We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Sir  Reginald Theodore Blomfield (1856–1942), by Sir James Jebusa Shannon, exh. RA 1915Sir Reginald Theodore Blomfield (1856–1942), by Sir James Jebusa Shannon, exh. RA 1915
Blomfield, Sir Reginald Theodore (1856–1942), architect, was born at the vicarage, Bow, Devon, on 20 December 1856, the third son and one of the eleven children of the Revd George John Blomfield (d. 1900), who became vicar of Dartford in 1857, and his wife, a distant cousin, Isabella, second daughter of , bishop of London. In 1869 Blomfield entered Haileybury College and was awarded a leaving exhibition in 1875, when he also won a Stapledon scholarship at Exeter College, Oxford. He obtained a first class in literae humaniores in 1879. His academic success was complemented by his sporting prowess, but he also developed a keen interest in art. He thought of pursuing sculpture as a career, but a private income was necessary so he decided instead to channel his artistic interest into architecture, and entered the office of his maternal uncle in 1881. The older man was a successful exponent of the Gothic revival style, who built mainly ecclesiastical buildings. His nephew was articled free of charge. Although Reginald found office life mundane, he was employed at a time when the practice was completing the Royal Courts of Justice, unfinished at G. E. Street's death. He attended the Royal Academy, where he won both junior and senior school prizes, but after two years he left his uncle's office, following a misunderstanding, and travelled in Europe, studying architecture in France and Spain.

Blomfield began his own practice in 1884, although it was some years before it became firmly established, and several of his earliest commissions came through family connections. He designed the Bradby memorial hall (1886) at his old school, Haileybury, restored some small churches, and extended and reordered a large house, Brooklands, at Weybridge for his cousin in 1889. During the lulls in practice he wrote and illustrated articles on historical architecture, beginning with ‘Sussex foundries’ for The Portfolio (1886), followed by a series on English Renaissance architects, also published in The Portfolio. These were the beginnings of a lifelong involvement in architectural research and writing.

Meanwhile, Blomfield had been introduced to the circle of young architects associated with Richard Norman Shaw, the leading practitioner of the day. They were prominent in the development of the arts and crafts movement, in particular the Art-Workers' Guild, which Blomfield joined, rising to become secretary during William Morris's presidency. He was also involved with the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, and with a commercial venture, Kenton & Co., which sought to make furniture in accordance with artistic principles. However, he moved away from these activities as his practice expanded and as his views on architecture changed.

The publication of Blomfield's first book, The Formal Garden in England (1892), which he produced in collaboration with Francis Inigo Thomas, followed by A History of Renaissance Architecture in England, 1500–1800 (2 vols., 1897), was significant in that the books represented a change in architectural fashion away from the ‘bric à brac’ style of the 1880s to the more ordered and consistent ‘Wrenaissance’ of the Edwardian period. These volumes—learned, admirably written, and well illustrated—introduced Blomfield to many owners of historic mansions who employed him as architect and garden designer. Among the houses reordered, restored, or enlarged between 1896 and 1909 were: Heathfield Park, Sussex, for William Alexander; Brocklesby Park, Lincolnshire, for Lord Yarborough; Chequers Court, Buckinghamshire—the prime minister's country house; La Manoire de la Trinité, Jersey; and Mellerstain, Roxburghshire, for Lord Binning. Blomfield also designed new houses, often (but not always) in the ‘Wrenaissance’ style, such as Moundsmere Manor, Hampshire (1908) for Wilfred Buckley. At the same time the number of public and commercial buildings that he undertook increased, varying from the remarkable warehouse in Greycoat Place, Westminster, for the Army and Navy Stores (1895) to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University (1896–1926), and the water tower at Lincoln (1910). During the first decade of the twentieth century his style became more urbane, as illustrated by the United University Club, London (1906; extended 1924, 1938). This change may have been due to his increasing admiration for French architecture, as he collected information for A History of French Architecture, 1494 to 1774 (4 vols., 1911–21).

Blomfield was by now a family man, having married Anne Frances May, daughter of Henry Burra, a civil servant in India, in 1886. They had a daughter and two sons, one of whom became an architect and continued his father's practice until 1969. In 1892 Blomfield built a pair of houses in Frognal, Hampstead, and lived in one of them until his death. He also acquired and subsequently extended a cottage at Point Hill, Rye, as a country retreat.

Blomfield's country-house practice declined substantially after the First World War, but instead of contemplating retirement his career took a new turn. He was one of the principal architects appointed by the Imperial War Graves Commission to superintend the design of cemeteries in France and Belgium, and he also contributed a standard feature, the ‘cross of sacrifice’, which appeared in most commission sites. In addition, he was responsible for a memorial to the missing, the Menin gate at Ypres (1922). He also designed the Belgian war memorial (1917) and the RAF memorial (1921), both in London.

Before the war he had been thwarted in a golden opportunity to design in the ‘grand manner’, which he had championed in his collection of lectures, The Mistress Art (1908), when Edwin Lutyens appointed Herbert Baker assistant architect for New Delhi. However, from 1916 to 1926 Blomfield was able to complete the rebuilding of the Quadrant, Regent Street, left unfinished when Norman Shaw died. He made a suggestion for the redesign of the whole of Piccadilly Circus (not executed) and designed the elevational treatment of the Headrow commercial development in Leeds (1924–37).

A man of abounding energy, sincerity, self-assurance, and pugnacity, Blomfield was involved in architectural politics and controversy throughout his career. In 1891 he was one of the ‘memorialists’, artist–architects who resigned from the RIBA over the issue of professional registration. He was deeply involved in architectural education, becoming professor of architecture of the Royal Academy in 1906, and one of the original members of the newly founded board of architectural education. He rejoined the RIBA in 1906, was elected president in 1912, and received the royal gold medal for architecture in 1913. He was a member of the editorial committee of the Architectural Review and was also involved with the founding of the British School at Rome. In 1905 Blomfield became an associate of the Royal Academy, where he played an active part in committee work, and was elected a full member in 1914.

In the 1920s and 1930s Blomfield fought hard to prevent the proposed demolition of the London city churches and Waterloo Bridge, but working in conjunction with others he designed the new Lambeth Bridge, completed in 1932. His trenchant writings and his position as an arbiter elegantiarum were turned against him, however, when his design for a bulky office building in Carlton Gardens led to proposals for a scheme to replace the whole of Nash's Carlton House Terrace. Many influential people were ranged against him and, following a parliamentary debate, his scheme was not pursued, a defeat which led Blomfield to resign from the Royal Fine Arts Commission which had initially approved his design.

In his later years Blomfield was a doughty opponent of continental modernism, and his book Modernismus (1934) was a witty and slashing attack. Ironically, he was appointed by the Central Electricity Board to advise on the design of supply pylons—a modernist icon. He continued to publish, and among other works are his Memoirs (1932), and Richard Norman Shaw, RA (1940), a belated if slight tribute to an architect who was an early influence on Blomfield and his contemporaries but who was, by then, unfashionable.

Blomfield's phenomenal vitality continued to the very end of his life. A big and powerful man, he played most games well and some to a great age. He had also enlisted in the Inns of Court Volunteers in 1900 and again in the First World War. He was a genial figure in the billiard-room of the Athenaeum up to the last. He was elected honorary fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1906, received the honorary degree of LittD from Liverpool University in 1920, and was knighted in 1919. He was also awarded several foreign decorations. He died at home at 51 Frognal, Hampstead, on 27 December 1942, leaving an estate valued at over £110,000.

M. S. Briggs, rev. Richard A. Fellows

Sources  

R. T. Blomfield, Memoirs of an architect (1932) · R. A. Fellows, Sir Reginald Blomfield (1985) · C. H. Reilly, ‘Sir Reginald Blomfield’, Representative British architects of the present day (1931), 54–65 · M. S. Briggs, ‘Voysey and Blomfield: a study in contrast’, The Builder, 176 (1949), 39–42 · The Times (29 Dec 1942) · Manchester Guardian (29 Dec 1942) · A. E. Richardson, ‘Sir Reginald Blomfield’, RIBA Journal, 50 (1942–3), 65–7 · A. Blomfield, ‘List of buildings designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield’, RIBA Journal, 50 (1942–3), 88–9

Archives  

Commonwealth War Graves Commission, corresp. relating to Imperial War Graves Commission · Winchester College, archives, file of corresp. relating to windows at Winchester College |  BL, corresp. with Macmillans, Add. MS 55234 · RIBA, Drawings Collection, topographical drawings, sketch and notebooks, perspective and orthographic drawings, detail drawings · U. Glas. L., letters to D. S. MacColl · UCL, letters to Sir Francis Galton


Likenesses  

J. J. Shannon, oils, exh. RA 1915, RIBA [see illus.] · W. R. Dick, bronze bust, 1927, NPG · W. Rothenstein, chalk drawing, NPG · J. Russell & Sons, photograph, NPG · W. Strang, etching, BM

Wealth at death  

£112,057 5s. 9d.: probate, 18 May 1943, CGPLA Eng. & Wales