Devey Collection

Ref: MS 281

Title: Devey Collection

Drawings and photographs relating to the work of the architect George Devey (1820-1886)
Dates: c.1856-1886
Level: Fonds
Extent: 1 box plus one volume
Name of creator: George Devey

Administrative / biographical history:

The collection is in two sections: the first, consisting of 95 loose but numbered items which are chiefly a selection of drawings in pencil, watercolour, and, in a few cases, ink, but also including some photographs, and the second, an album into which have been pasted 135 items which are almost all photographs but which also include some pencil sketches. The drawings are the work of the 19th century architect George Devey, and the photographs are of buildings on which he worked, or, in a few other cases, which he recorded out of interest - these Victorian photographs are of considerable interest in themselves, though it is not currently known whether any are his own work or whether they were all created on his instructions. Devey took a great interest in the progress of the building of his designs, and habitually had them photographed whilst under construction as well as after completion. In this collection he may be seen, in a somewhat theatrical pose, on one photograph during building at Coombe Warren.

The documents were presented to the University of Sheffield Library towards the end of 1914, and an article by W.S. Purchon, MA, ARIBA, Head of the Department of Architecture at Sheffield in the Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects for December 1914 relates how they were donated by James Williams, Devey's former partner in the firm of Devey & Williams, who had first joined the firm in 1870 and who became a partner in 1876. Also noted is the fact that a larger collection of drawings had previously been donated to the RIBA. In 1991 Dr Jill Allibone published her account of the life and work of the architect under the title George Devey, architect, 1820-1886, but, it seems, without knowledge of the existence of this Sheffield collection.

George Devey (1820-1886), FRIBA, was born into the family of a Holborn, London solicitor on 23 February 1820, and was educated at the King's College School. On leaving in 1835 he is said to have shown an interest in becoming a painter, but in 1837 was placed as a pupil with the practice of an architect, Thomas Little, where he developed his skill in draughtsmanship. His ability as an artist was demonstrated in the 1840s when some of his paintings were hung in the Royal Academy, and he also contributed to work for which Little won awards. He remained with Little until 1846, the work of the practice being principally in the then fashionable Gothic Revival style.

In 1846 Devey undertook a Continental tour with Coutts Stone, another of Little's pupils (and the father of the architect Percy Stone), visiting Belgium, Germany, Italy and Greece, the following year showing his pictures 'Arch of Titus, Rome &c.' and in 1848 'On the Acropolis, Athens, 1846' at the Royal Academy. Devey had now set up in practice on his own account in London, at 16 Great Marlborough Street, though he continued to work for Little on a part-time basis. But at some point he developed, as a result of close observation of the traditional vernacular buildings and materials in the Weald of Kent, an innovatory 'cottage' style of domestic architecture based on timber-framed structures, featuring distinctive gables, often with a jettied upper storey, high-pitched roofs and tall chimney stacks, and using traditional materials of timber, brick and tile, all of which could be applied as might be appropriate to cottages, lodges or substantial houses. He also made use of the Dutch, or Flemish, gable, a feature of the architecture of Eastern England imported from the Continent, typically in some of his later London town work, as at Lennox Gardens and Cadogan Square. His new style would influence younger architects such as Norman Shaw, William Eden Nesfield and Philip Webb well into the following century, though Devey's name is less well known, probably because his work was carried out almost entirely for private employers who tended to shun publicity. Although initially his practice found work slow in coming, in 1848 he won the first of two important commissions from influential landowners in Kent, the first from Philip Sidney, 1st Baron De L'Isle and Dudley, for whom he undertook restoration and additions to a group of cottages in Leicester Square, the area around the churchyard at Penshurst, and the second in 1850, from Lieut. General Sir Henry Hardinge, owner of South Park, for whom he worked on enlargements and improvements at South Park Farm.

His work at Penshurst led to employment in the rebuilding of the palatial Penshurst Place on behalf of the 2nd Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, Sir Philip Sidney, work which continued from 1851 until 1870. Another notable commission in Kent was for additions and alterations at Betteshanger House for Sir Walter James, Bart. (later 1st Baron Northbourne). The rebuilding of this large house was begun in 1856 and, as at Penshurst Place, work continued for many years.

Whatever Devey's own political leanings may have been many of his clients were to be prominent Liberal politicians or their relatives, including serving and former MPs, and aristocrats, such as the Duke of Sutherland, for whom he worked on all four Sutherland estates at Cliveden, Bucks., Trentham, Staffs., Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland and Lilleshall, Staffs, designing and improving estate cottages, farm buildings and lodges. In Scotland he also undertook work for Anne, Countess of Cromartie (who was also the 3rd Duchess of Sutherland), producing a complete town plan for the projected development of a Spa at Strathpeffer, Ross and Cromarty.

In 1866 he was employed in the building of a large new country house for Charles Pilgrim at Akeley Wood, Bucks, followed by additions and improvements to old houses for other clients, as at Wilcote House, Oxon., Zeals House, Wilts., and Brantingham Thorpe, Yorks., the last of which the Prince of Wales used on his visits to the newly-opened Doncaster Racecourse. Edward Baring, a financier, and also a former Liberal MP, employed Devey at Coombe Warren and Coombe Cottage, Kingston-upon-Thames, in the 1860s, and, as the 2nd Baron Wolverton, employed him also on extensive later works at Warren House after purchasing it in 1880. Notable commissions were carried out for members of the wealthy Rothschild family in Buckinghamshire, such as extensions to Aston Clinton and Ascott House at Wing, and work was also carried out at Walmer Castle, Kent, for Earl Granville, for whom Devey also worked on town houses in London.

Thus by the 1870s Devey's practice was flourishing, and his work was extensive. The mansion Hall Place at Leigh, Kent, was built for another former Liberal MP, Samuel Morley, and another, Devey's largest house, Goldings, Hertford, for Robert Smith, grandson of a Liberal M.P.. His many other commissions included work at Smithills Hall at Bolton, Lancs., Sudbury Hall, Derbys., Denne Hill, Kent, Broomford Manor, Devon, Ashfold, Sussex, St. Alban's Court, Kent, and Swaylands, at Penshurst, Kent. In Ireland extensive building was undertaken at Killarney House in Kerry. An ambitious scheme was the development of the Spencer Estate near Northampton for Earl Spencer, where a suburban housing development was intended, and planned by Devey in a variety of designs, but which for economic reasons had to be abandoned in favour of terrace housing. Towards the end of Devey's career work continued on additions to country estate buildings, his last commission for a new country mansion being at Longwood, Hants., where work continued from 1879 until 1883. Also in the 1880s new mansions were built and older ones improved for clients in fashionable areas of central London, such as Belgrave Square, Carlton House Terrace and Lennox Gardens.

Perhaps weakened by overwork, Devey died at Hastings from pneumonia on 4th November 1886.

[Notes based on: entry in the Dictionary of National Biography; W.S. Purchon. 'University of Sheffield Collection of George Devey's Drawings', Journal of the R.I.B.A., 5 December 1914; W.H. Godfrey. George Devey, F.R.I.B.A., Journal of the R.I.B.A., 3rd Series, Vol XIII, No. 19, repr 1906; Jill Allibone. George Devey, architect, 1820-1886, Cambridge, Lutterworth Press, 1991]

  • Related collections: None
  • Source: Donated by James Williams, 1914
  • System of arrangement: In 2 sections, as received
  • Subjects: Architects - Great Britain - 19th c. Architectural drawings - Great Britain - 19th c.; Architectural photography - Great Britain - 19th c.
  • Names: Williams, James (fl. 1900)
  • Conditions of access: Available to all researchers, by appointment
  • Restrictions: None
  • Copyright: University of Sheffield
  • Finding aids: Listed
  • Existence of copies: Copies of some photographs exist elsewhere, e.g. RIBA Devey Collection
  • Associated material: RIBA Devey Collection, and elsewhere