Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Griffith, William Pettit

676494Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 23 — Griffith, William Pettit1890Bertha Porter

GRIFFITH, WILLIAM PETTIT (1815–1884), architect and archæologist, son of John William Griffith, architect, was born 7 July 1815, at 9 St. John's Square, Clerkenwell, where his father resided for more than half a century. He was brought up to the profession of an architect, and before he was twenty was writing notes in London's ‘Architectural Magazine.’ He continued these notes, under the signature ‘Tyro, Wilmington Square,’ from 1835 to 1837, besides contributing original articles and designs in 1836. In 1839 and 1840 he exhibited architectural designs in the Royal Academy, and in 1840-1-2 water-colour drawings of fonts and portions of old churches at Hendon, Broxbourne, St. Albans, &c., in the galleries of the Society of British Artists. On 12 May 1842 he was elected F.S.A.; and between 1856 and 1858 exhibited architectural fragments in connection with his work of restoration at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell. On 29 Nov. 1860 he exhibited and described drawings, made by him from actual admeasurement in 1842, of the original Norman chancel in Great Amwell Church, since destroyed (given with plates in Proceedings Soc. Antiq. Lond.) He was elected F.R.I.B.A. 14 June 1847, and on that evening made some remarks as to ‘The Principles which guided the architects in constructing the Minsters, Cathedrals, and Churches of England.’ In 1855 he was awarded the institute silver medal for an ‘Essay on the Principles or Laws which govern the Formation of Architectural Decorations and Ornaments;’ the manuscript, illustrated by neatly executed ink and sepia drawings, is in the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects in Conduit Street. In connection with it are four sheets of drawings, ‘Classification of Mediæval Ornaments,’ and ‘Designs for Mediæval Ornaments from the Vegetable Kingdom. Arranged geometrically and conventionalised.’ At the chapter meetings of the college of the Freemasons of the Church he communicated, on 12 Aug. and 9 Sept. 1845, papers ‘On the Ancient Baptismal Fonts of England’ (drawings of nine ancient fonts which he had made in 1838-9 were engraved on one sheet by Webb & Son); on 10 Feb. 1846, ‘On the Different Kinds of Stone employed in the Edifices of Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Great Britain;’ and 13 Oct. 1846, ‘On the Hagioscope or Squint in the Ancient Parochial Churches of England.’ He was made an honorary member of the Bedfordshire Architectural Society in 1847, and read at Elstow, 25 May 1852, ‘Suggestions for a more Perfect and Beautiful Period of Gothic Architecture’ (published in pamphlet form 1855). Elected honorary member of the Liverpool Architectural Society 1849, he communicated to its meetings: 15 April 1857, ‘Proportion its Practical Application to Architecture and the Fine Arts;’ 1860, ‘Of the Resources of Design in the Natural Kingdom;’ 1863, ‘Of the Influence of Fashion in Architecture.’ At the Surrey Archæological Society he read, 30 June 1854, ‘On the Ancient Baptismal Fonts of England:’ in 1856 was made an honorary member; 12 June 1856 communicated ‘An Architectural Notice of Archbishop Whitgift's Hospital at Croydon;’ and 12 May 1858, ‘An Architectural Notice of the Nave of St. Saviour's Church, Southwark.’

Among the works executed under Griffith's superintendence are: The reparation of St. John's Church, Clerkenwell, 1845; the restoration of St. John's Gate, 1845-6; the rebuilding of the spire (1849) and the erection of a font (1851) for St. James's Church, Clerkenwell. The drawing of the font was engraved. He designed the Cherry Tree Tavern, Clerkenwell, 1852; the Goldsmiths' and Jewellers' Annuity Institution Asylum, Hackney, 1853 (the exterior view engraved); planned additions and alterations to the Clerkenwell Vestry Hall, 1857 (given in Pinks, p. 175); designed many parochial and ragged schools 1858-62; and adapted Melrose Hall, Putney Heath, for the Royal Hospital for Incurables 1864-5 (given in Builder, 1865, p. 118). He directed the erection of Messrs. Rivington's printing-office, St. John's House, Clerkenwell, 1866, and the repairs to and partial renewal of the tower and porch of the church of St. Sepulchre, Holborn, 1873; designed the House of Detention, Kingston-on-Thames; and the repairs to the tower of Kingston Church. Griffith was keenly interested in the antiquities of Clerkenwell, made a special study of the old priory of St. John of Jerusalem, and spared no pains to avert the threatened destruction of St. John's Gate, helping to raise a public subscription for its restoration. Relics of both priory and gate, some of which he brought to light, were deposited in the Architectural Museum, and at South Kensington (see Pinks, Clerkenwell, pp. 227, 228, 242, 243, 247; Illustrated London News, 1856, p. 133). A view of the gate, as restored by Griffith, is given in Pinks, p. 270. In his writings he mainly endeavoured to show that 'the geometrical proportions pervading Greek and Gothic architecture are in principle based upon nature's works' (Suggestions for a more Beautiful Period of Gothic Architecture, p. 6), and that 'by the employment of regular figures and their multiples in architecture, we always ensure an equal distribution of parts, which also exists in the vegetable kingdom' (Ancient Gothic Churches, pt. ii. p. 26). Griffith died a poor man at 3 Isledon Road, Highbury, N., 14 Sept. 1884.

He published: 1. ‘The Geometrical Proportion of Architecture,’ 1843. 2. ‘The Natural System of Architecture,’ 1845. 3. ‘Ancient Gothic Churches,’ 3 parts, 1847-8-52. 4. ‘Architectural Botany’ (extracted from part iii. of ‘Ancient Gothic Churches’), 1852. 5. ‘Suggestions for a more Perfect and Beautiful Period of Gothic Architecture,’ 1855. 6. ‘Proposed Nomenclature and Eras, forming an Index to George Godwin's Tabular History of Architecture in England,’ single card, n. d.

[Private information; authorities quoted in text; Pinks's Clerkenwell, pp. 53, 175, 178, 246, 248, 281, 319, 330, 627, 691, 692; Builder, 1847 p. 287, 1884 p. 387; Graves's Dict. of Artists; Royal Academy Catalogues, 1839-40; Catalogues of Society of British Artists, 1840-2; Proceedings Soc. Antiq. Lond. 1st ser. iii. 248, 255, iv. 206, 2nd ser. i. 259; Archæological Journal, 1846, ii. 80; Cat. of Drawings, &c. in Library of R.I.B.A.; Transactions of R.I.B.A.; Architectural Magazine, 1836, pp. 496, 562, 563, 564, 565; Proceedings of Coll. of Freemasons of the Church, pp. 23, 25, 27, 36, 62; Associated Architectural Societies' Reports and Papers, iii. 151; Transactions of Surrey Archæological Society, 1854-5, vol. i. pt. i. p. xv; Times, 16 Sept. 1884, p. 1; Cat. of Library of R.I.B.A.; Brit. Mus. Cat. of Printed Books.]

B. P.