Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wyatt, James

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Contains subarticle Benjamin Dean Wyatt (1775–1850?)

921307Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63 — Wyatt, James1900Albert Nicholson

WYATT, JAMES (1746–1813), architect, born at Burton Constable, Staffordshire, on 3 Aug. 1746, was sixth of the seven sons of Benjamin Wyatt, a farmer and timber-merchant of Blackbrook, who also practised as an architect and builder. An engraving of Stafford infirmary (dated about 1775) is inscribed ‘B. Wyatt and Sons, Arch.’ Benjamin's brother William was steward to Lord Uxbridge; from him descended the brothers Thomas Henry Wyatt [q. v.] and Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt [q. v.] Benjamin's son Joseph was father of Sir Jeffrey Wyatville [q. v.]

James attended the village school at Burton Constable, and was for a time a pupil of W. Atkinson. When he was only fourteen years of age his great skill in drawing fortunately came to the knowledge of Lord Bagot, who had just been appointed ambassador to the pope. He took Wyatt with him to Rome that he might study architecture. He seems to have made good use of the three or four years that he remained there, and of the following two years spent in Venice, where he was under the architect and painter Antonio Vicentini. He returned to London about 1766. In 1770 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. At the same time the important work of adapting the old Pantheon in Oxford Street for dramatic performances was entrusted to him, and from its opening on 22 Jan. 1772 may be dated Wyatt's great popularity and success in his profession. Owing to its complete destruction by fire in 1792, and the fact that there are no adequate representations of it preserved, we have no means of judging of that splendour and fitness which, we are told, secured for him his position in the fashionable world. For many years he was constantly employed erecting mansions in the Græco-Italian style, which, though they had a certain sameness in their outward appearance, were a distinct advance on the work of his predecessors. They were notable for the refinement and comfort of their interior decoration and design. A good specimen of his earlier work is Heaton House, near Manchester, which he built in 1772 for Sir Thomas Egerton (afterwards first Earl of Wilton). On 23 Jan. 1776 he was appointed surveyor of Westminster Abbey. In 1778 and the years following he had many important commissions in Oxford.

Wyatt gradually turned his attention to the Gothic style, to the study of which he applied himself with great diligence, employing draughtsmen to make careful drawings of the best ancient work. His first effort to adopt the Gothic in the design of a modern mansion was in Lee Priory, near Canterbury, built for Thomas Barrett. In this new departure he soon became as popular as in his old style, and among other commissions may be mentioned restorations at Salisbury and Lincoln cathedrals. At Hereford Cathedral he rebuilt the nave after the fall of the tower and front on 17 April 1786. In 1795 he erected Fonthill Abbey for Mr. Beckford, and in a castellated design the Royal Military College at Woolwich in the following year. His employment in restoring parts of Salisbury and Lichfield cathedrals led to severe criticism, and among the archæologists of his time he was known as ‘The Destroyer;’ but he may be fairly considered the author of the great revival of interest in Gothic architecture which has led to a higher appreciation of the value and beauty of old work, and the developments that have since taken place in modern architecture. In 1796 he succeeded Sir William Chambers [q. v.] as surveyor-general to the board of works, which led to his employment at the House of Lords and by George III at Windsor Castle. He held the office in 1806 of architect to the board of ordnance. He was a most industrious man, exhibiting at the Royal Academy between 1770 and 1799 no fewer than thirty-five designs. In 1785 he became a R.A., and in 1805, at the express wish of the king, he filled the office of president of the Royal Academy during a temporary misunderstanding between Benjamin West [q. v.] and the council of the academy. He was recognised as president by his contemporaries, but it has since been doubted whether he can be regarded as more than president-elect, owing to the fact that his election was not confirmed by the royal signature. Among Wyatt's other works were the addition of wings to the Duke of Devonshire's house at Chiswick; a Gothic palace, since demolished; the mansion house at Doddington Park, Gloucestershire, which cost Codrington 120,000l., was completed in 1808; Lord Bridgewater's seat at Ashridge Castle, Hertfordshire; he designed the south elevation of Wynnstay for Sir W. W. Wynn, bart. The front of White's Club, St. James's Street, is his design; and mausoleums at Cobham and Brocklesby were among his later works. In journeying from Bath to London on 4 Sept. 1813 his carriage was overturned near Marlborough, and he died instantly. Probably on account of his holding the appointment of surveyor to the dean and chapter he was buried in Westminster Abbey on 28 Sept.

There is scarcely a county or large town in the country in which Wyatt did not erect some public or private building. He left a widow, Rachel, and four sons, including Benjamin Dean Wyatt (see below), Matthew Cotes Wyatt [q. v.], and Philip Wyatt (d. 1836), who assisted his brother Benjamin Dean in many of his works. There is a bronze bust of Wyatt by C. F. Rossi in the National Portrait Gallery of London. A portrait is in the Royal Institute of British Architects, together with three drawings by him of Fonthill Abbey.

The eldest son, Benjamin Dean Wyatt (1775–1850?), architect, born in 1775, was educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, where he matriculated on 24 April 1795, and remained there till 1797, taking no degree. After studying for a time with his father he visited the continent, and, returning in 1802, became private secretary to Sir Arthur Wellesley, accompanying him to Ireland and India. He afterwards re-entered his profession, and soon, from his father's great name and influence, had ample work. In 1811 he commenced the rebuilding of Drury Lane Theatre, which had been destroyed by fire on 24 Feb. 1809, and published ‘Observations on the Principles of the Design for the Theatre now building in Drury Lane,’ 1811, 1812, 8vo. With his brother Philip he altered Apsley House for the Duke of Wellington in 1829, and he designed Crockford's Club House, St. James's Street, in 1827. He also built in the same year, in conjunction with his brother Philip, Londonderry House, Park Lane, and Wynyard, Durham, for the Marquis of Londonderry; and in 1830–33 he erected the Duke of York's column at a cost of 25,000l. On the death of his father in 1813 he succeeded him as surveyor to Westminster Abbey, and held the post till 1827. In 1814 he restored the rose window of the south transept. He retired from practice and died about 1850, it is said in Camden Town. There is a portrait of him in the ‘European Magazine,’ 1812, engraved by T. Blood, after S. Drummond, A.R.A.

[Dict. of Architecture, viii. 80; Sandby's Hist. of the Royal Academy, i. 226; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Royal Academy Cat.; Gent. Mag. 1813, ii. 296; Chester's Westminster Abbey Register, p. 485.]

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