12th January 2019
Born on the 12th January 1831, Philip Webb was born in Oxford. One of eleven children, he showed an appreciation and interest in architecture from an early age. Beautiful Oxford served him with a wealth of inspiration with the cottages and churches. His interest in preserving these buildings began in 1852 – there was plans to alter the spire of St Mary’s Church in Oxford. The battle to preserve historic buildings to their former glory in an authentic way carried on the rest of his life and served as one of his main passions. Just like William Morris, he had no interest in ruining the buildings by modernising them with restoration.
Webb met Morris when Morris was 22 and Webb 25. The pair met at the office for Gothic Revivalist G.E Street. Street was the architect for London’s Law Courts where Morris and Webb took training following university. It was here he met Morris. They became close as friends and also colleagues. Webb referred to Morris, “the best man” he ever knew which shows the affection between the two. When comparing their interests on paper, it’s not hard to see why the two were firm friends; their love of the arts, the English countryside, the buildings and their passion for their conservation.
You may often see that Webb is referred to as the ‘father’ of the Arts & Crafts movement. The movement came as a reaction to Victorian Industrialisation. Industrialisation is famous for killing the skills of traditional craftsmanship as the machinery takes away the methods of productions that was passed down through the years. The movement was keen to revive traditional methods of producing art for both buildings and furnishings. Webb was also the co-founder of SPAB; Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
Adding to his list of work and achievements; along with friends Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, he helped established the interior decorating and furnishing business. Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. which was later dissolved and then established as Morris & Co. Following Morris’ marriage to Jane, Morris commissioned Philip Webb to build their marital home, Red House in Bexleyheath.
Red House is named after the red brick that it’s built from; so different from the fashion of stucco villas of the time but stunning in both it’s build and design. It was when they were furnishing in the house that the idea for the Firm was born. Realising that there was no home textiles that fit with the property nor were well made up to a standard he would have liked, they decided to create their own. The Firm wanted to create pieces that were works of art and were created using traditional methods.
Webb’s influences are visibly the English Countryside. It’s documented that his father took him for numerous trips to the countryside as a child and we can see this through his art. He is famous for drawing some of the elements in William Morris’ designs including the birds and rabbits within Brother Rabbit. The detail within the animals are extraordinary and we license this design and love to see Webb’s addition to the design. His father always encouraged his artistic talents and secured him a tuition from Mrs Richardson who was a skilled botanical artist.
For hobbies, as well as his art, he also loved horses, riding and keeping them he even designed stables for them. From being a young child until he died, he kept horses. When the time came that he was too restricted by his rheumatism to ride, he watched them run in the field behind his home.
Red House was indeed a showcase of Webb’s talents and following this he received many high profile commissions. These included but were not limited to, No.1 Palace Green and No.19 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. Also, Smeaton Manor in North Yorkshire and Joldwynds in Surrey. Adding to his list of achievements, he was the only Pre-Raphaelite to design a Church. In 1878, he designed St. Martin’s Church in Brampton – including a stained glass window set designed by Edward Burne-Jones.
Having been fans of Philip Webb’s work for years, his genius is clear. Visiting Red House alone – which we really recommend you do if you have the opportunity – his talent is clear. His work may remain under rated, but he’s still considered one of Britain’s most important architects; a title he absolutely earns. Not only influencing the architecture here in England but also overseas in the United States. We also have to thank him – and Morris – for always throwing their passions into preserving England’s beautiful gothic architecture which we remain such admirers of.
You can view our Brother Rabbit design here to see more of the beautiful design he drew.