To a greater or lesser degree, lasting success in any profession comes down to luck and architecture is no exception. Success has to be measured not only in terms of what an architect gets to build in his or her lifetime, but also of the subsequent fate of these achievements. Many posthumous reputations which deserved to stand high have been cast into obscurity by the depredations of war, accident and redevelopment. This post looks at one such instance.
Thomas Edward Knightley was architect of two buildings whose disappearance is frequently counted among the bitterest losses in the 20th century to London’s architectural heritage. The capital’s pre-eminent concert venue until World War II and the birthplace of The Proms, the Queen’s Hall on Langham Place was gutted by incendiary bombs during the Blitz. The damage was irreparable and, after the war, the site was cleared to make way for high-rise slab block. The stock of the Birkbeck Bank on Holborn was rising in the early 1960s as appreciation of Victorian architecture burgeoned thanks to the efforts of campaigners and the enthusiasm of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, who dubbed it ‘a phantasmagoria in majolica’. But by the time news broke in 1964 that it was to be cleared for redevelopment, its fate was already sealed – revoking planning consent for demolition would have required the local authority to compensate the owner. Though its demise was much mourned, the Victorian Society’s campaign to reprieve the building was doomed to failure from the outset. It was least well recorded prior to demolition, but it adds insult to injury that architecture in which colour played such an important role should now be known to us exclusively through black and white photographs.
Reconciling oneself to these losses would be easier if the remainder of Knightley’s output had survived well. But on that score he has been singularly unlucky. Though he was prolific, the bulk of his commissions came from clients based in the City of London or on its eastern fringes. His executed works were therefore predominantly located in areas which were heavily bombed during World War II and then, because of their commercial value, subject to intense pressure for redevelopment in the post-war years – and this at a time when Victorian architecture was poorly understood and little valued. It has therefore been Knightley’s unhappy fate that the grievousness of the demise of the Queen’s Hall and Birkbeck Bank is remembered far better than the figure who designed them, and neither case seems to have prompted any kind of scholarly evaluation of his architecture. To this day, only five of the surviving buildings on which he worked are covered by statutory protection. Several others, while of listable quality, have been passed over by Designations and one was demolished as recently as 2018.
This is a first attempt at a systematic survey of Knightley’s life and work, aimed at restoring his two most celebrated buildings to the context of their creator’s output and providing a reference source for an informed assessment of those that survive. It does not pretend to be comprehensive: it is clear that there are many blanks still remaining to fill and lines of inquiry to be pursued, and it is hoped that the format of a blog post will allow new information to be contributed and stimulate further research into this intriguing figure. If ever an architect’s reputation deserved rehabilitation, it was Thomas Edward Knightley’s.
Knightley originated from the area on the border of Middlesex and Hertfordshire. His father, James Knightley (c. 1773–1851), was a bricklayer who came originally from Standon in the latter county and is indicated in both the 1841 and 1851 censuses as living at Enfield Wash in Middlesex. His wife was called Mary. Born in 1823, Thomas was baptised on 8th August the following year in Cheshunt. Nothing is known about Knightley’s education beyond the fact that he was articled to John Wallen (1785-1865). Based in Spital Square just off Bishopsgate, Wallen ran a practice that specialised in warehouses, of which he built several in the City of London, with occasional excursions into country house work and charitable institutions. In 1818, while still in partnership with George Ferry, he designed Myddelton House in Enfield, in 1826 he rebuilt Walter’s and Porter’s Almshouses in Shoreditch for the Drapers’ Company and in 1852-1854 he built St Mark’s Hospital, City Road.
Wallen’s own training had been with Daniel Alexander (1768-1846), who specialised in the design of large industrial buildings, warehouses, prisons and dockyards, and held a number of prestigious surveyorships in the City of London. This seems to have shaped Wallen’s own career, since it gave him the experience and skills to meet a growing area of demand driven by Britain’s rapid commercial expansion at the time, and one which frequently yielded major, if not always especially well publicised commissions. The training offered in Wallen’s office seems to have been highly regarded and pupils who went on to enjoy notable careers include Sir Horace Jones (1819-1887), architect and surveyor to the City of London, best remembered for designing Tower Bridge.
The date at which Knightley set up his own practice is currently unknown, but it was probably in the 1840s and he was initially based in an office on Gough Square, just north of Fleet Street. The principal sources for biographical information are Knightley’s obituaries in The Builder (16th September 1905, p. 303) and the RIBA Journal (Vol. 12, p. 106). In the 1851 census, he is recorded as lodging at 4 Goldsmith Street in the parish of St Bride’s, Fleet Street. In 1850, he picked up his first professional appointment as architect to the Edmonton Union Board of Guardians. This was followed by a surveyorship to the Birkbeck Building Society on its establishment, a post that he held until his death. The Building Society was the brainchild of Francis Ravenscroft (1829-1901), and, since his activity had a major bearing on Knightley’s career, a few words need to be said about him.
Ravenscroft had been educated at the London Mechanics’ Institute (LMI), founded in 1823 by George Birkbeck (1776-1841). The London Institute was one of a wave that appeared in the 1820s of these philanthropic establishments, which were intended to provide working men with education in technical subjects and to foster an ethos of self-improvement. When Ravenscroft enrolled as a student of the LMI in 1848, its finances were ailing, but through his efforts he was able to revive its fortunes and, only a year later, he was elected to its Committee of Management. In 1851, he founded the Birkbeck Freehold Land Society and Birkbeck Building Society, which were aimed at helping working men to acquire land, thereby also the vote, and to accumulate the means to build their own house on it. The proceeds from both ventures also helped to fund the LMI. Knightley, who was master of the architectural and mechanical drawing classes at the Institute, was a logical choice to oversee residential development on the Society’s estates in the outer suburbs of London.
On 6th August 1852 Knightley married Ann Crober, the daughter of a licensed victualler, at St John’s Church, Paddington. It is likely that in the year of his marriage he also produced his first independent work, the Shoreditch New Almshouses on Brunswick Street. The following year, Knightley moved his office to Cannon Street. He was based initially at No. 25, moving at some point between 1864 and 1868 to No. 106, where remained until his death. In 1856, he became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, later progressing to the status of Fellow in 1860. Also in 1856, he was appointed District Surveyor to Hammersmith, holding the post until his resignation in 1904. In 1862, Knightley published Stable Architecture, his only known printed work, a folio volume handsomely illustrated with his own plans, elevations and perspective views of designs for model stables for coach horses, racing horses and kennels. It was advertised for sale in newspapers of the time and perhaps was intended as a bid for this particular market, but, if so, does not seem to have been successful in that regard. Initially, Knightley’s practice seems to have been fairly omnivorous, handling commissions for places of worship (primarily non-conformist – only two Anglican commissions are known, both of them alterations to existing buildings), almshouses, schools, warehouses and large private houses.
He took part in the at least two of the competitions that played an important role at the time in promoting architectural careers – for Smithfield Market in 1864 and the City of London Schools in 1879. Though the practice was evidently busy, there is a substantial gap from c. 1868 to c. 1879 when – at any rate, on the basis of currently available evidence – its architectural output seems to have dropped off completely. It subsequently revived, but from that point onwards seems to have been concerned mainly with office buildings and other commercial premises. In 1901, Knightley took into partnership his former pupil, Thomas Battersbury (d. 1922), who was district surveyor for Plumstead and Eltham. But the joint practice was short-lived – Knightley died, according to the probate record, on 4th September 1905 at the Cavendish Hotel in Eastbourne, one of his own works. According to burial records, he resided at the time in Clive House on Trinity Road in Tulse Hill and was buried in Norwood Cemetery on 11th September. He died a wealthy man, leaving behind an estate valued at £35,256 5s 11d.
1852: Shoreditch New Almshouses
Knightley’s earliest dated commission was erected as new premises for the last of the almshouses founded by the parish of Shoreditch, originally established in 1836 on a site on Kent Street in Haggerston. The new site was located on Brunswick Street (now Thurtle Road) directly opposite John Nash’s church of St Mary’s, Haggerston, with the almhouses positioned on the same axis and set back from the road behind a small garden. They provided accommodation for 20 residents and the Ordnance Survey shows 10 small dwellings arranged symmetrically in two groups of five either side of a central space. Very likely they were single storey, but no illustrations have so far come to light. The almshouses were damaged by bombing in World War II and the whole area subsequently cleared for redevelopment.
1855: United Methodist Free Church, Poplar
This commission arose from a split in the congregation of a nearby Methodist chapel on the corner of East India Dock Road and Bath Street. A site was acquired in 1852 and the initial design was submitted to the District Surveyor of the Metropolitan Building Office in July 1854. It consisted of an aisled schoolroom on the ground floor and a galleried worship space above and was intended to be built of brick with Bath stone dressings. On the entrance front, which was to face Bath Street, two flights of external stairs rose laterally to a tripartite, round-headed arcade screening the entrance. The side elevations had straightheaded windows at first-floor and round-headed windows at gallery level. A flat ceiling concealed a queenpost roof. Three months later, this scheme was abandoned (presumably for reasons of cost) and replaced by another in which the worship space was shorter and the school separately accommodated at the west end. Not much can be deduced about the treatment of the exterior of the second version, which is what was eventually constructed in 1855. The congregation outgrew the building so quickly that by 1868 a new, larger chapel had had to be built and its predecessor was then demolished.
1857: West Ham Cemetery
The churchyard of All Saints in West Ham was closed for interments on the orders of the Secretary of State and a 12-acre site to the north of Forest Lane in Stratford was purchased as a new burial ground. Knightley was commissioned to design a lodge building at the Cemetery Road entrance and nonconformist and Anglican burial chapels, which were described and illustrated in the March 1858 issue of the Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal. The lodge was brick-built, faced in red brick on the ground floor and with dummy timber-framing on the first floor. The two chapels were set well back from the road and not quite aligned with each other. They were handled in a typically High Victorian gothic manner, with steeply pointed roofs and Geometrical Gothic tracery, faced in Kentish ragstone with Ancaster stone dressings. They were both cruciform, the Anglican chapel having polygonal apses to the transepts, and both had lean-to volumes flanking the entrance front housing a room for the officiating clergyman and a waiting room for mourners. Internally they were vaulted in timber, the ribs being supported on colonettes of lizard serpentine. The Anglican chapel is still extant and, although it has lost its bell turret (assuming it was executed in accordance with the published illustration), is well preserved, but is not listed. The lodge, which seems to have been enlarged in the later 19th century, is extant, but not listed. The nonconformist chapel was demolished in the late 1970s/early 1980s.
1857: Trinity Presbyterian Church, De Beauvoir Town
This church was commissioned by the oldest Presbyterian congregation in London, which had originally been established at Founders’ Hall in the City of London before 1665, moving in 1764 to premises on London Wall. In 1843 the congregation became part of the newly established Presbyterian Church and moved out of the Old Square Mile. Knightley’s design, featured and illustrated in The Builder of 24th January 1857 (pp. 50-51), which reported that it was already under construction, went up on a site at the corner of Northchurch Road and Southgate Road. It was a substantial building in a wilful interpretation of Decorated Gothic similar in manner to the West Ham Cemetery Chapels. The plan was unusual: it was a very broad parallelogram with capacity for 600 worshippers seated in a single immense block of pews, and circulation was provided by narrow lean-to passage aisles. There were no galleries. It seems that there were no internal supports, but what sort of roof structure was employed is unknown, since no images of the interior have yet come to light. There was a lateral gable with a rose window on one side, partly hidden in the illustration by the bell tower with its tall spire. How this related to the internal configuration is again unclear. In 1935 the congregation merged with Highbury Presbyterian Church, Knightley’s building was abandoned and the site was sold for redevelopment. It is now occupied by de Beauvoir Court, a four-storey block of flats.
However, what appears on the basis of map evidence to be the former manse survives intact at No. 60 Northchurch Road. It is a fairly typical mid-Victorian detached villa, slightly vamped up with details such as decorative glazing bars to the sash windows that form trefoils, elaborate kneelers to the main gable and deep eaves supported on curved brackets. This must have helped to give it visual unity with the Church in a neighbourhood otherwise consisting of houses with stucco classical and Italianate detailing. A report on an architectural exhibition in The Builder of 2nd April 1859 (pp. 229-230) mentions several views by Knightley, praised for being ‘cleverly sketched’, which are grouped under ‘works of actual execution’ and include ‘a parsonage, De Beauvoir Town’. On balance of probabilities and given that it cannot refer to the vicarage of the church of St Mary in the neighbourhood, this seems likely to constitute proof of his authorship.
1857: Master Bakers’ Benevolent Institution, Leyton
This complex of almshouses on Lea Bridge Road was begun in 1857, although not completed until 1866. It is conceived on an ambitious scale, consisting of blocks of two-storey dwellings arranged around three sides of a quadrangle, planned axially and symmetrically to create a grand, spreading composition. The manner is a sort of Italianate astylar classicism, executed in stock brick with sparingly used dressings of Bath stone, but the belvedere towers in the re-entrant angles look more Greek Revival than anything else, while the self-consciously picturesque details, such as the chalet gables and oriels with little gables of their own, are slightly at odds with the whole conception. The central block of the longitudinal wing, which incorporates a clock, is emphasised, and seems to accommodate a board room. Did it also originally incorporate accommodation for a superintendent? There is a tablet with a putto harvesting and reliefs depicting ploughing and breadmaking. The comeples is well preserved and listed at Grade II. There is no public access, but the London Metropolitan Archive holds images in its on-line picture library that can be viewed here.
1857: All Saints’ National and Sunday Schools, Haggerston
This was the parish school attached to the church of All Saints, Haggerston. The contract drawings, which are held in the London Metropolitan Archive, are dated 15th July 1857. The building occupied a triangular site at the junction of Livermere Road, standing directly opposite the church and vicarage, and Haggerston Road. It was a single-storey building on a ‘T’-plan, the two main blocks accommodating a boys’ and a girls’ schoolroom and smaller classrooms in the angle of the two. The main entrance was to Livermere Road. The drawings suggest that it was constructed of stock brick with stone dressings. It was handled in a simple Gothic manner with one or two minor wilful touches, such as the hipped ‘peak’ projecting from the porch. It was probably damaged by bombing and seems to have been demolished during the post-war clearance and redevelopment of the neighbourhood. The site is now occupied by the church hall.
1858: Presbyterian Church, Bristol
In its April 1858 issue (Vol. 1, p. 136), the Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal briefly reported on a competition that had been held for the design of a Presbyterian church in Bristol, in which Knightley had taken second place. It noted that ‘The committee informed the author of the second design that as to artistic merit it stood first, although it did not meet all their requirements so fully as the first design’. This was the St James’s Parade Church, which was eventually executed to a design by Bristol architect Joseph Neale.
1859: St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Westferry Road, Millwall
Built in 1859 for the London Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in England for a mission aimed chiefly at Scottish shipyard workers who had been drawn to the Isle of Dogs by major project such as Brunel’s Great Eastern. John Scott Russell, the Scottish builder of the Great Eastern (himself the son of a Presbyterian minister), laid the foundation stone. The design was intended to be able to be extended and it was envisaged that it would eventually be able to seat 520, but the congregation never grew to the size that was expected. When extra capacity was required in 1867, a gallery was added. An extension at the far end was built on in 1906 (not to Knightley’s design) to provide a classroom, vestry and kitchen. The church closed for worship in 1972 after being superseded by a new building and was used as premises for light industry for a period until it was taken over by a community arts trust, which in 1993 began work on converting it to The Space, a venue for performing arts.
Knightley employed a style based on Tuscan Romanesque with vivid constructional polychromy. The front, with its tiers of arcading, is based on churches such as Pisa Cathedral and San Michele in Foro, Lucca. The side windows have cast iron ‘Lombardic’ tracery with separately cast colonettes on the outside. Externally, the configuration suggests a basilican plan; in fact, Knightley achieved a space unencumbered by internal supports (c.f. Trinity Presbyterian Church) by spanning the space with three lateral semi-circular timber arches made up of 11 laminations, each one formed of two lap-jointed pitchpine planks, and screwed rather than glued together. A monitor roof with a clerestory is carried on the purlins and is slate-hung to lessen the weight on the structure. The wrought iron tie rods are a later addition – the building suffered from structural movement because of the unstable subsoils. Originally invented in the 16th century, laminated timber construction was revived and underwent development from the late 18th century because of its suitability for use in structures where a large unbroken span was required. But although the technology found wide application in civil engineering and industrial architecture, its application to a religious building is unusual. Writing in the mid-1960s, Ian Nairn called St Paul’s ‘an improbably fierce survival’ and ‘a very lovable firework [which] needs to be much better known’ (Nairn’s London). Listed at Grade II in 1973.
1859: Chapel and schools, Croydon
According to a brief report on p. 552 of The Builder of 20th August 1859, Knightley had won a competition to design a (presumably nonconformist) chapel and schools, but the exact location and denomination are not stated and it is unknown whether the design was executed.
1860: Norton Folgate almshouses, Puma Court
Built to replace almshouses originally erected in 1728 on Commercial Street for inhabitants of the Liberty of Norton Folgate, which were demolished for road widening necessitated by increased volumes of traffic heading to and from London Docks. A site on Red Lion Court (as Puma Court was then called) was purchased in 1851, but construction did not start until 1860. The complex consists of plain, stock brick structures with simple detailing accommodating 16 rooms on two floors in two separate blocks, set back slightly behind cast-iron railings. These were subsequently combined into eight one-bedroom flats and in 2011 the former washhouses to the rear were replaced with extensions by Manalo & White to turn them into four two-bedroom flats. Well preserved, but not listed
1860: St Matthew, Bethnal Green
This church was originally built in 1743-1746 to the designs of George Dance the Elder (c.1694-1768) and was a fairly typical product of its time – a stock brick galleried preaching box with a western tower and sparing classical detailing. In December 1859, it was badly damaged by fire. Work on a reconstruction to Knightley’s design began the following April and the finished scheme was described at some length in The Builder of 4th January 1862 (p. 14). The scheme was based on imposing a free round-arched style on Dance’s fabric, a common treatment for the restoration of Georgian churches. The low-pitched, temple-form roof of the original was replaced with a new structure that extended higher, with more steeply pitched sides and a central flat. A square cupola with consoles at the angles and a tall dome was added to Dance’s tower. New glazing was fitted, with ornamental glazing bars, ‘relieved with gold and glazed with green muslin glass’. The addition of an eastern apse was proposed, but abandoned for lack of funds. Nevertheless, the east wall of the church was substantially remodelled, as shown by a comparison with Dance’s drawings in the Soane Museum: the serliana was replaced with a single, much larger arched opening fitted with stained glass by Charles Clutterbuck of Stratford (1806-1861). The chancel arch was raised and new arches made either side of it and in the lateral walls of the chancel to open up the stairwells of the gallery stairs into the interior of the building. The galleries on Tuscan columns seem to have been retained from Dance’s original structure.
The church was refurnished (at least in part, though the nave benches look as though they may be cut down box pews) and Knightley provided a stone font, pulpit and reredos, as well as flooring of encaustic tiles. The brass gas standards and gasoliers were bespoke and made to the architect’s designs. According to The Builder, ‘The walls and ceilings are relieved with mural decorations, in geometrical patterns, in gold and colour, with margins of polished scagliola, the upper portions inclining to red, the lower being blue and gold’. The commission did not proceed happily: progress was delayed by a strike and the building committee insisted on several changes to the interior layout, such as siting the pulpit in the middle of the south side of the nave and retaining various features that had survived the fire, as a result of which Knightley subsequently partly disowned the scheme. Conceivably, this was the reason why he latterly avoided ecclesiastical work. It seems that the interior was subsequently altered and in the only photograph of it to have come to light, the painted scheme appears to have been covered over with whitewash and the reredos is hidden behind a curtain. The church was badly damaged again in 1940, this time by bombing, and all of Knightley’s additions were removed in the post-war reconstruction, which aimed to return the exterior of the building to Dance’s original intentions.
1862: Colvestone Primary School, Dalston Kingsland
Originally built to provide accommodation for the sixth of the Birkbeck Schools, which had been founded in 1852. An initiative of the educational reformer William Ellis (1800-1881), the first Birkbeck school was established in Southampton Buildings on Chancery Lane in 1848, where the LMI was also based, and named in honour of that establishment’s founder. Ellis was actively involved with the LMI and espoused the ethos of self-improvement aimed at achieving self-sufficiency that it promoted. His educational philosophy, which notably for the time was secular, sought to inculcate useful knowledge through investigation and well-directed research rather than learning by rote. A successful businessman who was chief underwriter of the Indemnity Mutual Marine Assurance Company, Ellis partly funded the schools out of his own salary and bonuses.
The school is handled in robust High Victorian Gothic, built of brick with stone dressings and overscaled windows with plate tracery characteristic of the manner. The broad street front is symmetrical about a prominent central porch with a hipped roof, trabeated and supported on stout columns with large foliate capitals, again typical of the manner. The cross-wing to the left was the girls’ schoolroom and that to the right, which extends further back into the site, was the boys’ schoolroom. The functions originally allocated to the remainder of the accommodation are not currently known. The Elementary Education Act of 1870 and establishment of the London Board of Schools spelt the end for the Birkbeck Schools. It seems that the Dalston School was absorbed by the Board and in the 1880s/1890s was extended to the rear in a manner typical of its in-house design. Map evidence shows that there was a Literary and Scientific Institute, evidently a local branch of the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institute (as Ravenscroft rebranded the LMI in 1866), at the south end of the site on the triangular plot at the junction of Colvestone Crescent and Birkbeck Road. This had been demolished by the time of the first post-war Ordnance Survey and nothing is currently known of its appearance. The remainder of the complex is extant, a functioning primary school and listed at Grade II.
1862: All Saints’ Church, Haggerston
Presumably on the strength of his design for the school, the parish of All Saints, Haggerston commissioned Knightley to enlarge the capacity of their church building. This predated the school only by a couple of years, having been constructed in 1855-1856 to the designs of Philip Hardwick (1792-1870), who provided an essay in robust High Victorian gothic, stylistically quite forward-looking for the date. Why Hardwick was not used again and how Knightley came to be appointed is currently unknown. In the original design, the aisles extended for only two bays of the nave, the remainder of which was aisleless. Knightley’s brief was to extend them to run the full length of the nave and to raise them by a storey to allow galleries to be introduced. These represented a very retrogressive feature for the date and the result was effectively a High Victorian preaching box, with the typical Georgian configuration of two tiers of windows in the flank walls. Curiously, access to the galleries was arranged by open external staircases. Extant, a functioning Anglican place of worship and listed at Grade II.
1864: No. 27 Martin Lane, City of London
This five-storey commercial property occupies a narrow site bordering to the south the former churchyard of St Martin Orgar, a medieval church abandoned for Anglican worship after the Great Fire and used subsequently by French Protestants until it was demolished in the 1820s. It incorporates a passageway leading through to No. 28 to the rear. It is built of white brick with ashlar dressings, but also incorporates structural metalwork. This is visible in the cast iron central column of the ground-floor shopfront to Martin Lane and also in the pillars supporting the outer edge of the stack of four oriels above the passageway on the corner. The proportion of window to wall of the Martin Lane elevation suggest the incorporation of at structural metalwork here as well. Stylistically, it is a rather eclectic kind of classicism, correct Tuscan at ground floor level, but with High Victorian paraphrases further up, including foliate capitals at second- and third-floor levels. There is a heavy cornice marking off the attic storey. The flank wall overlooking the churchyard is modelled and detailed with an unusual degree of elaboration. Not listed.
1864: City Meat and Poultry Markets, Smithfield
An open-air meat market had been held at Smithfield since at least the 10th century, but by the first half of the 19th it had come to be regarded as a nuisance and a major threat to public health because of the highly insanitary conditions. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1852 authorising the establishment of what eventually opened in 1855 on Copenhagen Fields, not far from Kings Cross Station, as the Metropolitan Cattle Market. However, Smithfield was not abandoned and in 1860 the Metropolitan Meat and Poultry Market Act was passed, authorising a new establishment on the site. This was to be a covered market, systematically organised and drawing on all the technological advances of the time. The Metropolitan Railway and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway’s connection to it from Holborn Viaduct were to run under the site, obviating the need for livestock to be delivered on the hoof.
In 1864, a competition was held to find a design, which was won by Knightley and Mew. The second architect may have been Frederick Mew (1832-1898), but this wants confirmation. It is the only joint design by the two men so far discovered and it is currently unknown how this collaboration came about. The design was thoroughly classical in conception, axially planned with symmetrical elevations and much ornamental detail. Of all Knightley’s preceding works so far identified, the Master Bakers’ Benevolent Institution and No. 27 Martin Lane come closest to it stylistically. The brief was a difficult one, as The Builder explained (10th March 1866, pp. 174-175). Lifts had to be provided to allow livestock and meat to be raised up from the subterranean railway sidings to the trading floor, which interfered with the imposition of a regular plan form. Moreover, ‘Difficulties also arose in consequence of the wishes of the trade, some desiring long shops, others corner shops; a close market was the wish of many, and an open market the desire of the public. To meet these irreconcilable views, Messrs. Knightley & Mew prepared two designs; one having the shops arranged in groups of four around the outlines of the site, with spaces between, each group thus forming corner shops; and the other having the shops arranged in long lines; thus deep shops were obtained’. It appears that the second design was the one depicted in the artist’s impression accompanying the article.
‘The site is 640 ft. long by 240 ft. broad [195m x 73.2m], and upon it 200 shops of various sizes were required. Each shop has on the ground-floor a small office, and a staircase leading to an upper office, with lavatory &c. This upper compartment takes up one-half of the area, consequently one-half of each shop has a height of 28 ft [8.5m]. The roofs are either flat or simple V roofs; the avenues between the shops have iron roofs covered with slates, glass louvres to the sides, and spring-blinds to run horizontally to keep out the heat. The outer walls, it was proposed, should be built of Portland stone, the penthouse roofs [i.e. the canopies running above the shopfronts] to be covered with lead and supported on iron brackets, the timber arranged in deeply moulded panels. Penthouse roofs were suggested in preference to a colonnade, which would obstruct the public way. The large archway shown in the long side of the design, relieved with sculpture, spans the public roadway that crosses the market site. The central tower, in its lower stages, contains a refreshment-room; above, a clock; and again, above that, a bell. The architects guaranteed the carrying out of their design for £100,000’.
The Corporation of London dithered over the future of the site, apparently still unsure even after the competition as to whether a market should remain there at all. It had invited participation on the understanding that it would reserve the right to award the commission to its own architect if it thought fit. Why Knightley and Mew’s entry was eventually deemed unsuitable is unknown, but the Corporation of London exercised this right that The Builder had condemned as ‘neither fair nor wise’ and a design was eventually executed by Sir Horace Jones (q.v.), who had been elected architect and surveyor to the City of London in February 1864.
1866: Cavendish Hotel, Eastbourne, East Sussex
In its issue of 11th August 1866, The Builder published details of a hotel under construction on the Grand Parade in Eastbourne, which was reported to be about two thirds complete. It was conceived on an ambitious scale, with a frontage 230ft [70.1m] in length and rising to five storeys, which overlooked the promenade and seafront. A ground floor plan was published, showing that the principal public space was a grandly proportioned coffee room, 74ft long and 42ft broad [22.6m x 12.8m] at its widest point. The adjacent bedrooms and sitting rooms were intended for the use of invalids. ‘On the first-floor a corridor extends centrally from end to end of the building, with sitting and bed rooms opening from it, the angle being taken up by a ladies’ coffee-room, with windows commanding Pevensey Bay and St. Leonard’s [i.e. looking northeast]. With this one exception, the same arrangement is repeated on each floor’. The artist’s impression accompanying the report depicts a grand building in a French Mannerist and early Baroque manner, its composition somewhat resembling a compressed version of Louis Le Vau’s original front to the River Seine of the Louvre, built in 1660-1663. The history of the project seems to have been somewhat troubled, since at some point around the time that the report appeared in The Builder, Knightley’s scheme was abandoned and the western half of the hotel was completed to another, somewhat cruder design, which added on an extra floor, upstaging the central section of the frontage, and incorporated repeated polygonal bow windows. Photographs from the late 19th century convey the strange, lopsided effect that it produced. The eastern wing was subsequently remodelled to bring it up to the same height as the western side, but then a large part of it was destroyed by a German bomb in May 1942, leaving only three bays intact. It was reinstated in an elegant but uncompromisingly modernist form by Fitzroy Robinson & Partners, completed c. 1960. Not listed.
c. 1867: Warehouses at 1, 3, 5, 7 Leonard Street, Finsbury
This may have been a speculative venture by Knightley himself, since the lease of 1867 (in the form of a copy dated 1881) in the London Metropolitan Archive is made out in his name. The plan accompanying the lease shows an oblong structure of six bays with two rows of intermediate, presumably cast-iron columns to support the floor beams, located in the middle of a city block. It had extensions projecting from two sides, one of which gave access to Leonard Street (originally Tabernacle Row). No information has been located to give a more complete picture of the building. It is indicated as having been damaged beyond repair on the London County Council bomb damage map and the last remains were evidently lost as part of the post-war clearance and redevelopment of the area.
1867: The Quarry, Sevenoaks, Kent
The circumstances which brought about this, one of only two known large houses by Knightley, are currently a mystery. The design was published in The Builder of 28th August 1868, which reported that it had been commissioned by Andrew Swanzy (1817-1870) and that building works had commenced in the autumn of the previous year. Swanzy was descended from a family that originated from County Monaghan in Ireland and had gone into West African trade, growing wealthy on palm oil, gold concessions and general trading. The company he founded, F. & A. Swanzy, became part of Unilever in 1929. Swanzy took up residence at The Quarry – which went up on a site at the Kippington Estate, only a short distance to the west from Sevenoaks railway station – following his departure from the Gold Coast in the 1850s.
The design was classical in spirit, but slightly gauche in its treatment in that the receding central section was far narrower than the advancing wings to either side, which were not quite symmetrical in their fenestration. The house was constructed of red bricks with Ancaster stone dressings and The Builder reported that it incorporated sculpture ‘executed from the architect’s drawings, by Mr G. Seal of Walworth’, possibly a misnomer for John Wesley Seale (c. 1826-1885). Although map evidence shows that it stood in open country when first built, The Quarry was compactly modelled in the manner of a suburban mansion. Also in accordance with such models, the service wing (servants’ hall, kitchen, scullery, dairy, store rooms, etc) were located in the basement, taking advantage of the fall in land across the site to admit natural light. The Builder somewhat implausibly claimed that the decision had been made because of the absence of trees to screen a service wing. ‘To prevent the smell of cooking and heat from the kitchen proving annoying, the dining room being over the kitchen, a match-boarded false ceiling has been constructed, 10 in. below the ordinary one of plaster, and, by means of air-bricks in the external and cross walls, a current of air is maintained’. The Builder reported that The Quarry had cost £10,000. There was an entrance lodge a short distance away, overshadowed slightly comically by the main house. The Quarry was demolished for redevelopment at a date prior to 1930 when the Kippington Estate became an exclusive private housing estate.
1878: Royal Commercial Travellers’ Schools, Hatch End, Middlesex
This institution was founded by John Robert Cuffley, himself a commercial traveller, to house and educate the children of those in his profession who had died or become unable to support their family. Following a fundraising campaign, the charity was formally instituted in 1846 and the Schools opened the following year, initially occupying premises in Wanstead, Essex. They quickly outgrew them and plans were put in hand for a larger, purpose-built complex. Land was purchased on the Uxbridge Road at Hatch End, northeast of Pinner in then-rural Middlesex, and the foundation stone of the new building was laid by Prince Albert on 20th July 1853. This was a large, High Victorian Gothic building designed by Lane and Ardish, essentially a classical design in fancy dress. It was opened on 27th October 1855 and the construction cost £20,000.
George Moore (1806-1876) was a lace merchant and former commercial traveller who had been involved in setting up the charity, was its treasurer and subsequently much engaged in philanthropic ventures. Following his death, a complex of new buildings was added to the school in his memory, which Knightley was engaged to design. As reported in The Graphic (Vol. XVIII, No 456, 24th August 1878, p. 188) these comprised a two-storey infirmary, a laundry and a covered swimming pool, which went up on a new site just to the east of the existing complex. New dormitories were also added to the main building. The main front of the infirmary, which looks onto Uxbridge Road, was 11 bays long with two-storey bay windows at each end. Constructed of red brick with stone dressings, it was handled in a free Tudor manner with mullioned windows and tall chimneys, owing something to Norman Shaw’s ‘Olde English’ style. The central bay broke forward slightly and the central pediment enclosed what The Graphic reported to be ‘a bust of the late Mr. Moore, surrounded with a floral border, beneath which is a panel and a bas relief depicting Mr. Moore distributing prizes to the children, the whole executed in Della Robbia ware and set in a black marble moulded frame, with panels right and left containing the arms of Mr. Moore, and of the institution, and flora and fauna of the neighbourhood’. The bust and flanking panels were removed at a later date and the recess turned into a window. The complex of single-storey former laundry buildings, located immediately to the rear, is stylistically all of a piece with the infirmary.
The swimming pool stood a short distance away to the west and appears from the illustration in The Graphic to have been a hall-like structure with a monitor roof to top-light it. Four dormers break through the lateral roof slopes and a large mullioned window breaks upward through the hipped section of the roof to the front. It was later demolished and replaced by a new building on a different site. The school closed in 1967 and the main building had been demolished by the mid-1970s, but the remainder of the complex survives, now in a variety of community uses. Neither the former infirmary nor the former laundry is listed.
1879: City of London School
The City of London School owes its origins to a bequest made in 1442 by town clerk, John Carpenter the Younger, which came to be administered by the Corporation of London. It was used to support the education of boys from poor families, but over the centuries the income became progressively less sufficient for the purpose. In the 1820s, discussions began about how it might be put to better use and the eventual result was an Act of Parliament in 1834, which authorised the establishment of a boys’ school at a site on Honey Lane Market. A Georgian Gothick building was erected to a design by J.B. Bunning (1802-1863), who subsequently was appointed architect to the City of London. The school outgrew its premises and, in 1879, the City of London School Act was passed to allow it to move to a new site on the Victoria Embankment, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge – an unusual move at a time when many such institutions were seeking to move out of central London. A competition was held to find a new design and Knightley’s contribution, entered under the motto ‘Playgrounds’, took second prize, for which he was awarded £200. A photo-lithographed artist’s impression of his design, prepared by William Penstone after the perspective view submitted for the competition and accompanied by floor plans, was published in The Building News of 2nd January 1880.
Although the site offered the opportunity for a grand frontage overlooking the Thames, it was restricted, being bounded by roadways on all side, and the space had to be used as efficiently as possible. There was an extensive basement, which housed the lavatories and covered playgrounds. The front half of the complex consisted of ranges grouped around a large entrance hall, through which was to rise an imperial staircase. A lecture theatre, chemistry laboratory with attached classrooms and dining hall were located on the first floor. The kitchen was directly above the dining hall on the second floor in the roofspace, perhaps indicated by the clerestory projecting from the roof slope of the return to John Carpenter Street. The rear portion of the site was occupied by a large hall rising through two storeys, enclosed by blocks housing two floors of classrooms on either side. The style was French Renaissance, cribbed from buildings of the time of François Ier and Henri II, such as the châteaux of Fontainebleau, Blois and Chenonceau. It was Knightley’s first, most archaeologically correct and grandest essay in the manner.
1882: Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield
Enfield Workhouse was originally built in 1827 on a site at Chase Side, north of the town centre. In 1836, control passed to the Edmonton Union Board of Guardians and it became a school for orphans. It was enlarged in 1839 and an infirmary was added in 1844, but the number of children continued to grow. In 1881, it was decided to move it to new, more spacious accommodation, which was to be built on a site then in open country at Chase Farm, a short distance away to the west. As architect to the Edmonton Union Board of Guardians, Knightley was commissioned to design the complex, which was intended to accommodate 500 children and opened in 1886. Set in spacious grounds, it was conceived on a grand scale. There was a large entrance block, three storeys high with a façade symmetrical about a central clocktower overlooking the forecourt with its two lodge buildings. Behind this was another large block consisting of a row of top-lit spaces with monitor roofs arranged transversely, one of them much larger than the others. To either side of this and behind it were outlying wings, connected by narrow link buildings. The complex was constructed of stock brick with slate roofs and sparing stone dressings incorporating detail in a simplified version of Knightley’s French Renaissance manner. By 1938, the school had become an old people’s home, then during World War II it was turned into an emergency hospital, retaining this function in peacetime and being absorbed into the NHS on its creation in 1948. During the course of the following decades, the complex was much expanded. Although they had been subjected to numerous alterations, Knightley’s original buildings survived largely intact until 2018, when all but part of the Clock Tower wing were demolished for the redevelopment of the site. None was listed. Annotated photographs of the original hospital buildings taken in 2008 are available here.
1883: Nos. 30-32 Fleet Street, City of London
In its issue of 27th October 1883, The Builder reported that construction work was now under way at this site belonging to the Cordwainers’ Company located almost exactly between the Temple Church and St Dunstan-in-the-West. The project was initiated by ‘Messrs. Philip, the large map and chart printers and stationers of Liverpool, who have had for many years a branch establishment on this spot’. The firm was to occupy part of the basement and ground floor, while the remainder was to be rented out. The report states that this portion of the accommodation was ‘arranged in pairs’ and the accompanying illustration shows that the one-third/two-thirds division visible today was part of the original conception, suggesting that the premises occupied by Messrs. Philip may have been at No. 32. A wing at the rear of No. 32 extended to the back of the site, but the space behind Nos. 30 and 31 was left intact as Falcon Court. According to The Builder, the fourth floor was intended as draughtsmen’s offices, taking advantage of its position facing north. The lower portions of the roof between the large dormers are glazed (something not immediately appreciable from street level) to provide extra light. The space in the attic was occupied by the housekeeper’s rooms.
The front was clad in brown Portland stone, but the proportion of window to solid walls suggests that the underlying structure may have incorporated steel framing. Stylistically, it was an essay in Knightley’s early French Renaissance manner, incorporating much intricate and pretty detailing – note especially the reliefs adorning the wall and coving at fourth-floor level. The brackets supporting the projecting roofs of the fourth-floor dormers and the pediments of the dormers lighting the attic space incorporate the goats’ heads depicted on the coat of arms of the Cordwainers’ Company. Other motifs apparently related to the firm of Messrs. Philip. The rear elevations are far plainer and built of stock brick. The building is extant, externally very well preserved – even the shopfronts seem to have survived intact – and listed at Grade II.
c.1884: six buildings in the City of London
The sole source for the next six buildings is a feature that appeared in The Building News of 19th September 1884 entitled ‘Street Architecture in the City’. It consisted of a double-page spread of lithographed illustrations depicting commercial premises – generally office buildings with shops on the ground floor – all of them located in the City of London near Knightley’s offices on Cannon Street. Frustratingly, the commentary that accompanies the feature, which gives the impression almost of being an advertisement for Knightley’s practice, is extremely brief and provides no background information about the circumstances of any of the commissions. All the buildings pictured in it have been lost and seem to have left only scant traces in the archives.
No. 2 Pancras Lane
This was one of several variations on the theme set by Nos. 30-32 Fleet Street. The treatment of the fenestration, which strongly suggests the presence of structural metalwork, and the deep coving beneath the cornice have particular affinities with that building. The canting forward of the central lights to create a prow-like projection must have been done primarily to increase the area of glazing and admit extra light, but was effectively exploited and combined with a steeply pitched roof to turn the building into a discrete, strongly modelled form, giving it extra presence in the cityscape.
Gresham Club, No. 1 King William Street
This institution was founded in 1843 as a dining club for professionals in the City of London and named after Thomas Gresham (c. 1519-1579), the Elizabethan merchant who established the Royal Exchange and posthumously founded the college that bears his name. The following year, construction began of purpose-built accommodation on a site at the junction of St Swithin’s Lane with King William Street. This was a three-storey building of the Italian Renaissance palazzo type popular at that date for club houses, designed by the obscure architect Henry Flower. It is not clear how Knightley’s billiard room related to the original building. It was a top-lit structure with transverse arches supporting a monitor roof, which implies a location enclosed on all sides, yet the club occupied what was almost an island site, abutting neighbouring buildings only at one end. In 1915, the club moved to new accommodation at Nos. 15-17 Abchurch Lane and the original club house was subsequently demolished for redevelopment.
No. 25 Abchurch Lane
The relative proportion of glazing to solid wall of the street front of this building strongly suggests the presence of load-bearing metalwork. However, the width of the plot allowed for generous proportions in relation to its four-storey height, meaning that the trabeated structure could be articulated in more classical terms, marking a return to Knightley’s earlier manner. The rusticated central bay presumably indicates the location of the stairwell. According to Knightley’s obituary in The Builder, this building was the premises of Brown, Janson and Co’s bank.
The Mitre Tavern, 38 Fish Street Hill
This was another variation on the theme set by Nos. 30-32 Fleet Street. As at No. 2 Pancras Lane, a bay window ran the full height of the building above the ground floor, receding slightly into the mass of the building. This was presumably done to increase the amount of light entering a narrow site that extended deep into the plot behind. As at No. 2 Pancras Lane, this left the party walls projecting forward and here they were emphasised through the use of rustication and pilasters. The bar extended to the rear of the building, where the plot widened to become roughly ‘T’-shaped. This may have been the last of the buildings depicted in this feature to be lost, being demolished in c. 1985.
147-149 Cannon Street
This was the largest of the properties depicted in the article and it occupied a site at the corner of Cannon Street and the southern end of Nicholas Lane. The impression given by the illustration is deceptive – the latter thoroughfare is narrow, meaning the two elevations would have been difficult to view simultaneously in their entirety, and this may account for the use of the bay windows to admit extra light. The detailing is again in Knightley’s François Ier manner, but the nature of the site provided the opportunity for much more sculptural modelling of the volume. A pyramidal roof allowed part of the building to read as a tower-like form, emphasising the junction of the two streets in the cityscape. Together with the dormers of varying form, the tall chimneys and the elaborate ironwork finials, this made for a vivid skyline. The modelling of the elevations is frantically busy with constantly advancing and receding planes. Structural metalwork must have allowed the junction of the two elevations to be non-load-bearing, emphasising the elegant forms of the stylised Corinthian columns and balusters forming the corner mullions.
Property on Nicholas Lane
This was another building occupying a narrow plot enclosed on either side by party walls and was treated very much like No. 2 Pancras Lane and the Mitre Tavern, interest and prominence being given by the hipped dormer to the third floor. It is not presently clear where this building stood. According to Knightley’s obituary, he designed offices for the East Indian Railway Company on Nicholas Lane, but the address is given in contemporary newspapers as Nos. 26-30, which suggests a much larger building than that shown here. A figure 14 can be made out above the entrance doorway (if accurate, this would place the building at the southern end of Nicholas Lane near the junction with Cannon Street) and the date 1877 appears to be shown on one of the panels at third-floor level. The name ‘Herbert, Brown and Burnett’ is indicated on the fascia board, but no information about this company has yet been traced.
1885: No. 321 Strand
This building was described at length in a report in The Builder of 7th February 1885, which stated that a tender from a contractor for £3,250 had been accepted and that construction was in hand. The property was the premises of ‘an old-established business of confectioner’ and the view accompanying the report showed that it stood directly opposite the church of St Mary-le-Strand. ‘The basement contains bakeries with three ovens, bread-lift, flour and other stores, ice-well, coal-cellars &c. […] On the ground-floor will be the shop, luncheon-room, kitchen, and offices, and barrow-shed, and water-closet &c., for the men in the rear. There is to be a refreshment-room on the first floor, with water-closet, lavatory, and lift. The upper part of the house will be occupied privately by the proprietress [one Mrs S.S. Torrie, according to an inscription on the accompanying illustration], and contains dining and drawing rooms, seven bedrooms, bathroom, lavatory, and water-closet. There will be a dinner-lift from the second floor to the fifth floor, on which is the private kitchen, ventilated and lighted by a large skylight, with scullery, larder, coals, &c. The back part of the building will be roofed in by a fireproof flat covered with asphalte, enclosed by iron railings for convenience of shaking mats, &c., and to serve as a fire-escape. The front will be built of concrete moulded blocks, coloured red by the incorporation of pounded red bricks, the ornaments being cast with the blocks’.
The tall, narrow street front was another essay in Knightley’s neo-Renaissance manner, although tending more to the Baroque in some of the detailing, such as the swags and drops adorning the friezes, the consoles flanking the attic window and so on. It was clearly steel-framed and the large sash windows to each floor had fixed overlights with elaborate decorative leading, a feature also present at Nos. 147-149 Cannon Street. The tall, narrow gable gave the building something of the air of a Flemish merchant’s house. No. 321 was short-lived, being demolished in the early 1900s for the construction of Aldwych and Kingsway.
c. 1890: Nos. 93-94 Chancery Lane
This commercial property occupying a long, narrow plot on the west side of Chancery Lane marks a departure from Knightley’s favoured French Renaissance manner. The fenestration is handled in bands of relatively small windows – trabeated with stone lintels at first-floor level, segmental-headed on the second floor and arched on the third floor. These all have stone transoms with casement lights below and decorative glazing bars in the overlights to the first and second floors. The street front is faced in high quality pink brick, with rubbers used for the window heads of the upper two storeys, and incorporates decorative bands of cut brick and bricks laid in patterns. The slate roof is hipped and the front slope incorporates a dormer built of ashlar masonry with a mullioned window. The street front is well preserved, with apparently little erosion of the original detailing, but the building is not listed.
1891: Queen’s Hall, Langham Place
The origins of this commission lie in Knightley’s link to Ravenscroft, who in 1885-1886 had purchased the leases on a group of properties on the east side of Langham Place by its junction with Riding House Street. In 1887, he surrendered most of the to the Commissioners of Crown Lands and entered into an agreement with them for the construction of a concert hall with the grant of a lease on its completion. Ravenscroft himself seems to have had no particular interest in music, but his lawyer, J.S. Rubinstein, apparently did and evidently persuaded his client that it was a lucrative proposition. At that time, the pre-eminent venue for concerts of orchestral music in central London was St James’s Hall, which occupied a site between the Quadrant of Regent Street and Piccadilly. It had been built in 1856-1858 to the designs of Owen Jones (1809-1874), but, though renowned for its acoustics, had major shortcomings. Its capacity was limited, the space on stage for performers was very restricted and cooking smells from the restaurant below permeated the auditorium, as did noise from performances taking place in other parts of the venue.
Initially, two promoters were involved in the project, each employing its own architect, and Knightley worked jointly with theatre architect Charles John Phipps (1835-1897), who among other things had remodelled Bassett Keeling’s Strand Music Hall as the Gaiety Theatre. Phipps devised the ground plan and Knightley was to handle the elevations. The second promoter later dropped out of the project, forcing the withdrawal of Phipps, who then accused Knightley of having appropriated his contribution. The matter was referred for adjudication to John Macvicar Anderson (1835-1915), then-President of the RIBA, who ruled that Phipps was indeed responsible for the plan, and for this reason the design is sometimes credited jointly to the two architects. The scheme was published in The Builder of 14th February 1891 (pp. 128-129), with a detailed commentary written by Knightley himself.
‘For many years Langham Place has been disfigured by ugly and dilapidated buildings extending from St George’s Hall to Riding House Street. These are now in course of demolition and in their place will rise… a large concert hall designed to accommodate three thousand persons [by comparison, St James’s Hall seated only 2,000]. Questions of light and air obstructed progress, and necessitated placing the area and platform below the level of the street, but the facts that the site is a fine bed of gravel, and the sewer very deep, are favourable points in reference to this arrangement. The first balcony (of which there are two) is on the street level; the entrance, therefore, will be central vertically to the façade. At the level of each floor, on flank and front, in addition to the surrounding corridor, there will be loggie with doors opening on to them and several staircases, so that in the event of fire or panic, escape may be easy and immediate. The loggie will serve also for lounge and promenade. On the lowest floor will be ornamental vestibule, saloon, grill-room, &c.; at the street level, offices and two vestibules; on the first-floor, foyer and saloon, and on each floor rooms for ladies and gentlemen; and above these a small concert-room’. The last of these was the chamber hall, located on the top level of the building.
The main auditorium of the Queen’s Hall, which was 125ft long and 87ft wide [38.1m x 26.5m], was renowned for its superlative acoustics – clear, with limited reverberance, and so flattering to orchestral sound. These were the result of Knightley’s (and perhaps also Phipps’s) careful planning. The stage was framed by wings arranged as convex splays, the junction of the wall and ceiling took the form of deep convex coving and the opposite end of the hall was curved, all of it serving to focus and reflect sound from the performers into the centre of the space. The acoustics were further enhanced by the internal finish, as explained by Knightley himself. ‘The walls of the auditorium will be lined with wood, fixed clear of the walls on thick battens; coarse canvas will be strained over the wooden lining, on which will be spread a film of composition, and on this will be raised ornament. The canvas is to check the vibration of the woody fibres; and as vertical forms of support internally have been dispensed with, that the sound waves may not be broken, the hollow lining, it is calculated, may be as the body of the violin – resonant’. The stalls provided seating for 1,264 people and the floor structure was capable of being dismantled to reveal a dance floor beneath, apparently in defiance of the wishes of Ravenscroft, who had wanted raked seating there. The principal balcony sat 580 and the second balcony 610. Above the stage was a William Hill organ in a case designed by the architect. Knightley sought to improve not only acoustics but also visibility by eliminating any internal supports. This was achieved through the use of a structural steel framework designed by engineering contractors Richard Moreland & Sons, which allowed the principal and second balconies to be cantilevered out from the wall, entirely independent of each other. The roof was also steel framed. The massing had to be stepped back on the side facing Riding House Street so as not to overshadow All Souls’ Church and schools on the opposite side, and here the principals emerged into the open air, ‘appearing as flying buttresses’ in Knightley’s words.
The exterior of the Queen’s Hall was faced in Portland stone. For the stylistic treatment of the building, Knightley drew once again on French sources. The main front to Langham Place with its paired Corinthian giant order and central pediment owed a clear debt to Claude Perrault’s east façade of the Louvre of 1667-1670. Much of the detailing, however, owed more to the Mannerism of architects of the preceding generation, such as the caryatids adorning the architraves and mullions of the first-floor windows. Unlike its prototype, the façade was bowed: Knightley noted in his commentary in The Builder that the opportunity had been taken to round off the sharp angle formed by the junction of Langham Place and Riding House Street, the surplus ground being thrown into the roadway. He added also that he had originally intended the front to be ‘of more imposing height, and above each pair of columns groups of figures were intended’, but this had had to be abandoned after encountering opposition from All Souls’ Church and school, which were concerned about being overshadowed. As it was, the main front was copiously adorned with statuary, with busts of Brahms, Gluck, Handel, Mendelssohn, Wagner and Weber depicted in high relief at ground-floor level and busts of Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Purcell and Tchaikovsky depicted in the round in niches placed between the pairs of columns above.
Other than a tier of Corinthian pilasters at high level, Knightley made little attempt to articulate the elevations of the box-like space of the auditorium in classical terms, treating the wall surfaces as tiers of panels of varying size, for which Mannerist and Baroque relief ornament – swags, drops and so on – came into its own. The convex coving was pierced by oeils de boeuf flanked by full-height figures, those over the stage being dummies, while the convex wings were adorned with busts of famous composers. The colour scheme was based on tones of terracotta and grey – the latter reputedly specified by the architect as the shade of the belly of a London mouse – with Venetian red used for the upholstery, carpets and lampshades. The central part of the ceiling was adorned with a painted composition by an obscure French artist by the name of Carpegat, who was reputed to be associated with the Opéra Garnier in Paris – perhaps a marketing ploy. The ceiling features in the famous description of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in E.M. Forster’s Howards End, when Helen’s attention wanders during the slow movement and her gaze settles on the painted Cupids.
Construction work began in 1891 and the inaugural concert was given on 25th November 1893. As a commercial venture, the Queen’s Hall was a success, achieving the aim of usurping St James’s Hall, which closed in 1905, as central London’s preeminent venue for large orchestral concerts. In August 1895, impresario Robert Newman (1858-1926), whom Ravenscroft had appointed as first manager, held the first in a series of informal, cheaply priced concerts that in time evolved to what continues to this day as The Proms. In 1919, alterations were carried out to improve seating and backstage arrangements, as a result of which the capacity of the hall was reduced to 2,400. The auditorium was redecorated in a new colour scheme based on a bluish-green tone and Knightley’s decorative scheme was greatly simplified, the tiers of panelling either side of the stage being stripped off and replaced with a giant order of Corinthian pilasters. In 1937 an extensive renovation was carried out by architect Joseph Emberton (1889-1956), a notable early proponent of the International Style. In the process, the seating was replaced and much of the ornament removed from the balcony fronts and the upper part of the walls. The auditorium was redecorated in a new colour scheme based on a putty colour and what remained of the ceiling painting was covered over.
The hall suffered blast damage on two occasions during World War II, then, during one of the most destructive raids of the Blitz, was completely gutted by incendiary bombs on the night of 10th-11th May 1941. After the war, there was considerable public pressure for the hall to be rebuilt, but in 1946 the Commissioners of Crown Lands increased the ground rent almost ten-fold and efforts were redirected towards the construction of the Royal Festival Hall. In 1954 the government set up a committee to examine the practicability of reconstruction, which concluded that, despite public support for the initiative, a rebuilt Queen’s Hall would be unable to hold its own commercially and so the proposal was finally abandoned. The ruined shell was cleared and the site is now occupied by the St George’s Hotel.
1896: Birkbeck Bank, Holborn
Ravenscroft’s building society proved to be a successful, highly lucrative venture, which grew rapidly. The same was not true of the Birkbeck Institute, however, and following a financial crisis in 1877, Ravenscroft arranged for the building society, now trading as the Birkbeck Bank, to purchase the Institute’s premises on High Holborn. He launched an appeal for funds to construct new premises for it, which raised nearly £4,000; Ravenscroft personally guaranteed the balance of the total cost. Work began on the new building in 1883 and the Institute took up residence there in 1885. Ravenscroft then looked to redevelop the Institute’s former home at Southampton Buildings to provide new accommodation for the bank which suitably reflected its ambition, ethos and prosperity, and also to add to his investment portfolio. The location alone, outside the boundary of the Old Square Mile and so well away from old-established banking houses, was a strong statement of its democratic aims. Knightley was engaged and his perspective of the design attracted favourable comment when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1889.
The project was split into two phases. The first phase, begun in 1896, consisted of a vast new building occupying the southern half of the irregularly shaped block bounded by High Holborn, Southampton Buildings and Staple Inn. At its centre was a huge domed circular banking hall, 72ft [22m] in diameter and rising to a height of 80ft [24.4m] in the middle. The eastern half of this portion was occupied by the Birkbeck Bank’s own premises, the western by office accommodation that was to be offered for rental. Throughout, the building was of steel-framed, fireproof construction, the girders being embedded in concrete, and it was extremely solidly built, the structure being taken down far below the surface of the ground so that it could rest on the bed of London clay, as recounted by Knightley in his own description of the building in The Building News of 4th July 1902.
Though the exterior of the bank looked out onto narrow thoroughfares, it was treated with splendour meriting a far more prominent location. Stylistically, it was a sort of free, lushly ornamented Mannerism, the basic idea of the elevations being a two-storey plinth supporting a coupled giant order embracing the upper two storeys. At the southwestern corner was a tall entrance tower set at 45 degrees to the main axes, which rose to a pyramidal spire. This had a practical as well as decorative function, since the topmost stage housed a tank fed by water from the Bank’s own artesian well sunk below the site. The outstanding feature of the exterior was the cladding of matt-glazed stoneware, an innovation of Doulton’s of Lambeth dating from 1888, which was marketed under the name Carrara ware. From a practical point of view, its principal appeal was its resistance to atmospheric pollution, an important consideration at the time.
However, it also provided the opportunity for vivid polychromy, handsomely exploited by Knightley, who was advised on the choice of colours by the painter Sir William Richmond (1842-1921). This is now appreciable only from written accounts, such as that by Nicholas Taylor, who described the building at length in ‘Ceramic Extravagance’, a valedictory article that appeared in the Architectural Review in 1965. Writing of the exsterior, he recalled, ‘The columns were of a gorgeous peacock green, hung with biscuit-coloured shaft rings and swags. The plinth was ginger-brown in its lower stage, a little pinker in its upper, with framed panels and paterae inset with peacock green. Besides tablets with ‘B’ (for Birkbeck) and winged cherubs’ heads, there was a series of large portrait busts in oval medallions. From south-east to north-west these were: Bessemer, Pugin, Edison, Flaxman, Brunel, Sir William Richmond, Tennyson, Dr. Birkbeck, Stephenson, Villiers, Lamb, James Watt, ‘Venetian banker’, Raphael, Hazlitt (he and Lamb once lived on the site), Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, della Robbia’. These were the work of John Broad, a sculptor and medallist employed by the Royal Doulton Company and were 4ft high and 2ft in width. ‘The topmost parts of the building were finished in white glazed brick with pinkish brown dressings’.
The treatment of the exterior did not exploit the opportunities for non-load-bearing construction in the same way as Knightley’s smaller commercial properties in the City of London. But the interior was another matter. The main entrance led into a top-lit stairwell with twin staircases on either side of a central atrium running the full height of the building, which seems to have been based on a skeleton construction (i.e. a structure based on a load-bearing steel framework as opposed to using steel just for horizontal spans between masonry-built walls). The staircases were richly ornamented, with carved oak newels and rails, and cast-iron balustrades. At the opposite end to the entrance, the steel structure of the central banking hall was exposed to view. As explained in Jonathan Clarke’s Early Structural Steel in London Buildings, the dome was framed with 16 mild-steel ribs. ‘Each rib was seated on a cast-iron stanchion embedded in the thick brick wall forming a 30ft-high [9.1m-high] drum, the outward thrust contained by a steel ring connecting the tops of the stanchions. The upper ends of the ribs were bolted to a steel compression ring, 15ft [4.6m] in diameter, which formed the base of a circular iron and glass lantern. Lightweight hollow ceramic blocks and timber rafters, covered with boarding, felt and lead, spanned between each rib, forming the dome’s 16 panels, each of which was pierced by an oval window’. The steel construction allowed for the incorporation of a 10ft/3m-wide gallery which, cantilevered out from the stanchions, extended for the whole of its perimeter at first-floor level.
The interior of the banking hall was finished in coloured Carrara ware. While the incorporation of a circular, top-lit banking hall might have invited comparisons with Soane’s Bank of England, the iconography of the scenes painted on tile in the lunettes of each bay conveyed something very different to traditional images of established wealth. As Taylor explains, ‘Some were unexceptional genre scenes: Merchant or Shipowner, Minting, Nasmyth’s Steam Hammer, Copperplate Printing, Agriculture, Shipping, The Miser, Printing, Coining. The other seven were truly remarkable: a winged cherub representing the recent marvel of electricity; two scenes from the seventeenth canto of Dante’s Inferno representing Fraud and Usurers; a graphic portrayal of the Run on the [Birkbeck] Bank, September, 1892; a scene of Gothic suburbia representing The Building Society; a Gothic model village representing The Land Society; and finally, last but not least, the majestic figure of the god Apollo, which, according to The Times, was recognisable as ‘the figure of the lamented manager, Mr. Ravenscroft, with a dog, representing fidelity, and an eagle, representing foresight, at his feet’. The ribs of the dome were clad with specially designed blocks that gripped the flanges of the I-beams, yet with clearances to allow for thermal expansion and contraction of the metal. The spaces between were finished with embossed tiles made by Boote and Co. and gold mosaic. The gallery appeared to rest on white faience corbels (which must have been purely decorative) depicting boys riding gryphons. The floor was laid to patterned black and white tiles of India rubber, intended to reduce noise. Carrara ware was used extensively in the rest of the building, the waiting room and manager’s office being especially notable for the rich ornament and vivid colours. The floors of the entrance hall and corridors were laid to a specially designed marble mosaic.
The building made extensive use of recent technological advances in its services, such as water-tube boilers to provide steam for the radiators, which warmed filtered air circulated by electric fans, a hydraulic lift to the strong rooms beneath the banking hall, on-site electricity generation to power the lighting and passenger lifts and so on. In a second phase of the development, completed in 1902, part of the northern half of the island site, which fronted Holborn, was demolished to make way for Birkbeck Chambers. A seven-storey block incorporated six shop units on the ground floor, arranged either side of an archway giving access to the public thoroughfare that ran through the complex, threading behind one side of the banking hall and emerging into the entrance hall at the southwestern corner. There was also a large, hall-like space on the ground floor intended to be used as a warehouse or restaurant. Stylistically, the façade was a kind of free Mannerism, with a clear debt to North German and Flemish prototypes not evidenced by the earlier phase. Despite its prominent location, the colour scheme was relatively restrained, polished Norwegian granite cladding being used for the ground floor and ivory white Carrara ware for the remainder.
But for all the confidence exuded by its new premises, the Birkbeck Bank had not much longer left to exist. With so much of its equity tied up in small deposit accounts, it needed a large amount of ready money to function, which left it vulnerable to runs. Rumours of malpractice led to a run on the bank in November 1910, and although it was saved from collapse by a bail-out from the Bank of England, a second crisis in June 1911 led to its complete failure. Its assets were taken over by what became the National Westminster Bank, which in 1965 demolished the entire complex for redevelopment. ‘This is the kind of thing that makes me not too proud of being British’, wrote Ian Nairn, who bitterly rued its loss.
Currently undated and untraced works
- Schools in Enfield, Middlesex
- Schools in Greenwich
- Parsonage, De Beauvoir Town, London
- Villa in Caterham, Surrey
- Chapel in Islington, London
- Warehouses on Milton Street and City Avenue, City of London
- Shops and warehouses on corner of Aldersgate Street and Jewin Street, City of London
- No. 79 City Road, Moorgate, London
- St Leonard’s National Schools, Shoreditch
- East Indian Railway Co’s offices, Nos. 28-30 Nicholas Lane, City of London
- City Soap Works, Moorfields, London
- Model dwellings, Finsbury, London
- Additions to Upper Edmonton, Chase Side and Enfield workhouses, Middlesex
- Shops and offices on Aldersgate, City of London
- Offices of the public health department at the Guildhall, City of London
Knightley was a talented and versatile architect who deserves to be remembered for far more than the Queen’s Hall and Birkbeck Bank, outstanding though those two achievements were. He is all the more interesting for standing outside the main lines of development in Victorian architecture represented by most of the figures featured on this blog so far. Though competent, imaginative and fluent in his handling of the style, with solid command of the High Victorian idiom, he seems not to have been an enthusiastic Goth. Indeed, he abandoned the style at the height of its popularity, long before developments such as the rise of the Queen Anne Movement had begun to challenge its dominance. He employed it only for commissions where Gothic was an established idiom by the 1850s, such as chapels and schools, eschewing it for public and commercial buildings. Moreover, he clearly had little interest in ecclesiastical work, meaning that he was detached from the dogma and polemic that flowed out of that sector into wider architectural currents. The designs for the Poplar and Millwall chapels serve as an important reminder of the greater freedom and scope for innovation offered by nonconformist denominations when compared to the Church of England.
There seems little doubt that Knightley was essentially a classicist, albeit one who assumed different guises during the course of his career. In many ways, it was a natural corollary of his line of work, since the classical principles of planning and composition provided the most satisfactory ways of organising large institutional and functional complexes, such as the Bakers’ Benevolent Institution or Smithfield Market. Even the Gothic designs in Stable Architecture are essentially classicism in fancy dress. But whereas Victorian architects generally used the Italianate manner as an outlet for classical impulses, Knightley took a very different, far more individual approach. His classicism was by turns severely astylar and floridly ornamental. There is a slight French flavour to the design for Smithfield Market and it would be interesting to know more about the influences that might have been at work on him at the time, assuming evidence survives that would allow them to be traced. But for all that, the works of the 1850s-1860s also give the impression of an architect struggling to find his bearings and not, as yet, always able to give his architecture a strongly personal stamp.
Whether Knightley really did step back from architectural practice in the 1870s is a hypothesis that still needs to be tested. Assuming it to be true, there is a sense when one looks at the competition entry for the City of London School that he has emerged from the hiatus having reinvented himself. French architecture of the 17th century had suggested the forms adopted for the design of the Cavendish Hotel; he now turned for his inspiration to sources from the same country, but the preceding century. Perhaps the troubled building history of the Hotel had reminded him of the Achilles heel of classical design – that monumental compositions in urban settings need plenty of space to be truly successful and, unlike Gothic, do not take kindly to interruptions in construction, accretive development and changes in stylistic direction. Knightley’s French Renaissance manner neatly solved several of these problems through its flexibility. It was far more accommodating of disruptions to symmetrical planning forced on architects by constricted sites, such as was the case with the City of London School. It also allowed for thrilling skylines of tall roofs, dormers, turrets, spires and tall chimneys to give buildings extra presence in the cityscape. It combined the best features of Gothic and Classical without any need to resort to eclecticism.
The flexibility of the style made it particularly suitable for the commercial buildings on burgage plots that seem to have been Knightley’s bread and butter by the 1880s. For a classicist, such a site with its narrow street frontage poses a difficult aesthetic problem. Firstly, if it is bounded by the party walls of neighbouring properties, there is no question of modelling a building in the round. Secondly, while satisfactory proportions might be obtainable in an area of low-rise construction, if scarcity of land and high property prices are forcing developers to build up, a frontage that is very tall in relation to its width becomes inevitable, No. 321 Strand being an extreme instance. This makes it difficult to articulate a façade successfully using, say, the basement-plus-piano nobile-plus-attic scheme of the Palladian canon. But the French Renaissance manner allowed the architect to side-step these problems. Though pilasters could still be used to mark off storeys, it provided Knightley with a broad repertoire of forms which could be applied as sparingly or as liberally as he wished with great freedom, almost like a repeating pattern. It could also be combined with thoroughly unclassical features, such as the large, polygonal bay windows made possible by innovations in construction technology and necessary by deep, dark city centre streets. There were certain similarities to what Richard Norman Shaw had pioneered with innovative buildings such as New Zealand Chambers on Leadenhall Street in the City of London, but embodied in stylistically very different terms.
Knightley seems to have had little truck with archaeological correctness and from an early stage was creative in his planning. Achieving large spaces unencumbered by any intermediate supports seems to have been a lasting preoccupation. He embraced new developments in structural engineering and construction technology, showing how these could be combined with historicising stylistic languages. But once he had arrived at this personal style, he developed no further. Though there are hints of Edwardian Classicism in the façade of the Queen’s Hall, the Birkbeck Bank, for all its exuberance, appears retrogressive when judged against the rediscovery of Baroque by a younger generation of architects such as John Belcher. But there is no reason why these works should be judged solely against the yardstick of emerging new trends, of course. Knightley was in his late 60s when his two greatest building were designed and they are better understood by looking backwards than forwards. They are the culminating achievement of a long and fruitful career which bequeathed to London a rich legacy of colourful, entertaining and original buildings that represented a highly distinctive contribution to public and commercial architecture of the latter half of the 19th century. That so much has gone is our loss every bit as much, posthumously, as Knightley’s.
Brodie, Antonia, Franklin, Jonathan, The Directory of British Architects, 1834-1914, Vols. 1 & 2 (London: RIBA, 2001)
Cherry, Bridget and Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England, London 4: North, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002)
Cherry, Bridget, Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England, London 2: South (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999)
Clarke, Jonathan, Early Structural Steel in London Buildings (London: English Heritage, 2014)
Clarke, Richard, Birkbeck Places – Landscapes of Learning? Paper delivered to ‘Putting Education in its Place’: Space, place and materialities in the history of education. History of Education Society annual conference, 4-6 December 2009, Halifax Conference Centre, University of Sheffield
Clarke, Richard, ‘Self-help, saving and suburbanization: the Birkbeck Freehold Land and Building Societies, their bank, and the London Mechanics’ Institute 1851-1911’, London Journal, Vol, 40, no. 2, July 2015, 123-146
Colvin, Howard, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, 4th edn (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008)
Elkin, Robert, Queen’s Hall 1893-1941 (London: Rider & Co, 1944)
Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, Early Victorian Architecture in Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954)
Knightley, Thomas Edward, Stable Architecture (London: Baily Brothers, 1862)
Nairn, Ian, Nairn’s London (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1966)
O’Brien, Charles, Cherry, Bridget, Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England, London 5: East, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005)
Stamp, Gavin, Lost Victorian Britain (London: Aurum Press Ltd, 2013)
Taylor, Nicholas, ‘Ceramic Extravagance’, Architectural Review, November 1965, 338-341
The Building News
The National Heritage List for England
Webster, C. (2010). ‘An alternative to Ecclesiology: William Wallen (1807–53)’, in Brandwood, G. (ed.). Seven Church Architects 1830-1930 – Ecclesiology Today, Issue 42, June 2010, 9-28
Edmund Bird, Robert Carr, Jonathan Clarke, Professor Geoffrey Chew, Daniel Hayton, Peter Higginbotham, Malcolm Tucker