Basil Champneys (1842-1935) was one of the eight children, and the third of the five sons, of the Evangelical rector of St Mary's, Whitechapel (later Dean of Lichfield). He attended Charterhouse school while it was still in London, then Trinity College, Cambridge, before studying architecture under the Welsh architect, John Prichard. Despite this Gothic Revival background, he worked in a range of styles, and was among the early promoters of the Queen Anne style, for instance, in his design for Newnham College, Cambridge (1874-1910), which differs considerably from earlier collegiate architecture, and which one architectural historian calls a "gracious, rambling building" (Watkin 474). Another such historian sees Champneys as forming "a sort of link between the Gothic Revival and the resuscitation of taste" (Turnor 94). Although he designed all sorts of buildings, from homes and churches to schools, he is best known for his various college buildings in Oxford and Cambridge, not only Newnham but also (for example) the School of Divinity, Cambridge (1878-79), and the Indian Institute (1882) and Mansfield College (1886), Oxford. But his finest work was probably the John Rylands Library, Manchester, with "the high drama of [his] Art-for-Art's-sake Gothic" serving as "an example of historic style used freely as a medium for individual expression" (Archer 30).

Champneys also moved in literary circles. He wrote several papers on architecture, published his delightfully chatty A Quiet Corner of England: Studies of Landscape and Architecture in Winchelsea, Rye, and the Romney Marsh (1875), and also brought out the Memoirs and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore (1900), as well as writing a memoir of his mother-in-law, Adelaide Drummond (1915). — Jacqueline Banerjee


Architectural works


Archer, John H. G. "John Rylands Library." In Manchester, by Clare Hartwell. Pevsner Architectural Guides. London: Penguin, 2001. 96-101. Print.

Briggs, M.S., rev. Michael W. Brooks. "Champneys, Basil (1842-1835). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 1 August 2012.

Turnor, Reginald. Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford., 1950. Print.

Watkin, David. A History of Western Architecture. 4th ed. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2005. Print.

Last modified 24 May 2013