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Tite, Sir Williamlocked

  • S. P. Parissien

Tite, Sir William (1798–1873), architect, was born on 7 February 1798 in the parish of St Bartholomew-the-Great, London, the son of Arthur Tite, a Russia merchant, and his wife, Anne, daughter of John Elgie. Educated at a day school in Tower Street in the City of London and afterwards at a school in Hackney, at the age of fourteen he was articled to the architect David Laing (1774–1856), a pupil of Sir John Soane chiefly remembered as the designer of the London custom house of 1813–17. During his pupillage he assisted Laing in rebuilding the nave of Wren's church of St Dunstan-in-the-East (1817–20) and published in 1818 a history of the building (of which only Wren's tower remained after extensive bomb damage in 1940). He also appears to have visited Italy at this time (Briggs, 39).

In July 1818 Tite was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools, where he attended Soane's lectures on architecture. However, his first commission was executed in a medieval Gothic idiom far removed from Soane's cool neo-classicism. Having failed to win a number of architectural competitions of the early 1820s, in 1824 he was appointed by the Revd Edward Irving to design a new church in Sidmouth Street, off Regent Square, for the Church of Scotland—a commission which enabled him to set up his own office in Jewry Street in the City of London that year. The church, completed in 1827 (and demolished in 1950 following serious war damage), was couched in a Decorated Gothic style, and its west front modelled rather incongruously on York Minster. However, his second major commission—Mill Hill School, Middlesex, of 1825–6—signalled the exuberant eclecticism that was to characterize his career, being executed in a severely neo-classical style.

In 1832 Tite designed the austerely classical Golden Cross Hotel in London's Strand (dem. 1936 to make way for South Africa House), and the following year began work on the King's Weigh-House Church in Fish Street Hill (dem. 1890s). By the time he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, in 1835, his growing practice, and a financially advantageous marriage in 1832 to Emily, daughter of John Curtis of Herne Hill, Surrey, had enabled him to move out of the City to the prestigious Bloomsbury address of 25 Upper Bedford Place. In 1838 he was elected president of the Architectural Society (merged with the new Royal Institute of British Architects in 1842). The same year he designed the Anglican and nonconformist chapels (dem. late 1950s) and other buildings at Norwood cemetery in south London in an attractive Perpendicular Gothic. He also began work, in partnership with C. R. Cockerell, on the headquarters of the London and Westminster Bank in Lothbury (dem. 1928 to make way for the Mewès and Davis building now known as NatWest Hall). In 1839 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, whose vice-president he was from 1860 until his death in 1873. Two years later he was working in Scotland, on the Gothic parish church at Dollar, Clackmannan (1841; altered 1921).

The building which made Tite's name was the new Royal Exchange at the heart of the City of London. Having failed to enter the first open (and ultimately fruitless) competition of 1839, in February 1840 Tite was chosen as one of the judges for the subsequent closed competition, for which five leading national architects—among them Sir Charles Barry, Sir Robert Smirke, and Cockerell—were invited to submit designs. In the event only Cockerell entered a scheme, which then lost by thirteen votes to seven to a treatment entered, somewhat unprofessionally, by Tite himself. (A watercolour perspective of Cockerell's splendid design survives in the RIBA drawings collection.) Work on Tite's design began in 1841, and the exchange was opened by Queen Victoria on 28 October 1844. Tite's massive Corinthian portico still dominates this part of the City, but the building itself was converted in 1988 to mixed retail and office use, for which an additional attic storey was added.

During the 1840s Tite was increasingly employed by the new railway companies in valuing and buying land and, most importantly, in designing their new stations. His first major station, built in 1838, was the first London terminus of the London and Southampton Railway (after 1848 the London and South-Western Railway or LSWR) at Nine Elms, a handsome though reticent Italianate building whose most prominent feature was its five-bay arcade. By 1848 Nine Elms had been superseded by a new LSWR terminus further east, at Waterloo (where Tite merely advised the architect Joseph Cocke). However, Tite's Nine Elms survived as a goods depot until demolished in the early 1970s, to make way for the New Covent Garden market. At the other end of the line Tite built stuccoed Italianate termini at Southampton (1838–40) and Gosport (1842). The latter flanked the line, and was dominated by a splendid Tuscan colonnade (the ruin of which was, following closure and fire, safeguarded by English Heritage and the local authority after 1990). Most of the LSWR's intermediate stations were also designed by Tite; of these, Eastleigh and Winchester still survive, but are much altered, and only the small building at Micheldever appears in anything like its original guise.

Following his work for the London and Southampton, Tite was employed as a station architect by a large number of other railway companies. In 1846–51 he completely rebuilt the Liverpool and Manchester Railway's terminus at Liverpool Lime Street, its new stuccoed Renaissance façade (since altered) being dominated by a nineteen-bay Tuscan colonnade. At his Carlisle Citadel Station of 1847–8, for the Caledonian and Scottish Central Railway, Tite abandoned the refined Italianate classicism of his London and Southampton stations for an asymmetrical, collegiate late Gothic style, even incorporating a crenellated clock tower. Carlisle was followed by two similarly styled Caledonian and Scottish stations: Perth and Edinburgh Caledonian, both of 1848. In his presidential address to the RIBA in 1862 Tite declared that 'At Carlisle and Perth I have done my best to mould the forms and modes of thinking of medieval architects to the unusual requirements of railways', though six years later he did admit that his Carlisle design was 'troublesome, and did not go very well with the platforms and sheds' (Briggs, 95). For the LSWR's terminus at Windsor (now Windsor and Eton Riverside) of 1851, he employed a Tudor Gothic idiom, lighting the booking hall with a vast, cross-framed Tudorbethan window. His surviving Chiswick Station of 1849 for the same company was, however, a complete contrast: a demure, three-bay Georgian cottage in brick and stucco. During the 1840s Tite also designed the small terminus at Blackwall, east London, of 1840 (dem.), the stations on the Exeter and Yeovil Railway (later incorporated into the LSWR), and the intermediate stations from Le Havre to Paris via Rouen for the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Nord. (His station at Le Havre, much rebuilt, was immortalized in Émile Zola's darkly pessimistic La bête humaine of 1890, and finally demolished in 1930.)

After a serious illness, followed by a trip to Italy in 1851–2, Tite gradually wound down his once-thriving practice. He designed only four buildings between 1853 and 1859, three with the help of assistants, and nothing during the remaining fourteen years of his life. The buildings at the London metropolis cemetery at Brookwood, Surrey, of 1854–6 were devised in partnership with Sidney Smirke; his Gresham House in London's Old Broad Street, also of 1854–6 (and demolished after the First World War), was built with the assistance of E. N. Clifton; while St James's, Gerrards Cross, of 1858–9 was built in partnership with his former office assistant Ebenezer Trotman. (Tite's brick church was in an uncompromisingly strident Byzantine style, complete with octagonal dome and tall campanile, since labelled 'aggressively un-English' and 'exotic' (Briggs, 96).) His other last work, the carpet warehouse for Tapling & Co. in Gresham Street of 1857, was destroyed in an air raid of 1940.

After 1859, however, Tite was far from idle. He was president of the RIBA in 1861–3 and again in 1867–70, and after an unsuccessful attempt to win the seat of Barnstaple for the Liberals in 1854 was elected as MP for Bath in 1855; he served as the city's MP until his death. In parliament he strenuously opposed the scheme of Sir George Gilbert Scott to clothe his new Foreign Office in a Gothic style, decrying the proposal as 'inconvenient and expensive' (Hansard 3, 152, 11 Feb 1859, cols. 260–63). He subsequently helped to persuade the prime minister, Palmerston, to force Scott to alter his design to 'a light and correct Italian style, consistent with the general character of the buildings in the neighbourhood' (Hansard 3, 152, 18 Feb 1859, col. 522). Ironically, Tite later warmly welcomed Scott's unapologetically Gothic design for the Albert Memorial as 'appropriate', 'elegant', and 'satisfactory to the nation' (Hansard 3, 170, 23 May 1863, col. 605).

Tite was also a member of London's Metropolitan Board of Works, in which capacity he advised on the construction of the Victoria Embankment; a director of the London and Westminster Bank; a magistrate for the counties of Middlesex and Somerset; a governor of Dulwich College and St Thomas's Hospital; and, in 1862, master of the Spectaclemakers' Company. Although not a Royal Academician, he exhibited 'a composition from the works of Inigo Jones' at the academy in 1854. Winner of the royal gold medal for architecture in 1856, he was knighted in 1869, and made a companion of the Bath the following year.

Tite was also active as an antiquary. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1839 (in 1848 he published a descriptive catalogue of the finds from the excavations conducted during the rebuilding of the Royal Exchange), honorary secretary of the London Institution between 1824 and 1869, and president of the Cambridge Camden Society in 1866. Eminent as an architect, Tite was also a renowned book collector of omnifarious taste. The sale of his library at Sothebys in May and June 1874 occupied sixteen days and produced the sum of £19,943 6s. As it was one of the greatest collections of the time (including many rare books and historical autographs), and the auction was almost the first of a series of events of the kind, a large selection of his books is included in Contributions towards a Dictionary of English Book Collectors (ed. B. Quaritch, 1969, 288–92).

Tite died during a trip to Torquay on 20 April 1873 (by which time he was living at the fashionable Belgravia address of 42 Lowndes Square) and was, appropriately, buried in the Anglican catacombs, Norwood cemetery. His wife survived him, but they had no children. His personal property was valued after his death at nearly £400,000. (Tite had reportedly boasted 'that he had inherited one fortune from his father, had married another, and had earned a third by his own exertions' (Briggs, 96).) Of this he left £1000 to the RIBA to establish an annual Tite prize, having already founded a Tite scholarship at the City of London School before his death. The architectural pupils who survived him included his assistants Ebenezer Trotman and C. F. Porden, and E. N. Clifton.


  • M. S. Briggs, ‘Sir William Tite’, The Builder, 178 (1950), 39–42, 95–8
  • The Builder, 7 (1849), 78–9
  • The Builder, 17 (1859), 588, 616–17
  • The Builder, 31 (1873), 337–9
  • A. Stratton, ‘The Royal Exchange, London’, ArchR, 42 (1917), 44–50
  • Journal of Proceedings of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 14 (1863), 24
  • Transactions of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1873–4), 209–12
  • Proceedings connected with the rebuilding of the Royal Exchange, 1838–1844 (1845)
  • M. Binney and D. Pearce, eds., Railway architecture (1983)
  • J. Hair, Regent-Square (1898)
  • E. Kaye, The history of the King's Weigh House Church (1968)


  • RIBA
  • RIBA BAL, drawings collection
  • U. Edin. L., corresp. with James Halliwell-Phillipps


  • W. Theed junior, marble bust, 1869, Guildhall, Bath
  • J. Prescott Knight, oils, RIBA
  • J. Renton, portrait, RIBA

Wealth at Death

under £400,000 in UK: probate, 7 June 1873, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]
Architectural Review
H. M. Colvin, , 3rd edn (1995)