Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Chamberlain, John Henry

CHAMBERLAIN, JOHN HENRY (1881–1883), architect, son of Rev. Joseph Chamberlain, minister at Leicester of a congregation of Calvinistic baptists, was born at Leicester on 26 June 1831 and educated at schools in that town and in London. At an early age he was articled to Mr. Henry Goddard, an architect of some note in Leicester, with whom he remained for several years. On the completion of his articles there was a brief interval of further study spent in a London office, and than he received the impulse which, for the rest of his life, governed his own course in his art. He became an ardent student of the works of Ruskin, and was led to visit Venice and other Italian cities, where he made careful drawings of the monuments of early Gothic architecture. Returning to England in 1856 he settled at Birmingham, and in the erection of warehouses and residences endeavoured to effect an improvement in the style of the buildings.

Not long after this he entered into a partnership with his lifelong friend, William Harris, but this being dissolved, he resumed practice on his own account. For a considerable time his prospects were not favourable. His chief works at this period were the Hollings Memorial Column at Leicester, and the Wesleyan Chapel in Essington Street. About 1859 he attracted the notice and the friendship of George William, fourth baron Lyttelton, for whom he executed various works. In 1864, while the hopes of any real success in his profession were still very remote, a partnership was, through the intervention of friends, arranged between him and Mr. William Martin, who had much work in hand for the corporation and for other public bodies. It was a happy arrangement, for whilst Martin was gifted with skill in planning and constructing, Chamberlain possessed the higher artistic faculty of design. Among the most important buildings with which, in conjunction with his partner, he adorned Birmingham, were the Institute Buildings in Paradise Street and the Free Libraries in Edmund Street. In the buildings erected for the waterwork department, both in Birmingham and at the reservoirs at Whitacre, he proved how beauty and utility may be combined. In the line of business edifices which distinguish Corporation Street, Birmingham, he set an example of an improvement in street architecture which has since been extensively imitated. The further mention of various private residences, several churches, and thirty board schools will not exhaust the list of his undertakings. He likewise possessed great skill in designing stained glass, metal-work in iron and brass, and domestic furniture. One great event of his life was his appointment on the council of the Midland Institute in January 1867. In the following year he consented to become honorary secretary to the council, and this office he held, without interruption, to the day of his death. When he undertook the management of the institute there were only a few hundred students, but through his incessant labour in developing the classes the number was advanced to four thousand. In regard to the school of art his work was not less eminent; being appointed chairman in February 1874, the school, under his fostering care, rapidly advanced in magnitude and influence. The Society of Artists was another organisation which engaged his special attention; he was elected a member in March 1861 and was appointed professor of architecture, and in 1879 became vice-president. For some years, while the arts department of the Queen's College was in existence, he was professor of architecture there; he was one of the founders and one of the honorary secretaries of the Shakespeare Memorial Library; for some years he sat on the committee of the old library in Union Street; he was an original member of the Shakespeare Club; he was chosen by Mr, Buskin one of the trustees of the St. George's Guild; and finally, in 1880, he was nominated one of the justices of the borough. On 22 Oct. 1883 he delivered a lecture on exotic art at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, and died very suddenly of heart disease later in the day. He was buried in the Birmingham cemetery on 27 Oct. He married in 1869 a daughter of Rev. George Abrahams.

[The Architect, 27 Oct., 3 and 10 Nov. 1883; Times, 23, 24, and 29 Oct. 1883.]

G. C. B.