Henry Woodyer (1816-1896) was born into a well-to-do, well-connected family in Guildford, Surrey, in 1816. His father was a busy local surgeon and his mother's family, the Halseys, owned the grand historic house at Henley Park, just outside Guildford. Woodyer was educated at Eton, and at Merton College, Oxford. When he took up architecture he did so with a sense of vocation akin to Pugin's, as a High Church Anglican, under the initial guidance of William Butterfield. Although probably not actually his pupil (see Quiney 193), he seems to have taken from him "not the hardness and integrity of thought, but rather the will (and some of the Butterfieldian means) to create an overall emotional effect" (Nairn et al. 63).

With a background like his, and with offices in London in the same block as Butterfield, and in Guildford High Street in the same building as his father's practice, Woodyer soon found many clients. He was set fair to becoming one of the major names of the Gothic Revival. Although his practice was by no means confined to church-building, his most acclaimed work was Church of the Holy Innocents, Highnam, in Glouchestershire, which he built for fellow-Etonian Thomas Gambier Parry, a highly ornamented church with individualistic tracery, and many other original touches. The building, which was accompanied by a parsonage, lodge and schoolhouse, is sometimes compared to Pugin's St Giles, Cheadle; more specifically, Woodyer "used Butterfield's vocabulary to serve Pugin's ends" (Nairn et al. 63).

Woodyer's name is not as famous as it might have been. This is partly because in 1857 he moved his practice to the country home he had built himself in Grafham, near Cranleigh in Suurey, and declined to participate in architectural competitions and bodies. There were reasons for this: his wife had died in childbirth leaving him to bring up his little girl alone; another call on his time was his hobby: sailing.

Woodyer, for all his religious zeal, lacked the single-minded fervour that distinguishes Pugin from his contemporaries. Woodyer was certainly more than conventionally pious, in keeping with the times, as were many church architects, but he enjoyed worldly pleasures to an extent that probably seemed frivolous to Butterfield, his supposed teacher. [Quiney 195]

In general, then, Woodyer preferred to live the life of a gentleman rather than that of a professional. But there was another factor too, which went hand-in-hand with his originality: eccentricity. This was not just a matter of quirkiness and flamboyance in person (for example, carrying his architectural plans inside a furled umbrella, but of architectural tics:

his style is somehow neurotic. He was always keen to strike out, to exaggerate, to be idiosyncratic, especially in his use of narrow windows, extra-steep roofs, peculiar dormer windows, acute arches, and slightly odd proportions. Even the details of his designs have a tense, agitated quality, undue prominence being given to unimportant details, to nervy lines, and to spiky tracery. [Elliott]

One can get just an idea of this from his Eton lamp standard, shown above. According to Giles Worsley, this style told against him in the end: he "soon fell out of fashion." Be that as it may, Woodyer was responsible for about 250 (see Quiney 193) to 300 buildings (see Worsley), including country houses, religious establishments and schools, many of them in Surrey, and many of them worthy of note. — Jacqueline Banerjee


Dixon, Roger, and Stefan Muthesius. Victorian Architecture. 2nd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985.

Elliott, John. "Woodyer, Henry (1818-1896), architect." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 14 November 2016.

Elliott, John and John Pritchard, eds. Henry Woodyer: Gentleman Architect. Reading: University of Reading Press, 2002.

Jenkins, Simon. England's Thousand Best Churches. Rev. ed. London: Penguin, 2009.

Nairn, Ian, Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry. Surrey. Buildings of England series. 2nd ed. London: Penguin, 1971.

Quiney, Anthony. "'Altogether a Capital Fellow and a Serious Fellow Too': A Brief Account of the Life and Work of Henry Woodyer, 1816-1896." Architectural History. Vol. 38 (1995): 192-219.

Worsley, Giles. "Master Builder: Henry Woodyer." The Telegraph. 18 May 2002. Online ed. Web. 14 November 2016.

Last modified 14 November 2016