An Essay in the History of Taste. London: Penguin (Pelican), 1964.
"The Late James Savage, Architect" (Obituary). The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal. Vol. 15 (1852): 226-27. Google Books. Web. 13 December 2011.
Nairn, Ian, Nikolaus Pevsner, and Bridget Cherry. The Buildings of England: Surrey. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2nd ed. 1971.
Pont, M. H. "Savage, James (1799-1852)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 13 December 2011.
Whyte, William. "Restoration and Recrimination: The Temple Church in the Nineteenth Century." The Temple Church in London: History, Architecture, Art. Ed. David Park and Robin Griffith-Jones. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2010. 195-210.
Last modified 1 January 2012