Victorian Art and Design

William Burges and the Gothic Revival

William Burges was one of the leaders of the Gothic Revival. He was influenced by Pugin, but did not share Pugin's strong religious views. He was also one of the first Britons to collect Japanese prints. He is best known for  his work for the Marquis of Bute, the wealthiest man in England. Lord Bute shared Burges's love of the Middle Ages. The results can be seen in the richly decorated interiors of Cardiff Castlec. 1868-85, tel.029 2087 8100, and Castell Coch 1875-81, tel.029 2081 0101.This image shows a detail from the Clock Tower at Cardiff Castle. Burges added three new towers to the Castle: the Octagonal, Clock and Guest Towers.

In both of Lord Bute's castles virtually every wall and ceiling is covered with wall paintings of medieval scenes with carved and painted figures above the fireplaces. Similar designs still exist in Tower House, Burges' London home, but it is not open to the public.  Burges only lived there for three years. He died there in 1881, in a bed painted by Henry Holiday with a scene from Tennyson's Dream.

Burges also designed painted furniture, some of it copied from medieval examples. The British Galleries at the V&A have some fine examples. They have the swivel wash basin from the Guest Chamber at Tower House. They also have the Yatman Cabinet. Burges exhibited it in the 1862 International Exhibition with four other pieces of painted furniture.

 Burne-Jones, Rossetti and others painted Burges' Great Bookcase of 1859. It can be seen with two Yatman display cabinets and his 'Golden Bed' at Knightshayes Court, a National Trust house which Burges built in Devon, Tel 01884 254665. Burges'  1867 designs show his plans for the interiors, but few of these designs were executed. There are two ceilings and the NT has recreated his planned wall paintings for one room.

Burges designed a new interior for the chapel at Worcester College, Oxford and a new east end for Waltham Abbey, near the M25 in Essex, with a reredos with a frieze of carved and painted figures above the High Altar. His churches include two in in North Yorkshire, those at Studley Royal, in the grounds of Fountains Abbey, tel. 01765 608888, open 1-5pm April to September, and nearby, the church at Skelton-cum- Newby, open daily April-September, keyholder nearby. He also designed Saint Finbarr's Cathedral in Cork in Ireland with magnificent mosaics and stained glass, open daily from 10-5.

 The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in Bedford, tel. 01234 211 222 has more Burges furniture, notably the Narcissus washstand and also a decanter.

Pugin and the Gothic Revival    Books on Pugin, Burges and the Gothic Revival