Burton, Decimus (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BURTON, DECIMUS (1800–1881), architect, was the son of James Burton, a well-known and successful builder in London in the beginning of the present century. After receiving a thorough practical training in the office of his father and in that of Mr. George Maddox, he began business as an architect on his own account, and met with early and signal success in the practice of his profession. Among his first large works was the Colosseum erected by Mr. Homer in Regent's Park as a panorama and place of public entertainment. As such it proved a failure, and its site is now occupied by the terrace of private residences known as Cambridge Gate, a much more lucrative investment. But from the architectural point of view it was regarded as a successful example of the then fashionable classic style, and its dome, a few feet larger than that of St. Paul's, was looked upon as a remarkable constructive effort, especially for an architect at the time only twenty-three years old. In 1825 Burton was employed by the government to carry out the Hyde Park improvements, which included the laying out of the roads in and around the park and the erection of the façade and triumphal arch at Hyde Park Corner. In Burton's design the arch was destined to support a quadriga, and the disfigurement of the structure by the equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington, which elicited from a French officer the cutting ejaculation, 'Nous sommes vengés!' was a keen disappointment to him. For many years after its erection, indeed, Burton's will provided to the nation the sum of 2,000l. if it would agree to remove the statue from its unsuitable position. He eventually withdrew the legacy, without, however, relinquishing the hope of the ultimate removal of the statue to a suitable pedestal of its own, and the completion of his design, with the bas-reliefs and triumphal car which it originally included. (The statue was moved to Aldershot in 1885.) In 1828 Burton accepted a special retainer from Mr. Ward of Tunbridge Wells, for the laying out of the Calverley Park estate there, and but for this engrossing employment, which occupied his time for over twenty years, his public works would no doubt have been more numerous and important. His practice afterwards, however, lay chiefly in the erection of country houses and villas and the laying out of estates for building purposes. The numerous mansions and villas designed by him are distinguished by suitability of internal arrangement and simplicity and purity of style, and many thriving localities in some of the chief towns of the country still evidence his skill in the laying out of building estates. In his day Greek was the fashionable, and indeed almost only, style, and in that he worked; but he used it with effect and judgment, never sacrificing the requirements of modern life to mere archaeological accuracy. And although many of his designs may appear, and sometimes are, antiquated and unsuitable revivals of ancient buildings, it must be remembered that most of them date from before the Gothic, or indeed any, revival of architecture as now understood and practised. Judged by the standard of his time, no little credit is due to him for honest and independent regard for the practical objects of his profession. He was a traveller when travelling was the exception, visiting and studying the classic remains of Italy and Greece, and later extending his observations to Canada and the United States of America. He was a man of wide culture and refinement, amiable and considerate to all with whom he came in contact, and had a wide circle of friends. He was proprietor of a pleasant bachelor residence at St. Leonards-on-Sea, a watering-place which his father had almost entirely built, and where he spent the greater part of the later years of his life. He died, 14 Dec. 1881, unmarried, at the advanced age of eighty-one. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, and of many other learned societies, including the Royal Institute of British Architects, of which he was one of the earliest members and at one time vice-president.

[Builder, xli. 780, where a list of his principal works will be found.]

G. W. B.