Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Davis, Charles Edward

DAVIS, CHARLES EDWARD (1827–1902), architect and antiquary, born near Bath on 29 Aug. 1827, was son of Edward Davis by his wife Dorothy (widow of Captain Johnston of the Madras cavalry), whose maiden name was Walker. The father, an architect of Bath, had been a pupil of Sir John Soane [q. v.], restored Prior Bird's Chantry in Bath Abbey, the 'Gothic ornaments' of which he described in a volume (1834), designed several houses, and laid out the Victoria Park at Bath, opened in 1830. Charles Edward began the study of architecture as his father's pupil, and in 1863, having recently won a competition for the cemetery buildings on the lower Bristol Road, was appointed city architect and surveyor to the corporation of Bath. He held these offices for forty years. In 1863 he designed an escritoire, Bath's wedding gift to Queen Alexandra, presented in 1869 and costing 700l. Davis carefully examined the mineral baths from both the antiquarian and the therapeutic points of view, with important results. Exploring in 1869 the site of the hot springs of the old King's bath, he found extensive remains of Roman thermal work and published a descriptive account. In 1877-8 he was successful in exposing the Roman well beneath the King's bath. This discovery was foreshadowed by Alexander Sutherland, M.D. ('An attempt to ascertain and extend the virtues of Bath and Bristol waters, &c.,' 2nd edit. 1764), who followed the researches made by Dr. Lucas in 1755 (cf. R. E. M. Peach, Bath Old and New, pp. 35-6). In 1880-1 Davis found the Great bath and in 1884-6 the Circular bath, both Roman. With a view to collecting information on the nature and management of spas, Davis in 1885 made a tour of the chief continental springs. He applied his knowledge to various improvements at Bath, and was consulted by English corporations owning natural baths, such as Harrogate and Droitwich.

The old Queen's bath, constructed in 1597 and named after Anne, wife of James I, was removed in the course of the Roman discoveries of 1885. Davis's principal original design in connection with the baths was the new Queen's bath, begun in 1886, completed in 1889, and costing something less than the contract piece of 20,000l. This work and the incidental restoration met with criticism on structural as well as archaeological grounds. Reports were made on behalf of the Society of Antiquaries by Professor J. H. Middleton [q. v. Suppl. I] and Mr. W. H. St. John Hope. Controversy in Bath grew warm, and an independent opinion was sought from Alfred Waterhouse, R.A. [q. v. Suppl. II], whose report, dated 14 Jan. 1887, decided (1) that the new works though somewhat slender in construction were not such as to cause apprehension on grounds of stability; (2) that on the whole Davis had judiciously compromised between the utility of the baths and their antiquarian value. Difficulties with the corporation regarding his official duties led in 1900 to the transfer to another of the supervision of the corporate property. But the baths and the provision markets were left in Davis's charge at a fixed salary of 400l.

Besides his work for the corporation Davis had an extensive private practice. He designed the church of St. Peter and schools at Twerton, restored several churches, including Northstoke (1888) and that of St. Thomas a Becket at Widcombe, and was architect of the Imperial Hotel, Bath, opened in 1901 and costing 50,000l. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1850, and published 'Mineral Baths of Bath; the Bath of Bathes Ayde in the Reign of Charles II' (4to, Bath, 1883), besides several pamphlets on the same subject. The rank of major by which Davis was generally designated was due to his commission in the Worcestershire militia; he had also been a member of the Bath volunteer rifles.

Davis died at his residence, Bathwick Hill, on 10 May 1902. He married in 1858 Selina Anne, eldest daughter of Captain Howarth, who survived him without issue. A portrait by Leonard Skeates is in the Grand Pump Room at Bath.

[Builder, 1902, lxxxii. 504; Building News, lxxxiii. 696; Bath Herald, 10 and 12 May 1902; Keene's Bath Journal, 17 May 1902; Peach, Bath Old and New.]

P. W.