Walter Richmond Butler: an English arts and crafts architect in Australia
AffiliationArchitecture, Building and Planning
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
CitationsPlace, K. (2002). Walter Richmond Butler: an English arts and crafts architect in Australia. Masters Research thesis, Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOnly available to University of Melbourne staff and students, login required
© 2002 Katrina Place
Walter Richmond Butler was one of a generation of English architects who were trained in an era when the Anglo-Catholic architectural philosophies of A. W. N. Pugin and the moral aesthetic ideals of John Ruskin were still severed and the might of the industrial age was scorned. Architecture was inspired by the theories of the Arts and Crafts and buildings were intended to be wholly suitable and respectful of their situation, yet remain idiosyncratic, inventive, adventurous and original. Properly designed, an Arts and Crafts building sat comfortably in its environment, whilst being comfortable to live in and beautiful to look at. In all ways, it was meant to touch the soul of mankind. For English architects Arts and Crafts was about embracing their Englishness, but for Australian architects it was more complex. Melbourne architects, who sometimes behaved in a manner more British than those in the 'Old Country', had no (acceptable) local vernacular to avail themselves of and only a small number of architects - Rodney Alsop, Harold Desbrowe Annear, Robert Haddon, Walter R. Butler – stood out from the many who only seemed capable of designing one Melbourne ‘Queen Anne' building after another. Throughout his life there were two men that Butler admired and respected above all others: architects John Dando Sedding and W. R. Lethaby. Sedding was a highly passionate, dedicated and influential architect and Butler served as his Chief Assistant for three years before he migrated to Melbourne in 1888. Sedding was primarily concerned with church architecture and this was ref1ected in Butler's career: his most refined, eclectic and spiritual buildings were erected for the church. Lethaby was Butler's contemporary but Butler always held him in high esteem. Lethaby and Butler had trained with the same architect in Devon (albeit at different times) and both ended up working in London: Lethaby was Chief Assistant for Richard Norman Shaw when Butler filled the same position with Sedding. The two were close friends and. along with Ernest Gimson, Sidney and Ernest Barnsley and Robert Weir Schultz, formed an important group of friends. They would remain an inf1uence on each other throughout their careers. The friendship between Butler, Lethaby, Cimson, Schultz and the Barnsleys formed a key coterie in the London Arts and Crafts movement. These men were passionate Socialists and architectural theorists. They worked and socialized together, travelled throughout England and Europe and moulded and refined each other's theoretical understanding of architecture. The career of each man was profoundly affected by this period of their lives. Interestingly, of the six, only two remained dedicated architects: Butler and Schultz. Lethaby became an architectural theorist and educator, whilst Gimson and the two Barnsley brothers focussed on furniture manufacture. The inherent difficulties that Arts and Crafts architects faced combining practice and theory were evident in the professional direction that each man took. Butler migrated to Australia in 1888. In Melbourne he was able to establish a successful practice, which catered for wealthy and exclusive clientele, in a relatively short period of time. He had become one of Melbourne's leading architects within ten years of arriving in Australia, attracting large commissions, dominated by houses for wealthy Victorian pastoralists and industrialists. His buildings were all influenced to varying degrees by Arts and Crafts theory and throughout his career he was constantly seeking a balance, both between Arts and Crafts theory and stylistic realization and also between his Socialist beliefs and working for his largely capitalist clientele. Butler's career was profoundly affected by World War I. The architectural profession had changed, as did the type of commissions, and the scale of commissions, that were available. More importantly, Butler's career changed because of the death of his son Howard, who was killed in June 19I8, only months before the Armistice. Much of the work completed by Butler's firm, which still attracted a sizable number of commissions, appeared to have been designed by his partners from this time. Walter R. Butler was an important and influential member of the Arts and Crafts movement in Australia; he was the most direct link back to the English movement with which he had been so close. 'However, rather than adapting his theories to suit local conditions, as Arts and Crafts theory would dictate, stylistically his work was derived from the picturesque, and Old English and ‘Queen Anne’ buildings as practised by Richard Norman Shaw. Butler remained at all times an English Arts and Crafts architect in Australia.
KeywordsWalter Richmond Butler; architects; Australia
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