Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brettingham, Robert Furze

BRETTINGHAM, ROBERT FURZE (1750–1806?), architect, nephew of Matthew Brettingham the elder [q. v.], practised in London with great success, and erected many mansion houses throughout the country. Like his uncle, and in common with all students of architecture of his time, he spent a part of his early life in Italy, from which he returned in 1781. Architecture as then understood consisted in correctly imitating so-called classical models, and the skill of the architect was chiefly exercised in adapting the requirements of his patron to the hard and fast rules of his art. To gain familiarity with the latter constituted his education, and Brettingham's subsequent works, as well as the drawings which he exhibited on his return at the exhibitions of the then lately founded Royal Academy, showed that he did not neglect his opportunities in Italy. Among them may be noted in 1783 a drawing of a sepulchral chapel from the Villa Medici at Rome, in 1790 the design for a bridge which he had erected in the preceding year at Benham Place, in Berkshire, and the entrance porch of the church at Saffron Walden restored by him in 1792. In 1773 he published another edition of his uncle's 'Plans, &c. of Holkham,' also, like it, in atlas folio, 'to which are added the ceilings and chimney-pieces, and also a descriptive account of the statues, pictures, and drawings, not in the former edition.' Of the 'Descriptive Account' Brettingham was the author; but, again, the plans are ascribed to Matthew Brettingham, and Kent is ignored as in the former edition. The sudden death in 1790 of William Blackburn, the prison architect, was the opportunity of Brettingham's life, and he soon gained a lucrative practice. Blackburn left many designs incomplete, several of which Brettingham subsequently carried into execution. He erected gaols at Reading, Hertford, Poole, Downpatrick, Northampton, and elsewhere. In 1771 his name appears associated with those of the foremost architects of the time in the foundation of an 'Architects' Club,' to meet at the Thatched House Tavern to dinner on the first Thursday in every month. Among the original members of this club besides Brettingham were Sir W. Chambers, Robert Adam, John Soane, James Wyatt, and S. P. Cockerell, all of whom have made for themselves names in their profession. About this time Brettingham also held the post of resident clerk in the board of works, which he resigned in 1805. Among his chief works for private patrons are a temple in the grounds at Saffron Walden in Essex for Lord Braybrooke, and a mausoleum in Scotland for the Fraser family; Winchester House, St. James' Square, erected originally for the Duke of Leeds; 9 Berkeley Square, afterwards sold to the Marquis of Buckingham; Buckingham House, 91 Pall Mall, rebuilt in 1794 by Sir John Soane; Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square; 80 Piccadilly, for Sir Francis Burdett; Charlton, Wiltshire, for the Earl of Suffolk; Waldersham,Kent, for the Earl of Guilford; Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk, for the Hon. W. Wyndham; Longleat, Wiltshire; and Roehampton, Surrey, and Hillsborough House in Ireland, both for the Marquis of Downshire. He is also supposed by some to have designed Maidenhead Bridge, on the Thames; but this is believed to be a mistake, the authorship of that design, which was executed in 1772, being invariably ascribed by the best authorities to Sir Robert Taylor. Brettingham was held in much regard by his professional brethren, and was the esteemed master of many who have since attained eminence in the architectural profession. The exact date of his death is not known.

[Authorities given under Matthew Brettingham; publications of Architectural Society; Lysons's Magn. Brit. vol. i.; Boydell's Thames.]

G. W. B.