Edward William Godwin (1835-1886) was born in Bristol, the son of a prosperous currier and leather cutter; after being educated at Exton School, Highbury, London, he returned to Bristol and was articled to William Armstrong, City Surveyor, Architect and Civil Engineer -- with the emphasis very much on the "engineer." So little was known of architecture in this office that Godwin was largely self-tought and become responsible for the architectural commissions undertaken by the office at an unusually early age.

Indignant at the lack of recognition paid to his part in this work, in 1854 he set up his own practice and after a slow and not very promising start he won the competition for the design for Northampton Town Hall in 1861. The time when little work had been forthcoming had been profitably employed in making the acquaintance of William Burges and studying and analysing Ruskin's Stones of Venice. Godwin's early designs are predictably in the neo-Gothic style, with all the furniture and fittings designed to match. The designs for Congleton Town Hall, Dromore Castle, Glenbegh Towers and the additions to Castle Ashby are all inspired by the European Gothic tradition.

For many years he had shown a marked preference for the Japanese style in his own surroundings, and this preference began to surface in his pattern designing, one critic remarking of a wallpaper for Jeffrey & Co. "Mr Godwin has gone beyond most people's notions of the boundaries of civilisation and has added Japan". The style of furniture which he designed for Dromore Castle and his own use from 1867 and which was produced later by William Watt and Collinson & Lock also emphasises this taste the phrase Anglo-Japanese style was coined to describe it. Godwin started designing furniture for the same reason as William Morris; his own words are almost an echo of Morris' nearly ten years earlier

When I came to furniture I found that hardly anything could be bought ready-made that was at all suitable to the requirements of the case. l therefore set to work and designed a lot of furniture and with a desire for economy directed it to be made of deal ebonised".

In the last ten years of his life Godwin designed some of his most revolutionary buildings as well as the most utilitarion, The White House in Chelsea for Whistler and houses in Bedford Park; the new entrance for The Fine Art Society and some cottoges at Moorgreen for Earl Cowper. — Architect-Designers from Pugin to Mackintosh.

By the late 1860s he became increasingly influenced by Japanese deslgn and during his affair with Ellen Terry, the actress, he became involved in costume and stage design for the theatre. In 1884 he designed Modern dress for Liberty & Co. His most famous client was probably Oscar Wilde, but he was also responsible for James McNeill Whistler's controversial White House in Tite Street, Chelsea. Godwin sold his designs for furniture to numerous companies, his wallpape deslgns were made by Jeffrey and Co. and fabrics by Warner & Ramm and J. W. & C. Ward. He also designed metalwork and tiles, wrote articles on Japanese culture, Saxon and Celtic architecture and contemporary issues in the architectural press. In 1881 he designed the entrance to The Fine Art Society and in the same year redecorated the gallery for Whistler's sensational exhibition of Venice pastels.<— Arts & Crafts Textiles in Britain.

Further reading

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Last modified 7 November 2006