Philip Speakman Webb, born January 1831 in Oxford, Webb is often referred to as the ‘father’ of the Arts & Crafts movement along with Morris. He is well renowned for his architecture – comfortable, unpretentious yet stunningly beautiful country homes, he also designed interiors too including furniture, wallpaper, stained glass and tapestries.
We thought you might want to learn more about him with our 5 lesser known facts about Philip Webb.
- For his early life, Webb grew up in Oxford. He studied in Northamptonshire and trained under John Billing, an architect in Reading who specialised in traditional building repairs. He then became a junior assistant for the office of G.E. Street, where William Morris was also working, sparking a friendship that would be both personal and business for the rest of their lives. Within this office, they were working on the architecture of churches in Oxford.
Moris & Webb
- Together, Morris and Webb founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1861 and also, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877.
- The first commission Webb had was Red House in Bexleyheath Kent. This is a really famous home because it belonged to Morris and is incredibly beautiful, yet characteristically unpretentious and informal. Designed in 1859, Webb used contrasting materials which, as with lots of their projects both together and separately, had a respect for the site and for local traditions and crafts. The style pointed towards 20th century Functionalism in the bold and frank use of materials which exposed structural elements. He also designed Standen, an incredibly stunning arts-and-crafts property with Morris interiors. Today it’s a grade 2 listed building which is owned by the National Trust, it’s well worth a visit. His style is distinct, incredibly original, his work arguably became the germ of modernism as though he took influence from the Gothic Revival movement, he didn’t let this steer him and instead, he almost mixed styles and created his own. He chose comfortable and traditional, he didn’t move too much towards the Victorian elaborate designs nor the Gothic styles, he does tend to use traditional English styles with the red brick (Red House) sash windows, Tudor like chimneys etc. but you can definitely tell his influence when you look at his work as a portfolio.
- It’s known that he adored a girl in the 1860s, but it’s not known who she is and he never married. He told friend S.C. Cockerell during his later years that he could not afford to keep a wife, according to Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – if he had chosen to push forward with his own practice, that might have been different. It’s been documented that he told Dante Gabriel Rossetti that anyone who wished, “to follow art with advantage to the world and with hope of competing with art before” had “very severe in the liability of disturbance from collateral courses, such as payment, popularity – position” because whilst these were not “of necessity ruinous to art” often, they “ruin the workman.” (Webb to Rossetti, 21 May 1866, in the G. W. Taylor to Webb letters, V&A). It’s clear in these letters, what a passion architecture was, over riding everything else, including money or marriage to his unidentified love.
- The latter years of Webb’s life, by 1899, he was in poor health and losing money. He couldn’t afford to build a property for himself based on his savings, and so he accepted a rental from his friend William Scawen Blunt at a low price. He handed over his architecture practice to chief assistant George Jack, he moved in Jan 1901 to Caxtons, where he spent his retirement comfortably. He continued to enjoy nature as he clearly did throughout his life, creating many of the birds and other elements of nature for Morris’s work. He developed rheumatism and so he wasn’t able to go ahead working on passion projects as much as intended during his retirement, creating artefacts, but he did lots of work on house and garden, attended SPAB meetings and in 1915, passed away peacefully.
Philip Webb may not have financially left lots, but his legacy is vast. That’s in terms of his work with SPAB, his architecture, his collaborations with Morris, much of his work for Morris & Co. and Standen is now owned by the National Trust and furniture he designs is showcased in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
There’s so much to learn about Webb, we absolutely loved writing this to hopefully shed more light onto his life. If you want to read more of our blogs about key figures of this era, please read more of our blog!
We used this Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website as a reference point if you’d like to learn more.