1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wyatt, James

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20777731911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 28 — Wyatt, James

WYATT, JAMES (1746–1813), English architect, was born at Burton Constable in Staffordshire on the 3rd of August 1746. He was the sixth son of Benjamin Wyatt, a farmer, timber merchant and builder. At the age of fourteen his taste for drawing attracted the attention of Lord Bagot, newly appointed ambassador to the pope, who took him with him to Rome, where he spent five or six years in studying architecture. He returned to England in 1766, and gained his first great success by the adaptation for dramatic purposes of the Pantheon in Oxford Street, London (1772), a work which was destroyed by fire twenty years later. In 1776 he was made surveyor of Westminster Abbey, and in 1778 and the following years executed many important commissions at Oxford.

During this earlier period Wyatt shared the prevailing contempt for Gothic architecture; thus the New Buildings at Magdalen College, Oxford, designed by him, formed part of a scheme, the plans for which are extant, which involved the demolition of the famous medieval quadrangle and cloisters. He built many country houses in the classic style, of which he proved himself a master. Gradually, however, he turned his attention to Gothic, the spirit of which, in spite of his diligent study of medieval models, he never understood. The result is still visible in such “Gothic” freaks as that at Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire, built for Lord Bridgewater to replace the ancient priory, and in the lamentable “restorations,” e.g. in Salisbury and Lichfield cathedrals, which earned for him even among contemporary archaeologists the title of “the Destroyer.” Of these Gothic experiments the most celebrated was Fonthill Abbey, built for Beckford (the eccentric author of Vathek), the great tower of which speedily collapsed, while much of the rest has been pulled down. None the less, Wyatt must be regarded as the pioneer of the “Gothic revival,” while his general influence may be gauged by the fact that nearly every county and large town in England possesses or possessed buildings by him.

On the death of Sir William Chambers in 1796, he was appointed surveyor-general to the Board of Works. In 1785 he became a member of the Royal Academy, and during a misunderstanding between Benjamin West and the Academy, in 1805, he filled the presidential office at the wish of King George III. He was killed by a fall from his carriage on the 4th of September 1813, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His son, Benjamin Dean Wyatt (1775–1850?), who succeeded him as surveyor of Westminster Abbey, was also an architect of some distinction.