Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pennethorne, James
PENNETHORNE, Sir JAMES (1801–1871), architect, born at Worcester on 4 June 1801, was son of Thomas Pennethorne of that city. His younger brother John [q. v.] is separately noticed. In February 1820 he came to London, and entered the office of John Nash [q. v.], the architect, whose wife was first cousin to his father. In the summer of 1822 he was placed by Nash under the charge of Augustus Pugin [q. v.], with a view to the study of Gothic architecture, and was engaged on the drawings for various of Pugin's works.
In October 1824 he left England for the usual course of foreign travel, visiting France, Italy, and Sicily. At Rome he studied antiquities, and made a design for the restoration of the Forum, which he subsequently exhibited. His merits were recognised by his election as a member of the academy of St. Luke. On his return to London, at the end of 1826, he took a leading position in Nash's office, and, as his principal assistant, directed the West Strand, King William Street, and other important improvements. In 1832 he was directly employed by the commissioners of her majesty's woods to prepare plans for further improvements in the metropolis. One of his aims was to form a great street running from the extreme east to the extreme west of London, but this proved too ambitious in the eyes of the government. Others of his schemes submitted to select committees of the House of Commons in 1836 and 1838 were injuriously modified to meet the views of economical government officials (3 & 4 Vict. cap. 87, and 4 Vict. cap. 12). But four great streets were at once constructed from Pennethorne's mutilated plans, at a cost of 1,000,000l., viz. New Oxford Street (Oxford Street to Holborn), Endell Street (Bow Street to Charlotte Street), Cranbourn Street (Coventry Street to Long Acre), a remnant of Pennethorne's great east to west street, and Commercial Street (London Docks to Spitalfields Church). In 1846 an act was obtained for the extension of Commercial Street from Spitalfields Church to Shoreditch, but this extension was not completed till 1858 (cf. Westminster Review, 1841, pp. 404–35). In 1855 the newly formed Metropolitan Board of Works constructed from Pennethorne's earlier designs Garrick Street, Southwark Street, Old Street to Shoreditch, and other thoroughfares.
Before 1840 Pennethorne had engaged in some private practice, and had built the Bazaar, St. James's Street, for W. Crockford, esq.; Southland Hall, Leicestershire, for Butler Danvers, esq.; Dillington House, Ilminster, for John Lee Lee, esq.; St. Julian's, Sevenoaks, for the Right Hon. J. C. Herries; and churches in Albany Street, Gray's Inn Road, and elsewhere. His design for rebuilding the Royal Exchange was one of the five selected in the competition. After 1840 Pennethorne's time was wholly absorbed by his public duties; in that year he was appointed (with Thomas Chawner) joint surveyor of houses in London, in the land revenue department; in 1843 he became sole surveyor and architect of the office of woods, and was appointed a commissioner to inquire into the construction of workhouses in Ireland. In 1845 the treasury desired that he should not engage in further private practice.
Pennethorne was largely employed in laying out open spaces in London. In 1841, under a special act of parliament, the commissioners of her majesty's woods purchased out of the proceeds of the sale of York House the site of Victoria Park and its approaches in the east of London, and Pennethorne skilfully designed the park and laid it out at a cost of 115,000l. He dealt similarly with Battersea Park, the site of which was acquired under the powers of an act in 1846; but here again his designs were imperfectly carried out. The formation of the approaches to the park from Chelsea, the acquisition of properties for the Chelsea Embankment, the construction of Kennington Park were also executed by Pennethorne; while in 1852 he elaborated a scheme for a great northern park, to be designated Albert Park. Although this ambitious project was not realised, Finsbury Park now occupies a small portion of the district comprised in the original scheme. From 1851 to 1853 Pennethorne was occupied in clearing away the houses which crowded against the walls of Windsor Castle. At the same time he designed the Museum of Economic Geology between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly. The building is noticeable for the dignity and power of the elevations, the picturesque effects in the interior, and the remarkably commodious arrangements by which large accommodation is provided on a limited site.
He elaborated a fine design in 1847 for the Public Record Office in Fetter Lane. This edifice he had intended to occupy a central position in the thoroughfare he had projected from the east to the west of London. But a very modified scheme for the Record Office was adopted in 1850, and only portions of that were subsequently executed. In 1848 he removed the colonnade of the Quadrant, Regent Street, and ingeniously contrived a balcony and mezzanine story, to obscure the mean appearance of the small shops previously concealed under the colonnade. Between 1852 and 1856 he completed the west wing of Somerset House, and caused it to harmonise, with conspicuous success, with the beautiful work of the original architect, Sir William Chambers [q. v.] In July 1856 seventy-five of the leading architects signed an address of congratulation on the completion of this great undertaking; and a gold medal was presented to him by Earl de Grey, the president, at a meeting of the Royal Institute of British Architects on 18 May 1857 (Builder, 1857, xv. 287–366). In 1852 Buckingham Palace and the neighbouring district of Pimlico between St. James's Park and the Royal Mews were improved from his designs. The works carried out at the palace included the ball-room, supper-room, and connecting galleries, and on the south side of the palace he erected the Duchy of Cornwall office, the district post office, and other buildings. The west wing of the Ordnance Office, Pall Mall, which is only a small portion of a great scheme; extensive alterations, both of the central portion of the National Gallery in 1861 and of Marlborough House; the library of the Patent Office; and the new Stationery Office, were all due to Pennethorne. In 1865 the Royal Institute of British Architects, of which he had been a fellow since 1840, conferred on Pennethorne the high honour of its royal gold medal (Building News, 1865, xii. 396).
His last and his most successful work was the University of London in Burlington Gardens. The adjoining Burlington House, Piccadilly, had been acquired by the government under his advice, and had been appropriated for the accommodation of the learned societies removed from Somerset House, and for the Royal Academy, removed from Trafalgar Square. The plans for the University of London were approved in 1866, but underwent some modification. The interior arrangements are convenient and admirable in every way, and the façade exhibits the sister arts of architecture and sculpture in graceful combination. The sculptures commemorate the objects of the institution, and are not merely decorative (Builder, 1869, xxvii. 303). Pennethorne was knighted, in recognition of his public services, in November 1870.
Among designs for public buildings elaborated by Pennethorne, but not carried out, were some for the great public offices in Downing Street and Pall Mall. He also suggested many alterations and extensions for the National Gallery, so as to incorporate with its present site that of the adjoining barracks and workhouse. He also prepared drawings for a new public picture gallery, to be erected on a new site.
Pennethorne died suddenly from heart disease, on 1 Sept. 1871, at his residence, Worcester Park, Surrey, and was buried at Highgate. He left a family of four sons and three daughters.
As a servant of the government, Pennethorne was subjected to continual disappointment in his capacity of artist. Few of his numerous designs was he allowed to execute on the scale on which he projected them; and most of the works with which his name is associated represent mere fragments of his original schemes. Under great discouragements he faithfully performed his public duties, and won general respect.[Cates's Biogr. Dict.; Biographical Notice of the late Sir James Pennethorne, Transactions Royal Institute of British Architects, 1871–2, pp. 53–69, read 18 Dec. 1871; Builder, 1866 pp. 877–98, 1871 p. 77, 1872 p. 22; Dictionary of Architecture of the Architectural Publication Society, vol. vi. s.v.; Pennethorne and Public Improvements, a Retrospect, in the Mechanics' Magazine, vol. xcv. (new ser. vol. xxvi.), 7 and 14 Oct. 1871, pp. 272 and 285; T. M. Rickman on Metropolitan Improvements, Transactions R.I.B.A., 1858–9, pp. 71–4.]