John Francis Bentley: architect of Westminster Cathedral (Recording)

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A recording of our talk by Peter Howell, author of a new book on Bentley, exploring the work of this great Roman Catholic architect.

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Bentley is best known for Westminster Cathedral, built in a style of which he had no previous experience, but universally admired. Most of his other work is Gothic, though he could work sympathetically in a classical style. Born in Doncaster in 1839, he became assistant to Henry Clutton, whose High Victorian tastes he initially shared, though in the 1870s his tastes became more English, as with so many architects. Like Clutton, he became a Roman Catholic, which limited his chances. He only built five new churches, one of them Anglican, but he made additions to many others. He was a brilliant designer of fittings, in metalwork, woodwork and stained glass, and he received many commissions for organ cases from his friend T.C. Lewis. He was obsessed about the importance of colour, something well brought out by the photographs of Geoff Brandwood. The decision that Westminster Cathedral should not be Gothic was one which he regretted, but his bold choice of Byzantine was fully justified by the result. His dedication to the project worsened his health, leading to his death in 1902 at the age of 63.

A former Chair of the Victorian Society and a long-serving member of the Buildings Committee, Peter Howell is an expert on 19th-century Roman Catholic church architecture and, in particular, John Francis Bentley. With Andrew Saint, he edited the Society’s 2017 collection of essays, ‘Butterfield Revisited’, and in 2020 published his monograph, ‘John Francis Bentley: Architect of Westminster Cathedral’.

Peter's book on John Francis Bentley can be purchased here.

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