Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Blomfield, Arthur William
BLOMFIELD, Sir ARTHUR WILLIAM (1829–1899), architect, fourth son of Charles James Blomfield [q. v.], bishop of London, by his wife Dorothy, daughter of Charles Cox, was born at Fulham Palace on 6 March 1829. He was brother of Admiral Henry John Blomfield and of Alfred Blomfield, bishop-suffragan of Colchester. He was educated at Rugby and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. and M.A. in 1851 and 1853 respectively. On leaving college he was articled for three years to Philip Charles Hardwick (1822- 1892), son of Philip Hardwick [q. v.], then architect of the Bank of England, and he followed up this training in 1855 by a continental tour in company with Frederick Pepys Cockerell [q. v.] Though his architectural schooling had not been under Gothic influences, Blomfield showed, when in 1856 he opened his first office in Adelphi Terrace, that Gothic was to be the style of his choice. His family connection with the clergy soon assured him occupation in various church works. He joined the Architectural Association (established about 1846 for junior architects), of which he became president in 1861, and subsequently the Royal Institute of British Architects, of which he was elected fellow in 1867. Later (in 1886) he became vice-president of the institute, but declined nomination to the presidentship.
Blomfield's works, though mainly ecclesiastical, were not exclusively so, nor wholly Gothic. In 1883 he succeeded to his old master's post of architect to the Bank of England, for which he built the law courts branch, his most important classic building. On the death of George Edmund Street [q. v.] in 1881, Blomfield was associated with Street's son, Arthur Edmund, in super-intending the erection of the law courts. He was also a trustee of Sir John Soane's museum. The works with which Blomfield felt the most satisfaction, probably as being least hampered therein by questions of money, were the private chapel at Tyntesfield (the residence of the late William Gibbs), Privett church, Hampshire (designed for William Nicholson), and St. Mary's, Portsea (begun 1884), which was due to the liberality of William Henry Smith [q. v.] His most important productions other than churches were Denton Manor, near Grantham, Lincolnshire, for the late Sir William Welby Gregory, bart.; the Whitgift Hospital Schools at Croydon; the King's Schools at Chester; the Bancroft School at Woodford for the Drapers' Company; the Sion College Library on the Thames Embankment; and the Qneen's School at Eton College, attached to which is the 'Lower' school chapel. One of Blomfield's principal works for the church was the complete scheme for the Church House in Dean's Yard, Westminster, which, though the great hall block was opened for use in 1890, is at present only partially completed. Blomfield designed more than one church for the colonies or for English congregations abroad, such as the cathedral of St. George, George Town, Demerara, built largely of timber on a concrete raft, owing to insecure foundations; a church for the Falkland Isles, for which most of the materials were exported from England; the church of St. George at Cannes, consecrated 1887, and built as a memorial to the Duke of Albany; the little English chapel at St. Moritz; and (in 1887) the important church of St. Alban at Copenhagen, in connection with which he was elected an honorary member of the Danish Academy and received the order of the Danebrog (3rd class) from the king of Denmark. In 1888 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy; in 1889 he was knighted, and in 1891 was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects for his distinguished works.
Blomfield admitted the possibility of individuality in ecclesiastical art, and even held that 'where convenience is at stake we ought not to be too much confined by the precedent of mediaeval architecture.' In the matter of materials he felt that architects ought not to allow blind adherence to tradition to deprive them of the benefits of modern discovery. He instanced the advisability of sometimes making use of iron columns in the nave of a church, and he even carried this particular suggestion into practice in the small church of St. Mark, Marylebone Road. In spite of these unconservative views he was rightly regarded as a conscientious restorer, and had four cathedrals under his care at various times — Salisbury (for repair of tower), Canterbury, Lincoln, and Chichester, in the case of the two latter succeeding to John Loughborough Pearson [q. v., Suppl.], with whom he was in 1896 consulted as to the restorations at Peterborough. He was also diocesan architect to Winchester, and built the cathedral library at Hereford. The work of restoration by which he will be best known is his complete and skilful rebuilding of the nave and south transept of St. Mary Overie (St. Saviour's, South wark). These operations, costing 60,000l., were in progress from July 1890 to February 1897. The south porch is entirely Blomfield's creation, and the nave, which is of fine 'early English' work, may perhaps be looked upon as rather a revival than a restoration; it replaced a structure of comparatively modern date, remarkable only for the complete absence of beauty, dignity, or practical convenience, and for a total disregard of the many evidences, still extant, of the character and detail of the original building (see F. T. Dollman, The Priory of St. Mary Overie, Southwark, London, 1881, 4to).
Blomfield excelled in the charitable but unremunerative art of keeping down the cost, and among his triumphs in this direction is the church of St. Barnabas, Oxford, in which, abandoning his usual and favourite 'perpendicular' English Gothic, he adopted an Italian manner, making use of the basilica type of plan and adding a campanile. The church, though erected at a small cost, is singularly effective.
He carried out several works in connection with schools and colleges besides the examples already mentioned, such as the chapels at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and at Malvern College; additions to the library and master's house at Trinity College, Cambridge; the junior school at St. Edmund's, Canterbury; a chapel for a school at Caversham, Reading; school buildings at Shrewsbury; and the 'great school,' museum, and other buildings at Charterhouse, Godalming. Among his London works not already noted were the Royal College of Music; the important church of St. John, Wilton Road; St. Barnabas, Bell Street, Edgware Road; St. Saviour's, a striking brick building in Oxford Street; St. James's Church, West Hampstead; and the rearrangement of the interior of St. Peter's, Eaton Square. Mention may also be made of the churches of Leytonstone, Barking, Ipswich, and Chigwell, the West Sussex Asylum, and various important works for the Prince of Wales at and near Sandringham; in the diocese of Chichester alone, besides restoring or repairing twelve old churches, Blomfield built no less than nine new ones, of which the most important are All Saints and Christ Church at Hastings, St. John at St. Leonards, St. Luke at Brighton, St. Andrew at Worthing, and St. John at Bognor.
Blomfield, who was a rowing man when young, and had occupied the bow seat in his college eight, when head of the river, was fond in middle life of taking recreation in acting, in which his fine voice, expressive clean-shaved face, and real dramatic talent made him unusually successful. In his professional work he was unfailingly industrious and an excellent draughtsman. In spite of the fact that his large practice necessitated the employment of a good staff of assistants and pupils, he drew a large proportion of his working drawings with his own hands, and even wrote the whole of his own correspondence in a handwriting which to the last retained exceptional beauty. He died suddenly on 30 Oct. 1899, and was buried at Broadway, Worcestershire, where he had his country home. There is in the possession of the family an oil portrait by Mr. Charles W. Furse; exhibited in the Royal Academy exhibition in 1890.
He was twice married: first, in 1860, to Caroline, daughter of Charles Case Smith, who died in 1882, and was the mother of the two sons mentioned below; and secondly to Sara Louisa, daughter of Matthew Ryan, who survives.
Blomfield worked for many years at an office in Henrietta Street, at the corner of Cavendish Square, but latterly his residence and office were at 28 Montagu Square and 6 Montagu Place. In 1890 he took into partnership his two sons, Charles J. Blomfield and Arthur C. Blomfield, who were associated with him in the design of the Magdalen College choir schools and other buildings. They continued several of their father's works after his death, including the development of the Church House scheme and the additions to the parish church at Leamington, and succeeded him in his appointments at the Bank of England, St. Cross Hospital, Winchester, and St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol.
[Builders' Journal, 1899, p. 207; Architect, 1899, p. 276, with good photographic portrait; Times, 1 Nov. 1899; R.I.B.A. Journal, 1899, vol. vii. No. 2, p. 36; Chichester Diocesan Gazette, December 1899, No. 72; information from Mr. Arthur Conran Blomfield; personal knowledge.]