George Edmund Street

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George Edmund Street
George E Street by Samuel A Walker.png
Born(1824-06-20)20 June 1824
Woodford, Essex
Died18 December 1881(1881-12-18) (aged 57)
Awards Royal Gold Medal (1874)
Buildings Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London

George Edmund Street RA (20 June 1824 – 18 December 1881), also known as G. E. Street, was an English architect, born at Woodford in Essex. Stylistically, Street was a leading practitioner of the Victorian Gothic revival. Though mainly an ecclesiastical architect, he is perhaps best known as the designer of the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in London.

Woodford, London suburb of east London, England

Woodford is a town in North East London in the London Borough of Redbridge. It is divided into the neighbourhoods of Woodford Green, Woodford Bridge, Woodford Wells, South Woodford and Monkhams. The town is situated 9.5 miles (15.3 km) northeast of Charing Cross. It is part of the traditional county of Essex, but for administrative purposes has been part of Greater London since 1965, following the passing of the London Government Act 1963.

Gothic Revival architecture Architectural movement

Gothic Revival is an architectural movement popular in the Western world that began in the late 1740s in England. Its momentum grew in the early 19th century, when increasingly serious and learned admirers of neo-Gothic styles sought to revive medieval Gothic architecture, in contrast to the neoclassical styles prevalent at the time. Gothic Revival draws features from the original Gothic style, including decorative patterns, finials, lancet windows, hood moulds and label stops.

Royal Courts of Justice court building in London, England

The Royal Courts of Justice, commonly called the Law Courts, is a court building in London which houses the High Court and Court of Appeal of England and Wales. The High Court also sits on circuit and in other major cities. Designed by George Edmund Street, who died before it was completed, it is a large grey stone edifice in the Victorian Gothic style built in the 1870s and opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. It is one of the largest courts in Europe. It is located on Strand within the City of Westminster, near the border with the City of London. It is surrounded by the four Inns of Court, St Clement Danes church, The Australian High Commission, King's College London and the London School of Economics. The nearest London Underground stations are Chancery Lane and Temple.


Early life

Street was the third son of Thomas Street, a solicitor, by his second wife, Mary Anne Millington. He went to school at Mitcham in about 1830, and later to the Camberwell Collegiate School, which he left in 1839. For a few months he worked in his father's business in Philpot Lane, but on his father's death he went to live with his mother and sister at Exeter. There his thoughts first turned to architecture, and in 1841 his mother obtained a place for him as pupil in the office of Owen Browne Carter at Winchester. Afterwards he worked for five years as an "improver" with George Gilbert Scott in London.

The Camberwell Collegiate School was an independent school in Camberwell, London, England. It was located on the eastern side of Camberwell Grove, directly opposite the Grove Chapel.

Philpot Lane street in London, England

Philpot Lane is a short street in London, United Kingdom, running from Eastcheap in the south to Fenchurch Street in the north. It is named after Sir John Philpot, Lord Mayor of London from 1378–79.

Exeter City in the south west of England

Exeter is a cathedral city in Devon, England, with a population of 129,800. The city is located on the River Exe approximately 36 miles (58 km) northeast of Plymouth and 65 miles (105 km) southwest of Bristol. It is the county town of Devon, and the base of Devon County Council. Also situated in Exeter are two campuses of the University of Exeter - Streatham Campus and St Luke's Campus.

His first commission – undertaken while still working for Scott – was for the design of Biscovey Church, Cornwall. In 1849 he set up in practice in an office of his own. Much of his earliest work, which included many church restorations, was in Cornwall. [1]

Cornwall County of England

Cornwall is a county in South West England, bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by Devon, the River Tamar forming the border between them. Cornwall is the westernmost part of the South West Peninsula of the island of Great Britain. The southwesternmost point is Land's End and the southernmost Lizard Point. Cornwall has a population of 563,600 and an area of 3,563 km2 (1,376 sq mi). It is administered by Cornwall Council, apart from the Isles of Scilly, which are administered separately. The county town is Truro, Cornwall's only city.


Former parish church of SS Philip and James in North Oxford, now the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. Oxford SSPhilip&James south.jpg
Former parish church of SS Philip and James in North Oxford, now the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.

In November 1850, having been appointed architect to the diocese of Oxford he left London, and moved to Wantage, where he had already designed a vicarage, and was working on some schools. In May 1852 he went to live in Beaumont Street, Oxford. [2] He designed the parish church of SS Philip and James in the city, and another at Summertown, as well as restoring many others, but his only work for the university was the reordering of Jesus College Chapel. His son Arthur Edmund Street suggested that:

Diocese of Oxford Church of England diocese

The Diocese of Oxford is a Church of England diocese that forms part of the Province of Canterbury. The diocese is led by the Bishop of Oxford, and the bishop's seat is at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. It contains more church buildings than any other diocese and has more paid clergy than any other except London.

Wantage market town and civil parish in Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire, England

Wantage is a historic market town and civil parish in the ceremonial county of Oxfordshire, England. Historically part of Berkshire, it has been administered as part of the Vale of White Horse district of Oxfordshire since 1974. The town is on Letcombe Brook, about 8 miles (13 km) south-west of Abingdon, 24 miles (39 km) north-west of Reading, 15 miles (24 km) south-west of Oxford and 14 miles (23 km) north north-west of Newbury.

Oxford Centre for Mission Studies Church in Oxford , United Kingdom

The Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS) is in the former SS Philip and James Parish Church on Woodstock Road, Oxford, England, opposite Leckford Road. It was established in 1983.

Possibly my father's very decided adherence to the earlier phase of Gothic, and the eagerness with which he argued that Oxford had already enough of debased types, and should revert to the purity of the early forms, may have frightened the authorities. [1]

During this period he developed his use of constructional polychromy, in churches such as All Saints, Boyne Hill. Maidenhead . [3]

Maidenhead town and unparished area in Berkshire, England

Maidenhead is a large market town in Berkshire, England, on the south-western bank of the River Thames. With an estimated population of 67,441, Maidenhead is the largest town in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. The town is situated 25.7 miles (41.4 km) west of Charing Cross, London, 11.7 miles (18.8 km) northeast of the county town of Reading, 28.3 miles (45.5 km) southeast of Oxford, 8.0 miles (12.9 km) east-south-east of Henley on Thames and 5.8 miles (9.3 km) northwest of Windsor.

Early in his career, he advocated the idea that architects should have a practical involvement with the decoration of their buildings, and painted murals at Boyne Hill church himself. However, with his increasing amount of business, he soon realised the difficulties of such an approach. [4]

He remained in Oxford until late in 1855, when he moved back to London, taking a house in Montagu Place, Bloomsbury. [5] At around this time he entered the competition to design the new cathedral at Lille, winning second prize, behind a design by Henry Clutton and William Burges. [6] He came second to Burges in another competition, to design the Crimea Memorial Church in Constantinople, but eventually received the commission. [7] He also submitted, unsuccessfully, Gothic schemes for the new Foreign Office in Whitehall, and for a projected rebuilding of the National Gallery. [8]

Gothic Revival

Street was an active member of the Ecclesiological Society. [9] From an early age he had been interested in the principles of Gothic architecture, and made frequent tours to study and draw Gothic architecture across Europe. [10] He was an exceptional draughtsman, and in 1855 he published a very careful and well illustrated work on The Brick and Marble Architecture of Northern Italy, and in 1865 a book on The Gothic Architecture of Spain. These works inspired the wider use of constructional polychromy by British architects, sometimes mocked as "The Streaky Bacon Style".

At St James the Less, in Thorndike Street, Westminster (1858–61), Street used red brick, with black brick decoration both inside and out, and gave the church a tall, square campanile-like tower, its roof based on a Genoese model. [11] Charles Locke Eastlake, writing in 1872, saw this as a prime example of the "revolt from [English] national style" that was occurring amongst Gothic Revival architects at this time, [12] at least in part inspired by John Ruskin's enthusiasm for the medieval architecture of Northern Italy, and by the publication of Viollet-le-Duc's exhaustive Dictionnaire raisonné de l'Architecture Française du XIe au XVIe Siècle: [13]

Here the whole character of the building, whether we regard its plan, its distinctive features, its external or internal decoration is eminently un-English. Even the materials used in its construction and the mode by which it is lighted were novelties. The detached tower with its picturesquely modelled spire, its belfry stage rich in ornamental brick-work and marble bosses, the semicircular apse and quasi-transepts, the plate tracery, the dormers inserted in the clerestory, the quaint treatment of the nave arcade, the bold vigour of the carving, the chromatic decoration of the roof—all bear evidence of a thirst for change which Mr. Street could satisfy without danger, but which betrayed many of his contemporaries into intemperance. [12]

Two features Street was particularly fond of using were the round apse and the louvred belfry windows. [14]

Street was commissioned by Alexander Lindsay, 25th Earl of Crawford in 1867 to design several aspects of the extension work undertaken at Dunecht House, Aberdeenshire. These included the Library and a Chapel. [15]

In 1868 Street was made Diocesan Architect of Ripon, in addition to the similar posts which he already held in the dioceses of York and Oxford, and to which Winchester was subsequently added. He was also appointed Architect to York Minster at around this time, and, later on, to Salisbury and Carlisle Cathedrals. [16]


The Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand in London Royal courts of justice.jpg
The Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand in London

Street's most recognisable building is probably the Law Courts (now the Royal Courts of Justice) in the Strand in London. The competition for this was prolonged, and much diversity of opinion was expressed. The judges wanted Street to make the exterior arrangements and Charles Barry the interior, while a special committee of lawyers recommended the designs of Alfred Waterhouse. In June 1868, however, Street was appointed sole architect; but the building was not complete at the time of his death in December 1881.

Church of St John the Evangelist, Ardamine, County Wexford St John the Evangelist Ardamine.jpg
Church of St John the Evangelist, Ardamine, County Wexford

Apart from the Law Courts, by far the majority of Street's output was for ecclesiastical uses, the largest being the nave of Bristol Cathedral and the restoration of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Chief amongst his complete works include St Margaret's convent, East Grinstead, and the theological college at Cuddesdon. Other churches of which he was the architect include All Saints' (Church of England) and St Paul's Within The Walls (American Episcopal) in Rome. His work was not exclusively in the Gothic revival manner, as is demonstrated by Ralli's dramatic Lycian-Byzantine temple at Norwood Cemetery, the Romanesque reworking of the nearby church of St Luke and the rebuilding of All Saints' at Roydon, in West Norfolk, in a style to match its two Norman doorways. Street also designed the family chapel at Gwrych Castle in Abergele. Denbighshire.


Street carried out a number of new works in Ireland, including the small clifftop church of St. John the Evangelist at Ardamine, Co. Wexford, and Piltown Church, Co. Kilkenny. His most significant work was the controversial re-edification of the historic Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in the course of which he was responsible for demolishing the choir which he considered to be of "no historic significance". Street designed the adjacent Synod Hall around the existing 12th century St Michael's Church. [17] He also restored St. Brigid's Cathedral, Kildare Town, Ireland, which was a roofless ruin when he started work. The Cathedral reopened in 1896. He succeeded in rebuilding the lost walls to match the remnants which remained of the original walls and square tower.

Societies and honours

Street was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1866, and a fellow in 1871; at the time of his death he was professor of architecture to the Royal Academy, where he had delivered a course of lectures on the development of medieval architecture. He was also president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was a member of the Royal Academy of Vienna, and in 1878, in reward for drawings sent to the Paris Exhibition, he was made a knight of the Legion of Honour.


In 1856–7, Philip Webb was Street's senior clerk and the young William Morris one of his apprentices. These two designers worked together on the Red House that became a memorial to William Morris's design principles and includes work by many of his now-famous friends. Another apprentice in the early 1870s was the Canadian architect Frank Darling.

Personal life

Street was twice married, first on 17 June 1852 to Mariquita, second daughter of Robert Proctor, who died in 1874 aged 44, and secondly on 11 January 1876 to Jessie, second daughter of William Holland, who died in the same year.

Street's death, on 18 December 1881, was hastened by overwork and professional worries connected with the building of the law courts. He was buried on 29 December 1881 in the nave of Westminster Abbey.

Street was an adherent of the high church tradition of the Church of England. [18] For many years he was a churchwarden of All Saints, Margaret Street in London, [16] built in the 1850s as a "model church" under the supervision of the Ecclesiological Society. [19] He was particularly insistent that all seats in churches should be free of charge, rather than subject to pew rent. [18]

See also

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  1. 1 2 Street (1888), p.11
  2. Street (1888), p.19
  3. Hitchcock (1977), p .250. Hitchcock describes All Saints as "[Street's] first important church".
  4. Davey (1995)[ page needed ]
  5. Street (1888), p.22
  6. Street (1888), pp.22–8
  7. Street (1888), p.32
  8. Street (1888), pp.52–58
  9. Street (1888), p.17
  10. Street (1888)[ page needed ]
  11. Hitchcock (1977), p .254.
  12. 1 2 Eastlake (1872), p.321
  13. Eastlake (1872), p.317–8
  14. Eastlake (1872), p.325
  15. ( Historic Environment Scotland & LB3133 )
  16. 1 2 Street (1888), p.196
  18. 1 2 Street (1888), p.67
  19. Eastlake (1872), p.251–3


Further reading