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Illuminated initial A

progressive English architect-designer, who began his career working in the strongly polychromatic ‘Ruskinian Gothic’ style of mid-Victorian Britain, inspired by The Stones of Venice, and then moved on to provide designs in the ‘Anglo-Japanese taste’ of the Aesthetic Movement and Whistler’s circle in the 1870s, Godwin’s influence can easily be detected in the Arts and Crafts Movement that followed. His best known early works include The Guild Hall, Northampton his first notable public commission, and Town Hall, Congleton, as well as restorations and neo-Gothic additions to Dromore Castle, Limerick and Castle Ashby. Apprenticed to an engineer in Bristol, he was largely self-taught, He moved to London about 1862, and made the acquaintance of the reformed Gothic designer William Burges.

Widowed in 1865; his affair with the actress Ellen Terry between 1868 and 1874, led to her retirement with him to Hertfordshire, and produced two children: Edith Craig and Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966), who became an important actor, designer, director, and theoretical writer of the early twentieth-century European stage. The relationship inspired Godwin to spend much time designing theatrical costumes and scenery. After she returned to the theatre and their connection ended, Godwin married a young designer in his office, Beatrice Birnie Philip (1857–1896), who bore him a son. After Godwin’s death, she and Whistler married, in 1888. Godwin was a frequent contributor to the periodical British Architect and published a number of books on architecture, costume and theatre.

Godwin, by no means a tame reproducer of antiquarian Gothic designs, was among the first to extend the European design repertory to include the arts of Japan, which had been opened to the Western world in 1853. His Anglo-Japanese style of furniture, mostly executed with an ebonized finish, was designed for Dromore Castle and his own use from 1867. Similar designs produced later by the firms of William Watt and Collinson & Lock also emphasised the strippeddown ‘Anglo-Japanese taste’ pared of merely decorative touches. The spirit of Japan, rather than mere details, is strongly revealed in a black cabinet Godwin designed for Collinson & Lock, now at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The present collection includes work done by Godwin when in partnership with Henry Crisp. Godwin & Crisp, the only formal partnership of his career, lasted from 1864 to 1871. It appears that for the most part Godwin acted as designer and Crisp as administrator. These designs were for Rev Frederick William Gotch (d.1890) who was the third of four sons of Thomas Gotch (d.1806) of Kettering. Frederick’s nephews included the noted architect and architectural historian John Alfred Gotch (1852–1942) and also the painter and book illustrator Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854–1931). The buildings, sadly neglected, still stand adorned by a large graffiti mural bearing the signature ’Banksy’. The other Bristol work is a preliminary design for St Philip and St Jacob’s Schools of c.1860, possibly an entry for the competition that he won. The building, much altered, still stands on the corners of Queen and Passage Streets.

The third Marquess of Northampton employed Godwin to design Gate Lodges, a Railway Station and the Kitchen Garden for Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire between 1867 and 1870 during his partnership with Crisp. Many of the drawings for this project are in the RIBA but four designs are in this collection. In the 1870s and 80s Godwin’s designs could be found at Liberty and Co.; his wallpapers, printed textiles, tiles, ’art furniture’ or metalwork set the tone in houses of those with an artistic and progressive bent. Oscar Wilde was among his clients, and Princess Louise, for whom he designed a studio at Kensington Palace.

In 1877 the painter James Abbott McNeil Whistler, himself a connoisseur of Japanese prints, commissioned Godwin to build him a house in Tite Street, Chelsea. Unfortunately Whistler’s bankruptcy in 1879 forced the sale of the house along with the rest of the painter’s effects, it was demolished in the 1960s. Whistler and Godwin shared an interest in Chinese and Japanese art and collaborated over The White House and in a number of projects involving furniture and interior design, notably ’Harmony in Yellow and Gold: The Butterfl y Cabinet’. When Whistler exhibited his pastels of Venice, at The Fine Art Society in 1881 Godwin redecorated the exhibition galleries to complement them, later the same year he designed a new entrance and façade for the gallery’s premises in New Bond Street that still exist.

Biographical Material

Architectural Works

Decorative arts and design


Architect-Designers from Pugin to Mackintosh. Exhibition catalogue. London: The Fine Art Society with Haslam & Whiteway Ltd., 1981.

Architects for a New Age. Exhibition catalogue. London: Fine Art Society in association with Haslam & Whiteway, 2008.

Last modified 3 August 2012