Having graduated from Caius College, Cambridge in 1796 Wilkins embarked on a travelling scholarship that enabled him to spend four years in Greece, Asia Minor and Italy. On his return in 1804 he immediately started an architectural practice in Cambridge, moving to Bedford Place, London, in 1809. He soon established himself as a leading protagonist of the Greek Revival. His publications were to include: The Antiquities of Magna Graecia (1807), Atheniensa, or Remarks on the Topography and Buildings of Athens (1816), The Civil Architecture of Vitruvius (1812–incomplete), and Prolusiones Architectonicae 1837, (probably based on his lecture series as Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy).
His was an architecture based essentially on archaeological investigation, a style more suited for public than private buildings. It was fortunate for Wilkins that he was working in the period after Waterloo, when demand for great public works was high, providing him with many opportunities for monumental architecture. He designed the first pure Greek Doric portico for any English country house at Osberton House, Nottinghamshire. At Grange Park, Hampshire (from 1809) he used Greek Revival for an English country house, and created one of England’s noblest buildings in that style. The East India (now Haileybury) College, Hertfordshire (1806–9), and Downing College, Cambridge (1807–21), were both early and important buildings of the Greek Revival movement. In the latter case Wilkins scheme was selected instead of James Wyatt’s Neoclassical design.
Left to right: (a) University College London. (b) National Gallery, Trafalgar Square. [Click on these images for larger pictures.]
Downing was the first of all the university campuses, or separate buildings scheme disposed around a grassed area. The building of Downing College was actually completed by E. M. Barry in 1873. Downing was one of many works undertaken by Wilkins for his old University. Amongst them a series of Gothic buildings around the great medieval chapel of King’s College (1824–28) This scheme included the Provost’s Lodge which now forms the library buildings. These works, in the Gothic style, were generally regarded by contemporary critics as amongst his best: strokes of picturesque invention that showed what Wilkins could do when he was released from the shackles of classical scholarship.
Wilkins followed these schemes with the Philosophical Society’s Museum, York (1827–30), St George’s Hospital, Hyde Park Corner, London (1828–9), the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London (1834–8) and the University College, London (1827–8) all in the Grecian style. Based in Gower Street, the University College of London was the first university founded to provide a university education without an overtly religious bias.
In 1868 two vacancies to the Royal Academy at an associate level were available, Philip Hardwick, E. M. Pugin, T. H. Wyatt and Charles Barry Junior were all nominated: Hardwick and Barry were chosen. The drawings by Barry, Hardwick and Wilkins almost certainly originate from the office of Wyatt and Brandon, and provides with a fascinating insight into the relationships of these architects. Each honing their skills in the other’s office, all of which were situated within a five-minute walk. Subcontracting between offices seems to have been common, and all appear to have used the same surveyors and engineers. — Architects for a New Age
- University College London
- University College London (drawings)
- National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
- Gatehouse, King's College Cambridge
- East Range, Downing College Cambridge
- The Provost’s Lodge (now Library), King’s College, Cambridge (3 drawings)
Architects for a New Age. Exhibition catalogue. London: Fine Art Society in association with Haslam & Whiteway, 2008.
Pevsner, Nikolaus. The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2nd ed. 1970.
Rawle, Tim. Cambridge Architecture. London: André Deutsch, 1994.
Last modified 4 June 2014