Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Woodward, Benjamin

WOODWARD, BENJAMIN (1815–1861), architect, of Irish birth, was articled to a civil engineer, but his interest in mediaeval art led him to take up architecture as his professional work. In 1846 he was associated with Sir Thomas Deane [q. v.] in building Queen's College, Cork, which was finished in 1848. Their next joint work was Killarney lunatic asylum. Both buildings were in the late Gothic style. In 1853 Woodward entered into partnership with Deane and his son (Sir) Thomas Newenham Deane [q. v. Suppl.], and settled in Dublin, where the new library of Trinity College was built from their designs in Venetian style, 1853-7. In this building the influence of Ruskin on Woodward, his ardent admirer, was already apparent; the experiment was made of leaving sculptural details to the taste of individual workmen, who copied natural foliage in an unconventional style.

This attempt to revive freedom of design in the craftsman, in the spirit of mediæval Gothic art, was carried still further, under Ruskin's direct supervision, in the next important work of the firm, the Oxford Museum, with which Woodward's name is especially connected. A competition between Palladian and Gothic designs was decided in 1854 in favour of Deane and Woodward, whose design had been selected, with one in Renaissance style by Barry, from the work of thirty-two anonymous contributors. Their task was a difficult one, as the sum of 30,000l. voted by the university for the erection of the shell of the building was inadequate for the purpose; most of the ornament subsequently added was the gift of private individuals. The foundation-stone was laid on 20 June 1855, and the building was mainly completed by 1858; many details, however, remain unfinished. The museum is in thirteenth century Gothic style, strongly influenced by Venetian architecture; the form of the chemical laboratory at the south end of the building was suggested by the abbots' kitchen at Glastonbury. A fine series of shafts in the interior illustrate the principal geological formations of the British islands, while their capitals and the corbels which support statues of men of science are carved with a selection of plants typical of the British flora. The details of these carvings were left to the taste of the craftsmen, the most skilful of whom were a family of the name of O'Shea, whom Woodward brought with him from Dublin. The same idea was carried out in the wrought-iron decoration, by Skidmore, which was freely employed in the interior. Some details of window tracery and other ornament were also designed by the workmen themselves. The experiment, though interesting as one of the earliest attempts to revive the spirit of mediaeval architecture as distinguished from mere correctness in copying detail, was not altogether successful; the museum set the unfortunate example of imitating the palaces of Venice and Verona in the uncongenial surroundings of English streets.

Woodward spent half of each year at Oxford during the building of the museum; he enjoyed the cordial friendship of Ruskin and Sir Henry Wentworth Acland, and was intimate with the younger group of ‘pre-Raphaelites’ under the influence of Rossetti, of whom Morris and Burne-Jones were the leaders. In 1857, while engaged in building the debating-hall, now the library, of the Union Society, he gave his sanction to the unlucky experiment made by Rossetti and six of his friends of decorating the ceiling and the wall space above the book-shelves with paintings in tempera. In that year Deane and Woodward competed for the new government offices in Whitehall and Downing Street, and their design for the foreign office obtained the fourth premium, standing second among the Gothic designs, none of which were ultimately adopted. The last work of the firm was the Kildare Street club at Dublin, finished in 1861. In 1860 Woodward fell a victim to consumption; he spent the winter months at Hyères in the vain hope of regaining health, but died at Lyons on his return journey on 15 May 1861, in his forty-sixth year.

He contributed some sketches to an early volume of the 'Builder,' xix. 436. A medallion portrait of Woodward by Alexander Munro [q. v.], one of the sculptors of the portrait statues in the Oxford Museum, is in the Radclitfe library at Oxford.

[Dublin Builder, 1 July 1861, p. 563; Mackail's Life of William Morris, i. 117–26; Collingwood's Life of Ruskin, pp. 176–7; Tuckwell's Reminiscences of Oxford, pp. 48–50, with portrait of Woodward; Acland and Ruskin's Oxford Museum, 1859, with additions, 1893; Dict. of Architecture.]

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