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
Reference group
Founders of the Royal Institute of British Architects (act. 1834–1835) were a small group of young London architects mostly known to one another through the Royal Academy schools and shared experience. They were motivated to form a professional society by the lack of formal training available, especially compared with France, Italy, or Germany, which they were able to visit after 1815, and by the public's contempt for their profession. They must be distinguished from the ‘original members’ of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), who were established practitioners drawn in to give the respectability required for a successful launch. The institute's leading founders were Thomas Leverton Donaldson, John Douglas Hopkins (d. 1869), Henry Edward Kendall (1805–1885), John Goldicutt, and—somewhat equivocally—Edward Cresy. Peter Frederick Robinson and John Buonarotti Papworth also played a significant role. Others active in the preliminary meetings were William John Donthorn (1799–1859), James Savage, Charles Fowler, James Thomson, James Noble (d. 1875), Henry Rhodes (d. 1860), William Crawford Stow (d. 1859), and George Ledwell Taylor.

Forerunners of the institute

The late eighteenth century had seen the establishment of professional bodies for a number of occupations with particular but ill-defined qualifications, such as surveyors and engineers. Although the Royal Academy of Arts, founded in 1760, included architects and provided schools, its provision for architectural training was negligible: ‘architect’ had come to signify a specialist in building design. Developments in the building world called for fully worked-out designs and estimates before construction commenced, a demand met in the building boom of the 1820s partly by experienced building tradesmen, and partly by an influx of young recruits into architecture. However, no parallel scheme of training developed. Unsurprisingly, public bodies that were often the patrons of new buildings tended to regard the architect as merely one of the tradesmen involved in the construction process, and looked to secure designs in the cheapest way. Architects, and especially those starting out in the profession, therefore found themselves in a highly competitive situation, particularly when recession bit in the late 1820s.

While the first such organization, the Architects' Club (1791–c.1830), was basically an exclusive dining society, there had been several bids for collective self-improvement from young architects before the formation of the RIBA. As early as 1806 Joseph Woods had founded the London Architectural Society to compensate for the Royal Academy's deficiencies regarding architectural education. In 1810 one of the society's members, James Elmes, had projected a royal academy of architecture, introducing the concept of a library and museum, subsequently a constant feature of such proposals. But despite favourable noises from leading architects Elmes's remained a paper project. In 1817, stimulated by a remark of Sir John Soane in a Royal Academy lecture, Thomas Leverton Donaldson had organized an architectural students' society to petition the academy for better provision for architectural training, but with little success. Two years later Elmes made a second ineffectual attempt to found an institution for the ‘Cultivation and Encouragement of Architecture’; and the antiquarian publisher John Britton (later a prominent champion of the Institute of British Architects) established the Architects' and Antiquaries' Club, though rather in the old exclusive mould: twenty members dining six times a year, to hear an essay on a subject of ancient architecture or antiquity. The persistent desire to found a British school of architecture in turn gave rise in 1831 to the Architectural Society. But despite rooms in Lincoln's Inn Fields, regular meetings, and the royal patronage of the duke of Sussex, it failed to secure the status for architects that other leading professions enjoyed.

Other stirrings broke the surface towards the end of 1833. After consulting Soane, John Anderson Bell published a pamphlet (4 January 1834) advocating a ‘Chartered Society for the Advancement and Protection of Architecture’. A group of architects and surveyors resumed their earlier discussions, on 8 January 1834 at the Freemasons' tavern, under the chairmanship of Edward Cresy, with the object of forming a society for the study of architecture and architectural topography. They appointed a committee that resolved to establish an organization for those practising solely as architects or surveyors (regarding the two capacities as inextricably immingled), with the familiar project of library, museum, and meetings with discussions of essays, proposals remitted to a general meeting to be held on 19 February (Kaye, Development of the Architectural Profession, 75, citing a folio ‘At a meeting of architects and surveyors’). As Kaye observes, those architects who also acted as surveyors were discriminating between themselves and the ill-defined body of measurers.

The Society of British Architects

A contemporary claim that it was the association with surveyors at the Freemasons' that drove some then present to set up an alternative body seems doubtful. Another group of young men, led by John Douglas Hopkins (a pupil of Papworth) and his partner Henry Edward Kendall, with Donaldson, had already been meeting for several weeks with the similar aim of establishing an architectural society. Papworth was himself involved behind the scenes, along with Peter Frederick Robinson, an established country house specialist, in drumming up support. They met on 13 January 1834 at 17 Suffolk Street, Pall Mall East—the home of Kendall's father, also Henry Edward Kendall—‘to receive the outlines of a plan for forming an Architectural Institution, similar to the Institution of Civil Engineers, for the purpose of promoting the practical, as well as the more scientific interests of the profession’ (Bell's Weekly Messenger, 18 Jan 1834, 10). A draft constitution by James Savage that may date from this point remarks that ‘some gentlemen of the profession propose to establish an Architectural Institution’ for ‘the promotion and cultivation of Architecture as a Fine Art and as a liberal Science’. It was to have three categories: members (to have been in regular practice for more than five years), associates, and students. All would undergo a public examination in theory and practice at the level appropriate to the grade sought, immediately before a ballot for election. On election a member would present plans and specifications of a building of his own designing. In contrast to the decision taken at the Freemasons' tavern, engaging in ‘any mechanical trade’ or estimating or measuring for hire would ipso facto disqualify.

James Elmes chaired the Suffolk Street meeting on 13 January. John Hopkins, secretary for the meeting, read out already drafted regulations: when fifty members had been enlisted, rooms should be taken in central London, to house the essential library and a museum for casts, models, and drawings of ancient buildings based on actual measurement or authentic sources, to be presented by members on admission, rather like diploma drawings at the Royal Academy. Additionally there would be a repository for specimens of building materials, and models of improvements. The name of the Society of British Architects was, at this point, preferred to that of Wrenian Society for the new body.

Far from being a meeting ‘of the principal members of the architectural profession’, as described in one press account (Bell's Weekly Messenger, 18 Jan 1834), these were in fact ‘preliminary proceedings of a party of juniors desirous that the object they had hitherto attempted should be taken up by more influential Members of the profession’ (RIBA BAL, misc. papers). A meeting was accordingly called at the Crown Hotel, Craven Street, on 3 February, attended by Donaldson, Henry Rhodes, Charles Fowler, and several more junior members, with the elder Henry Kendall in the chair. All present concurred in the object proposed, and appointed a committee ‘to prepare the necessary measures for forming a Society to be called the Institution of British Architects’. This led to a series of meetings at the houses of the architects involved, namely John Goldicutt, Donthorn, James Noble, and the older Peter Robinson (who generally took the chair). In addition to those already named others present intermittently were James Thomson (another of Papworth's pupils), Savage, Kendall, Fowler, William Crawford Stow, and George Ledwell Taylor, who had participated in earlier societies. The constitution of the Institute of British Architects was thrashed out on the basis of a prospectus signed by Hopkins as honorary secretary, expressing the deeply felt need that architecture should, like most branches of art, science, and literature, have a society of its own: its objects would be the ‘Cultivation and improvement of practical Architecture, and the general advancement of the Art and Science’; with meetings, library, and museum, as previously proposed, and a collection of building materials for experiment.

The British Architects recognized the desirability of co-operating with Cresy's group (the Surveyors' and Architects' Society, as it was beginning to be called) as it had assembled on 19 February. The implicit message of both societies was the need to raise the public perception of the profession. Robinson and Donaldson met Cresy, as chairman of the Surveyors' and Architects' Society, to express ‘an anxious wish for the Coalition of the two Societies’ (Plain Statement, 10). After much discussion at the Freemasons' on 19 February, the Surveyors' and Architects' Society appointed a committee composed of men with a strong bias in favour of surveying—Cresy, Thomas Allason (1790–1852), Thomas Bellamy (1798–1876), Henry Harrison, and Charles Parker—to consider forming a union with the Society of British Architects ‘for the establishment of an Architectural Institution’ (ibid.). The British Architects naming Goldicutt, Donaldson, Fowler, Noble, and Robinson, the two committees met a few days later. But Cresy's group proposed postponing all further discussion until the British Architects' constitutional draft was completed. The two chairmen, however, were deputed to approach the old-established Architects' Club to invite their collaboration. The secretary of that club, Joseph Kay, while expressing his members' goodwill as individuals, declined formal union with a new body.

A meeting of the Society of British Architects at Donaldson's on 12 April, with Robinson in the chair, and Goldicutt and Fowler present, revised their draft. The printed prospectus and laws of ‘the other Committee’ [the Surveyors' and Architects'] ‘were approved generally, the purport of most points being already compressed [comprised] in our statement & the remainder might be afterwards appended as By-laws’ (RIBA BAL, misc. papers). The two deputations met again at Donaldson's on 16 April: Cresy, Charles Parker, and a Mr Wallingford, on one hand, and Robinson, Donaldson, Fowler, and Goldicutt on the other, when Cresy questioned the practicability of undertaking to teach students. It was agreed that all the matter relating to students should be set apart from the laws. Names for the founding members were proposed, to be invited in a prescribed order. Robinson's group met again at his house on 19 April, with Kendall, Goldicutt, Donaldson, Noble, Stow, Hopkins, and Fowler present, to ratify the joint meeting's agreements. The draft laws were considered and a circular letter was drafted inviting those architects who were Royal Academicians and fifteen other leading practitioners to join, together with an invitation to Soane to preside over the new institute. With the final arrangements entrusted to Robinson, Fowler, and Donaldson, the meeting adjourned until 6 May. It was probably Thomas Leverton Donaldson who drew up a report for the Society of British Architects, summarizing the work of their committee as appointed at the Crown Hotel on 3 February. This included reference to the regrettable inability to agree an exclusion clause with the Architects' and Surveyors' Society relating to those employed in measuring. The summary also proposed submitting their prospectus and rules to a general meeting that should elect a selection of eminent architects as the ‘original members’ of the Institute of British Architects. In their list the committee excluded its own members, in the belief that the new men would more freely adopt the desired measures if not in the first instance associated with those who had proposed them.

When the British Architects' committee (Kendall, father and son, Donaldson, Donthorn, Taylor, Fowler, and Stow) reassembled at Noble's on 30 April a letter from Cresy and his deputation ‘of the other Committee’ was read, strongly dissenting from the institute's proposed disqualification of those who undertook ‘Measuring and valuing works on behalf of Builders, except those executed from the Member's own designs or directions’ (Plain Statement, 11). The British Architects' committee thought the matter of such importance that they asked Cresy for time to consider, and adjourned to Kendall's on 10 May instead of 6 May. That meeting, however, was further postponed, and members of the two committees (Cresy, Fowler, Parker, Kendall, Bellamy, Goldicutt, Rhodes, and Donaldson), with Robinson in the chair, met at Rainy's Rooms, 14 Regent Street (John Nash's former house) on 13 May 1834, for the union pro forma of the two societies; some twenty architects who had hitherto taken no part in proceedings were also invited—of whom Henry Hake Seward (c.1778–1848), Kay, Charles Barry, Joseph Gwilt, and Thomas Lee (1794–1834) came—to encourage them individually to join. It was preceded by a meeting of Robinson and Cresy as the two chairmen, ‘at which it was understood that the point in dispute [the disqualification clause relating to measuring] was so far conceded by the Committee of the Society of British Architects, as to allow of its being left for the determination of the first Council, to be appointed by the Members of the joint Society’ (ibid., 14). Robinson referred to the union of the two societies and described their objects to the visitors, mentioning that there remained a point of difference that was reserved for later consideration. It was then formally resolved ‘that it is desirable for the promotion of Architecture and to uphold the respectability of the profession that an Institution be formed upon such principles as shall be best calculated to effect these objects’. However, one member of the Society of British Architects insisted on discussing the exclusion clause immediately. He moved and, with the help of the visitors, carried a resolution that ‘the disqualification clauses as laid down in the printed prospectus are accepted by this Meeting’, despite the protests of the Architects' and Surveyors' members (ibid., 15–16). It was also resolved that thirteen gentlemen (Barry, George Basevi, Decimus Burton, Cresy, Gwilt, Philip Hardwick, Kay, Lee, Sir John Rennie, Papworth, Robinson, Seward, and G. L. Taylor) who had expressed willingness to become members be elected as the institute's original members, and should meet on 21 May to elect additional members.

The Institute of British Architects

Cresy hastened to consult Sir John Soane, who declared measuring to be ‘the stepping-stone to professional knowledge and very frequently the only way a young practitioner could obtain a livelihood’, a view Soane reiterated in the presence of both chairmen. Thus supported, the Architects' and Surveyors' Society met again at the Freemasons' tavern on 20 May, when they resolved unanimously that they could not accept the excluding clause (Plain Statement, 17–18). At a second general meeting at Rainy's Rooms on the following day Cresy handed in his society's resolution, and the ‘firm and determined tone of the protest’ induced the meeting to elect twenty-one fellows from the two societies to the Institute of British Architects. It was agreed that the thirteen original members should meet again a week later to elect more. The situation then became farcical: Robinson as chairman immediately wrote to the twenty-one informing them of their election; but the meeting on 28 May decided that only seven of them should be considered as elected, not one of the Architects' and Surveyors' committee being included. Cresy therefore carried an amendment that all twenty-one elections be annulled, and he and Lee withdrew their names from the list of original members.

On 4 June the new committee met at Rainy's with Joseph Kay in the chair (Seward, Gwilt, Papworth, Basevi, Barry, and Burton present). They now resolved to form themselves into a body ‘for the promotion of Architecture’ and invited some earlier activists—Robinson, Cresy, Lee, Taylor—as well as Philip Hardwick to join them as an initial twelve-strong association. Joseph Gwilt read out the British Architects' aims: formation of a library and a museum, meetings to advance knowledge, publication of interesting communications, and of prices and materials to uncover fraud and achieve uniformity. To gain public confidence in bona fide architects all those profiting from the building trades would be excluded. It was hoped the government would provide accommodation, and they wished to co-operate with all other bodies of common sentiments, at home and abroad. The proposal was ‘considered well adapted for the promotion of the object’ (‘Address of the Institute of British Architects’), and twenty copies were ordered to be printed for further consideration. They then adjourned for a fortnight. However, a meeting on 2 July (comprising Barry, Basevi, Burton, Cresy, Joseph Gwilt, Hardwick, Kay, Lee, Papworth, Robinson, Seward, Taylor) adopted a tautened address—with the introductory paragraphs pared and the whole section about prices omitted—and also approved the institute's proposed constitution, ascribed principally to Gwilt. The Society of British Architects had then to dissolve itself: a committee on 3 July drew up a report submitted to a general meeting the following evening at the Crown Hotel, when the resolutions of their original meeting were read, and the report duly approved.

A meeting of the new Institute of British Architects was held under Kay's chairmanship at the Thatched House tavern on 9 July 1834, when more fellows were elected to join the original twelve. At a meeting on 5 November the founders of the Society of British Architects were present in some strength: Robinson, Donaldson, Goldicutt, Fowler, Rhodes—together with Basevi, Edward Blore, John Newman, and Gwilt. Fifteen names were announced to be ballotted for, the election to take place a week later. A further meeting on 3 December, again chaired by Kay with Barry, Savage, Kendall, and Seward among those present, proceeded to elect a council and officers: Robinson, Gwilt, and Kay as vice-presidents, Donaldson and Goldicutt as secretaries, and Barry, Basevi, Hardwick, Burton, Kendall, Papworth, and Fowler as council.

Hardwick however declined to serve, and at the next meeting on 10 December Blore was elected in his place, but the question of his interest in a quarry having been raised, Rhodes was elected instead. A further ten fellows were recommended by council, and eight associates (including Hopkins, Kendall, Stow, and Thomson). At the council on 6 January 1835 Hopkins and Thomson were transferred to the fellows' list, and the elections were confirmed by the general meeting that followed, when Blore (his purity confirmed) was proposed as a vice-president and Sir Thomas Farquhar as treasurer. But dissension continued, and Joseph Gwilt resigned on 11 December as a result of the Blore affair. At the next council meeting his resignation was accepted; at the general meeting Papworth was elected in his place, and Blore elected to council to replace Papworth.

At the general meeting on 27 January 1835 Thomas de Grey, second Earl De Grey, was mooted as the institute's president, Sir John Soane having declined. As a non-professional man with an avid interest in architecture and high social position Lord De Grey was an inevitable choice. The problem of the relationship of engineer and architect was also raised in relation to the nomination of Tierney Clarke as a fellow, but that problem was deferred for later discussion. De Grey was elected president in May, and Goldicutt was succeeded as joint secretary by Fowler. The official opening of the Institute of British Architects by Lord De Grey took place on 15 June 1835, when it had fifty members in established practice as architects, and could therefore claim to be the profession's representative body, securing its respectability and working for the improvement of the nation's architecture. By 1840 membership had risen to 159 and two years later Sir William Tite, president of the Architectural Society, brought that organization into the institute. The first volume of the institute's transactions was published in 1836 and, following representation by Lord De Grey, a royal charter was obtained in 1837. This gave the Institute of British Architects a certain legal status, and it adopted the prefix ‘Royal’, though that was not formally bestowed until 1866.

M. H. Port

Sources  

‘Address of the Institute of British Architects explanatory of their views of objects, and the regulations proposed at a meeting, held June 4th, 1834’ 79; ‘Address of the Institute of British Architects, adopted at a meeting, held July 2nd, 1834’, 95; ‘The following regulations were adopted, 2nd July 1834’, RIBA BAL, pamphlets Q7 · RIBA BAL, MS X, misc. papers connected with the formation of the RIBA · a sketch of the original constitution and laws by J. Savage; report of the committee appointed 3 Feb 1834 (July 1834); reports of meetings of the Society of British Architects, 8, 22 Feb, 3, 10, 17, 26 March, 12, 16, 19, 30 April, 3 July 1834; summons to meetings on 3 and 4 July 1834; report of committee appointed 3 Feb 1834; minutes of joint meetings at Mr Rainy's rooms (13 May 1834); minutes ‘At a meeting held at Mr Rainy's Rooms’ (4 June 1834); letter from J. Kay to C. Fowler with draft reply on verso (9 July 1834); minutes of Architects' Institute, 5 Nov, 3, 10 Dec 1834, 6 Jan 1835; minutes of council, 13, 27 Jan 1835, RIBA BAL · RIBA BAL, nomination papers for J. Savage, 1834 · Architectural Student's Society (1817) [copy in RIBA BAL] · J. A. Bell, A letter to Lord Farnborough, on the expediency of having a chartered society for the advancement and protection of architecture (1834) · RIBA BAL, drawings collection, papers and press cuttings of Thomas Leverton Donaldson · Laws and Regulations of the Architectural Society, 35 Lincolns Inn Fields, Instituted 1831, RIBA pamphlet 5 · A plain statement of the facts connected with the coalition between the Society for the Promotion of Architecture and Architectural Topography, and the Society of British Architects (1834) · Annals of the Fine Arts, 2 (1817), 19, 124, 258, 340 · Architectural Magazine, 1 (1384), 89; 3 (1836), 131 · Bell's Weekly Messenger (18 Jan 1834), 10 · Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, 1 (1837–8), 321, 340, 377, 404 · London Kalendar (1814); (1815) · A. T. Bolton, ed., The portrait of Sir John Soane (1927) · Colvin, Archs. · Essays of the London Architectural Society (1808) · C. L. Eastlake, ‘Historical sketch of the institute’, Transactions of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 26 (1876), 258–72 · J. Elmes, ‘A letter to Thomas Hope Esq.’, The Pamphleteer, 3 (1814) · Farington, Diary, 14.4982–3 · J. A. Gotch, ed., The growth and work of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 1834–1934 [1934] · Address and regulations, as also the report of proceedings at the opening meeting, on 15th June 1835, [Institute of British Architects] (1835) · B. Kaye, The development of the architectural profession in Britain (1960) · B. Kaye, ‘Early architectural societies and the foundation of the RIBA’, RIBA Journal, 62 (1955), 497–9 · A. Mace, The RIBA: a guide to its archive and history (1986) · W. Papworth, ‘The late Professor Donaldson: his connection with the institute’, Transactions of the Royal Institute of British Architects, new ser., 2 (1885–6), 96–108 · A. Saint, The image of the architect (1983) · P. F. Robinson, ‘Report of the I. B. A. Council’, Transactions of the Institute of British Architects, 1835, 1/1 (1836) · The Builder, 21 (1863), 86, 112–13, 140 · H. Sirr, ‘The Architects' Club (1791) and the Architectural Society (1806)’, RIBA Journal, 18 (1911), 183–4 · T. H. Wyatt, ‘Remarks on the advantages likely to result from the establishment of the Architectural Society: the first of a series of essays read before the Architectural Society’, 1833–4, RIBA BAL