Birch, George Henry (DNB12)

BIRCH, GEORGE HENRY (1842–1904), architect and archaeologist, fourth son of Charles Birch by his wife Emma Eliza Cope, was born at Canonbury on 2 Jan. 1842, and educated at Darnell's private school, Islington. At the age of sixteen he was articled to Charles Gray, architect, and was afterwards (about 1859-60) with an architect in Worcester, and then with Sir M. Digby Wyatt and Mr. Ewan Christian. For a tune in active practice as an architect (in Chancery Lane and in Devereux Court, Temple), he designed amongst other works the interior of Acton Reynald Hall, Shrewsbury, for Sir Walter Corbet, baronet, and in 1884 the scheme of redecoration for the church of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey, London. For several years he devoted much of his leisure to the re-arrangement of J. E. Gardner's well-known collection illustrating the topographical history of London (now the property of Major Coates). In 1884 he designed for the Health Exhibition at South Kensington the picturesque and accurate Old London street, the first attempt ever made to reproduce old London on such a scale. His original water-colour drawing of the street was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1886. The street itself, with its church tower, gates, wall, &c., cost nearly 14,000l., and contained shops of the Elizabethan period fitted up at the expense of the City Livery Companies (Welch, Mod. Hist. of the City of London, p. 367). It formed a highly popular exhibit, and was afterwards shown in America.

Elected an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1875, Birch served as vice-president of the Architectural Association from 1871 to 1873, and as president in 1874-5; was hon. secretary of the London and Middlesex Archæological Society from 1877 to 1883, and Cantor lecturer to the Society of Arts in 1883. He became F.S.A. in 1885, and in 1894 was appointed curator of Sir John Soane's Museum. For many years he took a leading part in the affairs of the St. Paul's Ecclesiological Society, many papers by him being printed in its 'Transactions.' He was one of the original members of the Architectural Company, formed in 1869, of the Artists' Volunteer Corps. Birch is best known as an author by his 'London Churches of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,' a splendid folio published in 1896. He also published: 1. 'Illustrations of an Old House in Lime Street' (with R. Phenè Spiers), folio, 1875. 2. 'London on Thames in bygone Days,' 1903.

Birch died unmarried on 10 May 1904, at Soane's Museum, and was buried in Islington cemetery, Finchley.

[Builder, 17 May 1884, 21 May 1904; Journal of Royal Inst. of Brit. Arch., ser. 3, xi. 396-7; Proc. Soc. Antiq., series 2, xx. 296-7; private information.]

C. W.