1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Shaw, Richard Norman

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SHAW, RICHARD NORMAN (1831-       ), British architect, was born in Edinburgh on the 7th of May 1831. At the age of sixteen he went to London and became a pupil of William Burn. In Burn's office he formed that friendship with William Eden Nesfield which so profoundly influenced the careers of both, and was thoroughly grounded in the science of planning and in the classical vernacular of the period. He also attended the architectural schools of the Royal Academy, and devoted careful study both to ancient and to the best contemporary buildings. In 1854, having finished his term of apprenticeship with Burn, he gained the gold medal and travelling studentship of the Royal Academy, and until 1856 travelled on the continent, studying and drawing old work. On his return in 1856 he was requested by the Council of the Royal Academy to publish his drawings. This work, entitled Architectural Sketches from the Continent, was issued in 1858. In the meantime Nesfield was continuing his studies with Anthony Salvin; Mr Shaw also entered his office, and remained there until 1857, when he widened his experience by working for three years under George Edmund Street. In 1863, after sixteen years of severe training, he began to practise. For a short time he and Nesfield joined forces, but their lines soon diverged. Mr Shaw's first work of importance was Leyes Wood, in Surrey, a building of much originality, followed shortly afterwards by Cragside, for Lord Armstrong, which was begun in 1869. From that time until he retired from active practice his works followed one another in quick succession. In 1872 Mr Shaw was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, and a full member in 1877; he joined the “retired” list towards the end of 1901.

Other characteristic examples of Shaw's work are Preen Manor, Shropshire; New Zealand Chambers, Leadenhall Street; Pierrepont, Wispers, and Merrist Wood, in Surrey; Lowther Lodge, Kensington; Adcote, in Shropshire; his houses at Kensington, Chelsea, and at Hampstead; Flete House, Devonshire; Greenham Lodge, Berkshire; Dawpool, in Cheshire; Bryanstone, in Dorsetshire; Chesters, Northumberland; New Scotland Yard, on the Thames Embankment; besides several fine works in Liverpool and the neighbourhood. He also built and restored several churches, the best known of which are St John's Church, Leeds; St Margaret's, Ilkley, and All Saints', Leek. His early buildings were most picturesque, and contrasted completely with the current work of the time. The use of “half timber” and hanging tiles, the projecting gables and massive chimneys, and the cunningly contrived bays and recessed fireplaces, together with the complete freedom from the conventions and trammels of “style,” not only appealed to the artist, but gained at once a place in public estimation. Judged in the light of his later work, some of those early buildings appear almost too full of feature and design; they show, however, very clearly that Mr Shaw, in discarding “academic style,” was not drifting rudderless on a sea of fancy. His buildings, although entirely free from archaeological pedantry, were the outcome of much enthusiastic and intelligent study of old examples, and were based directly on old methods and traditions. As his powers developed, his buildings gained in dignity, and had an air of serenity and a quiet homely charm which were less conspicuous in his earlier works; the “half timber” was more sparingly used, and finally disappeared entirely. His work throughout is especially distinguished by treatment of scheme. There is nothing tentative or hesitating. His planning is invariably fine and full of ingenuity. Adcote (a beautiful drawing of which hangs in the Diploma Gallery at Burlington House) is perhaps the best example of the series of his country houses built between 1870 and 1880. The elements are few but perfectly proportioned and combined, and the scale throughout is consistent. The Great Hall is the keynote of the plan, and is properly but not unduly emphasized. The grouping of the rooms round the Hall is very ably managed — each room is in its right position, and has its proper aspect. New Zealand Chambers, in Leadenhall Street, another work of about the same period (1870-1880), is a valuable example of Mr Shaw's versatility. Here he employed a completely different method of expression from any of his preceding works, in all of which there is a trace of “Gothic” feeling. This is a facade only of two storeys, divided by piers of brickwork into three equal spaces, filled by shaped bays rich with modelled plaster; above, drawing the whole composition together, is a finely enriched plaster cove. An attic storey, roofed with three gables, completes the building, which is the antithesis of the accepted type of city offices; it is yet perfectly adapted to modern uses. New Scotland Yard is undoubtedly Mr Shaw's finest and most complete work. The plain granite base is not only subtly suggestive of the purposes of the building, but by dividing the height with a strongly marked line gives a greater apparent width to the structure; it suggests also a division of departments. By its mass, too, it prevents the eye from dwelling on the necessary irregularity of the lower windows, which are not only different in character from those of the upper storeys, but more numerous and quite irregularly spaced. The projecting angle turrets are most happily conceived, and besides giving emphasis to the corners, form the main point of interest in the composition of the river front. The chimneys are not allowed to cut the sky-line in all directions, but have been drawn together into massive blocks, and contribute much to the general air of dignity and strength for which this building is remarkable. Simple roofs of ample span complete a composition conspicuous for its breadth and unity.

Mr Shaw's influence on his generation can only be adequately gauged by a comparison of current work with that which was in vogue when he began his career. The works of Pugin, Scott, and others, and the architectural literature of the time, had turned the thoughts both of architects and the public towards a “revived Gothic.” Before he entered the field, this teaching had hardened into a creed. Mr Shaw was not content to hold so limited a view, and with characteristic courage threw over these artificial barriers and struck out a line of his own. The rapidity with which he conceived and created new types, and as it were set a new fashion in building, compelled admiration for his genius, and swelled the ranks of his adherents. It is largely owing to him that there is now a distinct tendency to approach architecture as the art of Building rather than as the art of Designing, and the study of old work as one of methods and expressions which are for all time, rather than as a means of learning a language of forms proper only to their period.