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Reference group
Memorialists (act. 1891–1903) were a group of architects and artists opposed to the compulsory registration of the architectural profession. Led by the architects Richard Norman Shaw and Thomas Graham Jackson, they wrote letters to The Times, addressed a memorial to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and published a volume on the issue entitled Architecture: a Profession or an Art (1892). Their opposition to registration was threefold. In the first place they believed that architectural ability did not admit of test by examination. Second, they stated that legislation would not be an effective way of raising the average standard of building. Above all they feared that registration would further estrange architecture from the other arts. A revival of craftsmanship, they argued, was incompatible with professionalization.

Architecture in the nineteenth century was an odd and ill-defined profession. Its training was unsystematic and its identity insecure. In an age in which a man could describe himself as a ‘Hairdresser and Architect’ anything was possible (Jenkins, 225). Although the RIBA was founded in 1834, and chartered three years later, many major figures—including a number of the memorialists—were not members. Indeed by the 1890s only about 10 per cent of the profession had joined the institute. To make matters worse, architectural education was notoriously poor. Most architects served a pupillage, but the quality of this varied widely. Nor were other sorts of training of much more use: at the Royal Academy of Arts, as W. R. Lethaby recalled, ‘It was good fun, but it was anarchy’ (Lethaby, 334).

For many the solution to these problems was compulsory examination, registration, and membership of a professional organization. In 1882 the RIBA made membership conditional on success in its tests. In 1884 the Society of Architects was established to press for state regulation of the profession, and speakers were sent round the country to agitate for change. In 1889 the Architectural Association resolved to reform itself, becoming a training ground for those preparing for RIBA qualifications. Increasingly, influential members of the institute, among them men like William H. White, Arthur Cates, and J. Macvicar Anderson, argued for registration. They were supported by R. Phené Spiers, master of the Royal Academy Schools, and Robert Kerr, professor of the arts of construction at King's College, London, whose experience of teaching architecture led them to favour some form of professionalization.

The memorialists, by contrast, looked for a more profound reform of architectural practice. In particular many of them, influenced by the ideals of the arts and crafts movement, wanted to reconceive the role of the architect. They believed that architecture had been quite wrongly separated from the other arts. Compulsory registration would only make matters worse. ‘Nothing’, wrote Jackson, ‘would do more to widen the breach between architecture and the sister arts of painting and sculpture than this proposed scheme to shut it within the barriers of a close profession’ (Jackson, Recollections, 191). It was education, they concluded, rather than professionalization, that would help architects out of their impasse.

The first attempt at introducing a parliamentary bill to register architects was made in 1887. It was poorly drafted, and therefore was opposed by the RIBA. None the less Jackson devoted a lecture at the Architectural Association to opposing it and attempted to persuade Norman Shaw to join his attacks. Shaw refused but three years later another, more serious, attempt was made. Although the RIBA once again denied its support, the forces behind registration had grown much stronger. As a result, as Jackson recalled, ‘Norman Shaw took it up hot’ (Jackson, Recollections, 261). Nor did he exaggerate: Shaw's position was utterly changed. ‘It must be war now, and no quarter’, he wrote to Reginald Blomfield (Summerson, 32). Shaw gathered together a group of architects to discuss the crisis at Mervyn Macartney's house, 52 Berkeley Square, London. They resolved to write to The Times and drafted a letter that was signed by Arthur Blomfield, John Sedding, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, and Edward Burne-Jones as well as Shaw and Jackson.

With Reginald Blomfield and Mervyn Macartney (1853–1932) acting as secretaries, a memorial to the RIBA was drawn up opposing registration. It began:
We, the undersigned, desire to record our opinion that the attempt to make Architecture a close profession, either by the Bill now introduced into Parliament or by any similar measure, is opposed to the interest of Architecture as a fine art. (The Times, 3 March 1891)
Twenty-four members of the institute subscribed to the memorial, including Reginald Blomfield, Gerald Horsley (1862–1917), E. J. May (1853–1914), Macartney, E. S. Prior, and F. M. Simpson (1855–1928), who resigned from the RIBA as a result. Those who signed the memorial but remained members included J. M. Brydon, W. D. Caroë, C. Hodgson Fowler (1840–1910), Beresford Pite, John Oldrid Scott (1841–1913), A. E. Street (d. 1938), and J. J. Stevenson. Even Phené Spiers was prevailed upon to sign, despite his earlier enthusiasm for registration. To these names were added twenty architects who were not members of the institute. Rowand Anderson and J. F. Bentley signed alongside William Butterfield and J. H. Middleton. Philip Webb and W. C. Marshall (b. 1849) were joined by Thomas Garner, E. Prioleau Warren (1856–1937), Horace Field (1861/2–1948), Somers Clarke (1841–1926), A. H. Mackmurdo, and Halsey Ricardo (1854–1928). A group of twenty-four artists also became memorialists, among them Ford Madox Brown, J. B. Burgess, Alfred Gilbert, Hubert Herkomer, Selwyn Image, William Morris, Briton Riviere, and Hamo Thornycroft.

The memorial and the letter were published in The Times on 3 March 1891. The current parliamentary bill fell before its second reading. But the memorialists did not stop there: Shaw and Jackson went on to edit a book that more fully expressed their ideals. Architecture, a Profession or an Art was published in 1892 and consisted of essays by G. F. Bodley, Basil Champneys, John R. Clayton (c.1827–1913), J. T. Micklethwaite, Ernest Newton, W. B. Richmond, Reginald Blomfield, Horsley, Lethaby, Macartney, and Prior as well as the two editors. The authors argued for a new sort of architecture and a new sort of architectural training, in which craftsmanship rather than competitive examination was the key. Perhaps its most important essay was Jackson's, which argued for a national school of architecture that would bring together—and train together—all those involved in building. It was an idea that inspired the Liverpool School of Architecture and Applied Art, which opened in 1895 with F. M. Simpson as founding professor. Likewise in 1900 Jackson and three other memorialists, Walter Crane, Onslow Ford, and W. B. Richmond, reformed the Royal College of Art in line with these ideas.

Not everyone, it must be said, was impressed by the memorialist cause. Reviews of Architecture, a Profession or an Art are best described as mixed. The architectural press, in particular, tended to dismiss the essayists as wildly idealistic, wilfully ignoring the realities of life for the average architect. Lord Grimthorpe spoke for many when he concluded that ‘If the revival of architecture is to depend upon such a series of unpractical, visionary, impossible essays and remedies as [they have] now given us, it is indeed hopelessly sunk’ (Grimthorpe, 634). Moreover, the book made it clear that the memorialists were divided among themselves. While most argued for a conventional arts and crafts approach, in which the architect was essentially a master craftsman, Norman Shaw reflected a wholly other tradition in which the architect was an isolated genius, far removed from the grubby details of construction. The snobbery of the memorialists was also unappealing. Jackson's contention that registration was intended to ensure that ‘the architect's wife might go down to dinner before those of the apothecary and the attorney’ might well have been accurate, but can have won him few friends (Shaw and Jackson, 220).

It is little wonder, then, that the energy generated by the memorialists soon began to dissipate. The Liverpool School of Art quickly ran into difficulties and was radically reformed in the early years of the twentieth century. The Royal College of Art similarly diverged from the memorialists' ideals. In 1903 several of those who had signed the memorial were drawn back to the RIBA, joining the board of architectural education and drawing up a new syllabus for trainee architects. Although many of the ideas it incorporated drew on Architecture, a Profession or an Art, it was clear that the memorialist moment was over.

Bit by bit, the RIBA grew in numbers and the campaign for compulsory registration grew in strength. And, indeed, in 1931 the Architects' Registration Act was passed. In this sense the memorialists' cause failed. But for a time they represented an important challenge to the forces of professionalization and to the conventions of contemporary architectural practice. Drawing in artists and artisans as well as architects, and arguing for a revival of craftsmanship rather than the imposition of legal restrictions, they were a powerful expression of the arts and crafts movement in action.

Other memorialists included: John Douglas; Ernest Newton; George Gilbert Scott; Thomas Brock; Holman Hunt; and Heywood Sumner.

William Whyte


R. Norman Shaw and T. G. Jackson, eds., Architecture: a profession or an art (1892) · T. G. Jackson, Recollections: the life and travels of a Victorian architect, ed. N. Jackson (2003) · R. Blomfield, Memoirs of an architect (1932) · W. Whyte, Oxford Jackson: architecture, education, status, and style, 1835–1924 (2006) · A. Saint, Richard Norman Shaw (1976) · W. R. Lethaby, ‘Richard Phené Spiers’, Journal of Proceedings of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 3rd ser., 23 (1916), 334 · F. Jenkins, Architect and patron (1962) · Q. Hughes, ‘Education and the architectural profession in Britain at the turn of the century’, Art and Design Education, 1 (1982), 135–44 · M. Crinson and J. Lubbock, Architecture: art or profession? (1994) · J. A. Gotch, ed., The growth and work of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 1834–1934 [1934] · B. Kaye, The development of the architectural profession in Britain (1960) · C. McArthur Butler, The Society of Architects (1926) · A. A. R. Powers, ‘Architectural education in Britain, 1880–1914’, PhD diss., U. Cam., 1982 · A. Saint, The image of the architect (1983) · Lord Grimthorpe, ‘Architecture: a profession or an art?’, Nineteenth Century, 33 (1893) · [J. T. Emmett], ‘Architecture: a business, a profession, or an art?’, QR, 176 (1893) · T. G. Jackson, ‘Architecture: a profession or an art’, Nineteenth Century, 33 (1893) · Q. Hughes, ‘Before the Bauhaus: the experiment at the Liverpool School of Architecture and its Applied Arts’, Architectural History, 25 (1982), 102–13 · A. Powers, ‘Liverpool and architectural education’, Charles Reilly and the Liverpool School of Architecture, 1904–1933, ed. J. Sharples, A. Powers, and M. Shippobottom (1996) · C. Frayling, The Royal College of Art: one hundred and fifty years of art and design (1987) · J. Summerson, The Architectural Association, 1847–1947 (1947)