Richard Norman Shaw

The British architect Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912) is noted for his domestic work, in which he was one of the most gifted designers in the Queen Anne, or "Shavian," style.

Richard Norman Shaw was born in Edinburgh on May 7, 1831. His architectural training began at 15 in the London office of William Burn, a domestic architect of some distinction. In 1854 Shaw won the Gold Medal of the Royal Academy, and its traveling scholarship permitted a journey that resulted in the publication of his Architectural Sketches from the Continent (1858), a folio of 100 lithographed vignettes of medieval ecclesiastical and domestic architecture in France, Italy, Germany, and Belgium.

In 1858 Shaw succeeded Philip Webb as chief assistant to George Edmund Street, the leading Victorian Gothic church architect. In 1862 Shaw set up his own practice in London in loose partnership (until 1868) with William Eden Nesfield, to whom his early work owes much.

Shaw began as a builder of Gothic revival churches, such as that at Bingley in Yorkshire (1864), but he is now remembered for his Queen Anne country houses, for example, Leys Wood in Sussex (1868; demolished), which was early and influential, and Adcote in Shropshire (1879). These houses, vaguely based upon older vernacular architecture, exhibited richly textured and parti-colored materials such as brick, tiles, and half-timbering arranged into irregular, many-gabled piles; the rambling plans were composed of loosely grouped rooms, variously sized and shaped. The influence of these "Shavian" houses reached across the Atlantic via magazine illustrations to affect the domestic work of Henry Hobson Richardson and others.

The style could be urbanized, as in Shaw's New Zealand Chambers in London (1872-1874; destroyed) and his own house in Hampstead (1875), or it could be adopted for a total environment. At Bedford Park in London, Shaw laid out (1876-1880) the first garden city, with small gabled houses, a gabled inn and stores, and a church. He thus initiated the planned suburban living that carried over into the 20th century in the work of Charles F. A. Voysey and the partnership of Richard Barry Parker and Sir Raymond Unwin.

The Queen Anne style gave way in Shaw's work of the 1880s and 1890s to a more formal, if no less influential, Neo-Georgian manner, as at Bryanston in Dorset (1889-1890). His late work, such as the Picadilly Hotel in London (1905-1908), is of less interest today, and his alteration of John Nash's Regent Street in London has been lamented by later critics.

The most distinguished scholar-architects of the next generation, including William R. Lethaby, Thomas G. Jackson, and Sir Reginald Blomfield, his biographer, were all trained in Shaw's office. Shaw died in London on Nov. 17, 1912.


Further Reading on Richard Norman Shaw

The uncritical biography of R. T. Blomfield, Richard Norman Shaw (1940), should be supplemented by a chapter on Shaw in Nikolaus Pevsner, Victorian Architecture, edited by Peter Ferriday (1963). For Shaw and the architecture of his time see Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1958).

Additional Biography Sources

Saint, Andrew, Richard Norman Shaw, New Haven: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art (London) by Yale University Press, 1976.