12th January 2016
You may have seen, if you’re a regular reader of our blog, that not only do we like to focus on William Morris, but also his friends and associates and especially the Pre-Raphelites, a brotherhood he was part of. Since today marks the date of his birth, over the next week, we will be looking at Philip Webb’s life, born 1831-1915, today, since it is the anniversary of his birth, we’ll be looking at the early years, other posts will focus on different periods of his life.
Webb’s childhood was a happy one, one of eleven children from a young age he showed an avid interest in the architecture around Oxford where he grew up, the cottages, churches and colleges began his lifelong love for architecture. His interest in preserving the heritage of older buildings began in 1852 when there was to be an alteration to the spire of St Mary’s Church in Oxford. The rest of his life he carried on his battle to preserve and restore old buildings to their former glory.
He began his love affair with the English countryside when his father took him for visits, you can see the influences of this in much of his work, he drew the birds and the rabbits in the latest design we have licensed and produced by Morris, Brother Rabbit. He spoke highly of the unspoilt countryside saying it’s, “full of exquisite beauty and thousands of lovely beasts.’
Watercolour drawing of a fox by Philip Webb, c. 1887. ©Paul Highnam
Webb’s father encouraged his son with this art work as he drew the plants and animals he saw on their travels together, he even secured tuition for him from Mrs Richardson; a skilled botanical artist. He was also a skilled horseman, throughout his life he took joy in riding and keeping- and indeed designing stables, for his horses. From a young child to his death, he kept horses, and when he was too restricted by rheumatism to ride, he took pleasure in watching them in the field behind his home.
Watercolour drawing of a hare by Philip Webb, c. 1887. ©Paul Highnam
Aged 8, Webb was to begin life at boarding school, 12 miles from Oxford, it was to be the end of the happiest childhood years for him. With around 20 students, half of whom were boarders, most of these were sons of tradesmen and farmers and Webb had little in common with them. He began to see the school as a prison trapping him from what he loved as he became deeply unhappy and home sick, later in life he referred to boarding schools like his as, “boy farms.” However, during this time the school gave him a great love for reading and knowledge which he carried on throughout his life, and made him appreciate his home, Oxford, for which cemented his love for the city.
Aged 17, his father died, and so Webb and his three brothers had to get careers that would help them financially, Philip chose to become an architect which by that time had become a suitable career for a middle class man. Oxford during that time, despite the few recessions, was a hub for the revivals of church buildings, associated with the Tractarian movement.
So we’ve looked into his formative years- remember to check back for in depth looks at the rest of his life!
Happy Birthday Philip!