Billings, Robert William (DNB00)

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BILLINGS, ROBERT WILLIAM (1813–1874), architect and author, was born in London in 1813, and became, at the age of thirteen, a pupil of John Britton, the eminent topographical draughtsman. During the seven years of his articles Billings imbibed a taste for similar pursuits, which he afterwards exemplified in a series of beautiful works, published at brief intervals for the space of fifteen years. In 1837 he was employed in illustrating, for Mr. George Godwin, a 'History and Description of St. Paul's Cathedral,' and two years later, with Frederick Mackenzie, the 'Churches of London,' in two volumes, of which the plates were chiefly engraved by John le Keux. He also assisted Sir Jeffery Wyatville on drawings of Windsor Castle, and prepared numerous views of the ruins of the old Houses of Parliament after the disastrous fire.

Among the works he undertook on his own account may be mentioned 'Illustrations the Temple Church, London,' 1838; 'Gothic Panelling in Brancepeth Church, Durham,' 1841; 'Kettering Church, Northamptonshire,' 1843. Still greater efforts were the important works on Carlisle and Durham Cathedrals, published in 1840 and 1843, as also an excellent work of the Britton school, called 'Illustrations of the Architectural Antiquities of the County of Durham,' which appeared in 1846. But his greatest achievement in this style, and the one with which his name is chiefly associated, was the 'Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland,' 4 vols. 1845–62, a noble collection of 240 illustrations, with ample explanatory letterpress. His other works deal almost exclusively with the technicalities of his art, and are: 'An Attempt to define the Geometric Proportions of Gothic Architecture, as illustrated by the Cathedrals of Carlisle and Worcester,' 1840; 'Illustrations of Geometric Tracery, from the panelling belonging to Carlisle Cathedral,' 1842; 'The Infinity of Geometric Design exemplified,' 1849; 'The Power of Form applied to Geometric Tracery,' 1851.

After giving up authorship, Billings devoted himself entirely to his practice, which soon grew very considerable. He was employed upon the restoration of the chapel of Edinburgh Castle (a government commission), the Douglas Room in Stirling Castle, Gosford House, Haddingtonshire, for the Earl of Wemyss; the restoration of Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire; Crosby-upon-Eden Church, Cumberland; Kemble House, Wiltshire; and additions to Castle Wemyss, Renfrewshire, for Mr. John Burns, upon which he was engaged at the time of his death, having built the castle itself many years before. After 1865 Billings lived at Putney, where he purchased an old English residence, the Moulinère, which had once been occupied by the famous Duchess of Marlborough. He died there 14 Nov. 1874. During the latter years of his life, at intervals of leisure, he had again occupied himself upon one of his old and favourite themes—a view from the dome of the interior of St. Paul's Cathedral. In this drawing his endeavour was to modify the rendering of outlying portions according to strict rules, so as to bring them within the range of possible and undistorted vision. The drawing, which is on a very large scale, and was unfortunately left unfinished, has been lately (1884) deposited in the library of the dean and chapter.

[Information from Mr. J. Drayton Wyatt: Building for 1874, xxxii. 982, 1036.]

G. G.