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Summary from Macmillan Encylopaedia of Architects

John Bentley was the son of a Doncaster wine-merchant and became an architect. 
He designed Westminster Cathedral

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From R.Stenning Notes


43 Old Town Road 1876-9 Blue Plaque put on in Dec 1950

John and Winefride buried at St Mary Magdeline Mortlake  Win died 11 sept 1967 Aged 92

 Bentley was not only Cardinal Manrings personal choice but the choise of other Architects – had been building Victorian gothic – Toured Italy Nov 1984 – March 1895




Taken from Macmillan Encyclopaedia of Architects 1982

John Francis Bentley (1839-1902) was an English architect and designer whose career spanned the High Victorian and early Edwardian periods. Al­though he is generally considered a mediocre tal­ent, he was the most important Roman Catholic architect in England in the late nineteenth century and a key figure in the evolution of an English Roman Catholic architectural style. Born in Don­caster, England, in 1839, he was apprenticed, against his will, to a firm of mechanical engineers in Manchester. In 1857, he joined the office of the Gothic Revival architect Henry Clutton (1819-1893), a Roman Catholic convert.


 Bentley.  Westminster Cathedral. London. 1895-1902

 In 1862, Bentley himself converted to Roman Catholicism.

Although trained initially in the Gothic by Clutton and inclined toward it by disposition, Bentley commanded a remarkable variety of archi­tectural styles: Italian, French, Dutch, and English Renaissance as well as the various Gothic styles. A peculiar mixture of Italian Renaissance and Gothic may be seen in an early work, the house for Na­thaniel Westlake (1863). Another work, Saint John’s Beaumont (1887-1888), a Roman Catholic boys’ school, combines Dutch and French Renais­sance in a way that recalls the work of R. Norman Shaw.

Of Bentley’s works, his contemporaries most admired the Church of the Holy Rood, Watford (1883-1890). Sited on a corner, its asymmetrical tower and Bath stone banding suggest a jagged Butterfieldian (see William Butterfield) Gothic building, but the surface of flint stones and the modest perpendicular tracery modify the effect, giving a softer tone.

Undoubtedly Bentley’s major work is West­minster Cathedral, London, begun in 1895 and left incomplete on his death in 1902. In fact, the inte­rior is still unfinished and decorative tesserae for the upper levels of the nave remain piled in the triforium area. The history of the cathedral begins with the Reform Act of 1829, which gave English Roman Catholics their civil rights. In 1850, the decision to create a new diocese of Westminster in central London provoked anti-Catholic riots. When the second archbishop of Westminster, Car­dinal H. E. Manning, finally purchased some land, Clutton was selected to design the new cathedral, and he produced, in 1875, a creditable if somewhat bland Gothic design. In 1883, the site was changed, and Manning’s successor, Cardinal Her­bert Vaughan, deciding that a new design and a new architect were needed, selected Bentley. Vaughan determined the style of the new cathe­dral, which combined the styles of the cathedrals of Sant’ Ambrogio in Milan, San Vitale in Ra­venna, and San Marco in Venice. The cathedral also reflects elements of Byzantine architecture, as well as English and French Renaissance decorative elements.

In a sense, more important than the style adopted—clearly a heterogeneous mixture of east­ern and western styles—is the style that was not selected. It was considered essential that the cathe­dral not compete with the Gothic of Westminster Abbey or the Gothic Revival of the Houses of Par­liament just down the road. Originally hidden behind the stores along Victoria Street, the cathe­dral has recently been exposed by the creation of a small piazza in front.

Bentley was a nervous and somewhat insecure man. His death in 1902 was hastened, so it was said, by anxiety over the stability of the vaults of the Cathedral.

Nicholas Adams


1861, Church of St. Francis of Assisi (begun by Henry Clutton); 1863, Nathaniel Westlake House; 1871, Dis­tillery, Finsbury; 1875-1888, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Hammersmith; London. 1883-1890, Church of the Holy Rood, Watford, England. 1887-1888, Saint John’s School, Beaumont, Old Windsor, England. 1891-1893, Redemptorist Monastery; 1895-1902, Westminster Cathedral; London.


Lethaby, W. R., and Swainson, Harold 1894 The Church of Sancta Sophia Constantinople: 
A Study of Byzantine Building.
London: Macmillan. The source for much of the description of the Byzantine ornament of Westminster Cathedral.

L’Hopital, Winefride de 1919 Westminster Cathe­dral and Its Architect. London: Hutchinson.

Vaughan, Herbert A. 1942 Letters of Herbert Cardi­nal Vaughan to Lady Herbert of Lea, 1867 to 1903. Edited by Shane Leslie. London: Burns.

Victoria and Albert Museum 1971 Victorian Church Art. London: The Museum. Catalogue for an exhibit held at the Museum between November 1971 and January 1972.

From the Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects 27 July 1902  p 437-441



THE death of Mr. John Francis Bentley on the 2nd March, from paralysis, was painful to all who knew him, the more so as it was sudden. To these and to the profession at large, his death caused a significant void, for it was confidently anticipated that 011 the following Monday, the 3rd March, the Institute would have confirmed the nomination of the deceased architect, and presented his name as worthy of receiving the Royal Gold Medal as a distinction due to his executed works. Instead of this gratifying office, it was only possible for the President, in his remarks to the Meeting upon the most melancholy occurrence in the annals of the Institute, to express the regrets, the dismay almost, that would occupy the minds of his professional brothers on learning that one deemed so happy in their approbation had but the very day before passed out of life.

Mr. Bentley was born at Doncaster in January 1839. A third son, one of a large family, he displayed resolution and talent in his boyhood. A model by him of the grand parish church (burnt in February 1853) is a proof of his early devotion and untiring energy in every pursuit; it was mainly from recollection. He had been allowed the run ” of the Clerk of the Works’ office at the rebuilding, and to study the excellent drawings which issued from Mr. Scott’s office. By. assisting to set out work, valuable knowledge came rapidly. When but sixteen he acted voluntarily as clerk of works on the restoration of Loversall Church, and upon a difficulty in having some wood-carving done, he put his hand to the gouge and himself executed it.

His father, distrusting fine art as a career for his promising son, desired to place him as a pupil in mechanical engineering, and was in correspondence with Messrs. Hawthorn & Co., also with Messrs. Sharpe, Stewart & Co., of Manchester, and young Bentley seems to have begun a probation in the workshops of the latter firm, and for a short period to have donned the “ moleskin ” suit proper to the calling. In 1855 it was arranged that he should learn building at the establishment of Messrs. Winsland & Holland in London, where his father placed him in August of that year. His employers much appreciated and trusted their pupil, who showed marked aptitude in business during the three years he stayed. His father having died late in 1856, it was by the friendly advice of Mr. Richard Holland, who perceived evidence of rare talent in him, that Bentley entered the office of the late Mr. Henry Clutton, 111 the spring of 1858, and took an active part in the design of churches, mansions, and various works forming part of an extensive and highly-connected practice.

Mr. Clutton was a convert to the Catholic faith, and certain ecclesiastical buildings were from his designs; so here it may be conjectured Bentley became in a degree familiar with the externals of that worship, one of the last works he was engaged upon being the sedilia and the Sacred Heart chapel at the well-known Farm Street Church of the Jesuits. Before the end of 1861 he was received into the Catholic Church.

Seven years having been spent in London, the ambition to be independent and to enter into practice was strong, and although Mr. Clutton made overtures of a share in his business,

Bentley declined an assured income, and in May 1862 was established in chambers ;n Southampton Street, Covent Garden, on his own account, with moderate prospects, still not without active friends, and possessed of more constructive knowledge than most of his year- and of an inventive talent even then obvious. These seven years had been a time of incessant application; his after hours were spent often at the Architectural Museum in modelling sketching, and in original designs.

The Rev. H. A. Rawes, of St. Francis’ Church, Notting Hill, was, at this anxious period of life when patrons were rare, a true friend in his appreciation and assistance. For him Bentley designed the font and baptistery and porch of St. Francis. The altar of St. John with paintings by his friend Mr. N. H. J. Westlake, was from his design and much praised. Later the high altar was designed by him.

He designed works for the great Exhibition in London in 1862, also a stained glass window for the Paris Exhibition in 1867. Commissions for works of -domestic and ecclesi­astical character flowed in, and a manifest talent for design in subsidiary art (including stained glass, goldsmiths’, as well as brass and iron work, at times embroidery and painted decoration) brought much employment.

During all these earlier years, as friends acknowledged, no one could have been more painstaking and industrious; and to those who know how inadequate is the emolument upon small commissions, the expenditure in thought and labour appears exacting in a high degree. A friend, on calling after work hours, would find him still at his desk, and learn that he had not set foot out of doors the entire day—too sedentary a habit, it may be feared, for a con­stitution never robust.

By degrees larger works came in the way, some commercial premises and a house at Sydenham for W. Sutton, Esq., besides a number of. ecclesiastical works, the chapel aan additions at Taunton Convent among them. In 1866 the adaptation of an old Sussex house at Heron’s Ghyll, for Mr. Coventry Patmore, was successful in the reality and quietness (if its style.

An altar and lofty reredos of alabaster for St. Charles’ Church, Ogle Street, attracted deserved attention. It contained a set of well studied and beautiful paintings by Mr. N.H. J. Westlake, executed on slate. The result of using polished alabaster, from which the accumu­lation of our atmosphere could easily be removed, is scarcely successful. As to the paintings so justly admired, an ignorant “ decorator ” has long ago, alas I touched and spoilt them with his varnish.

In these works the sound practical training of early days was realised, and, junior as he was, his construction and detail showed that nothing was left to the discretion of the builder, the surveyor, or still more of the clerk of the works ; for not only the design but it- method of execution was equally thought out and rigidly carried into effect. At all times constructive or ornamental detail met with studious attention : the joinery of a deal door equally with that of a screen or an organ-case.

In common with some intimate friends, Mr. Bentley, although solicited, invariably refused to submit a design in competition, regarding the system as unreasonable theoretically while in effect misleading as to the discovery of true merit or inventive power, and positively hurtful when estimated cost and actual expenditure come to be taken into account.

The Seminary building at Hammersmith (1868-70), though now built up to by common place schools, is marked by a thorough fitness to its purpose and quiet dignity, with scarce an exception unaccompanied by ornament, such as the continuation of our old English style is apt to suffer from. On its completion it secured admiration in high quarters was classed as its author’s best work. St. John’s Preparatory School, near to Beaumont College, Windsor (1884), differing in purpose and scale, and more ornate, is also highly praised, and by many preferred to the Seminary as being more refined.

The works executed for Lord Beaumont at Carlton Towers, Selby, are mainly internal: a Jacobean mansion had been altered and in some degree “ Gothicised,” when Mr. Bentley was called in to remodel and embellish it. On no work of his life can he have bestowed more pains, as a mountain of working drawings—a large number of them from his own hand— testifies. The decorative works in various material, painting, glass, and textiles, resulted in a most sumptuous habitation, where the chairmaker’s and the upholsterer’s art followed upon that of the skilled painter or sculptor under one directing mind.

In 1881 complete designs were made, at Lord Beaumont’s desire, for a large suite of residences in flats to occupy the then vacant land fronting Hyde Park, westward of the Albert Gate; but the project was abandoned. Fearing for his impulsive client, the architect dissuaded him from proceeding with this speculation, and thus courageously sacrificed his own interest in so doing.

In church building, the additions during thirty years of extra north and south aisles and of a baptistery and lesser chapels successively at St. Mary’s, Westmoreland Road, Bayswater, furnish interesting study in architectural variety and progress, and are no less remarkable on account of their altars, glass, and metal work. The high altar and pulpit, however, were designed by other hands. A church and presbytery at Cadogan Street (1875), and one at Bosworth Road, Kensal New Town (1880), are brick edifices simple in outline and in most details, showing both care and originality throughout. The still unfinished church of Corpus Christi at Brixton, designed in 1885, exhibits in its eastern part a building of superior scale and the promising features of a stately church.

Various works undertaken for the Redemptorist Fathers at Bishop Eton, Liverpool, and at Clapham, cover many years ; a high altar, pulpit, and various decorative additions at the former extend from 1865 onwards. The restorations at St. Mary’s, Clapham, originally built with Caen stone dressings, the transept added to it, as well as the building of a new monastery adjoining, were completed in 1894. One work, small in size but of unusual unity and completeness, is the Lady Chapel at St. Mary’s, executed in 1888, which has evoked general admiration, and is held up by some artists to be its author’s chef-d’oeuvre. Its floor, its wall and ceiling, its traceried windows and their storied glass, are alike harmonious and delicate, though not refined to any approach towards weakness. The altar, reredos, canopy, and brattishing show equal invention and fitness, the only regret now being that the light is hardly sufficient to display the many forms and colours to advantage.

In 1892 his friend, Mr. Taprell Holland, entrusted to him the design of Holy Rood Church at Watford, which may be fairly looked upon as a test of invention and skill furthered by a generous patron. The result has in a corresponding degree called forth the favourable remarks and admiration of competent critics, who look on it as a foremost example of how to use mediaeval ideals under the circumstances of our time. Much the same may be said of the several altars, painted windows, mosaics and decorative works designed for St. James’s, Spanish Place, during many years; the bronze reredos of the high altar is now being completed.

Much similar work may be cited from churches in Liverpool, at Ushaw College, also at St. Peter’s, Doncaster, an early Pointed church designed by his friend Mr. C. Hadfield [F.].

A mansion at Ascot, Berks, for Mr. Maxwell Stewart, and a private chapel for Mr. C. J. Stonor near there, were built in 1885-90 ; and in 1897 a convent for the Franciscan nuns at Braintree, Essex, a simple dignified building joined to an older house. Their church, in the •Manner of the end of the fifteenth century, consists of a nave in which is the nuns’ choir with its stalls, and a chancel into which opens a transept for parochial use, having a view of the altar apart from the community.

Of the works entrusted to Mr. Bentley by the Anglican body were the two City Churches of St. Botolph at Aldgate and Bishopsgate, 1893-4, in both of which his anxiety was to interfere as little as possible with the traditional style following Wren’s time. On the other hand, the plasterer’s work in the ceilings of Aldgate Church is original and spirited, the parish traditions being illustrated by heraldic shields supported by winged figures. At Holy Trinity Church Minories, some work of restoration and alteration was done ; also at St. Mark's. North Audley Street, where a marble wall-lining was .added.

The brass cross and candlesticks of the north-west chapel in St. Paul’s Cathedral were designed in 1874, also some mosaic ornament.

At St. John’s, Hammersmith, he erected an organ-case and a sacristy, and added some internal decoration, to the satisfaction of his friend, Mr. Butterfield, who had retired from practice.

In 1899 he built at Chiddington, Penshurst, a new church, a memorial, a structure entirely of Bath stone in the local style of the sixteenth century, consisting of a nave, chancel, and tower surmounting the organ-chamber, all simple in detail, and careful as to form.

In 1894, Cardinal Vaughan, who had known Mr. Bentley in his early career, com­missioned him to design a cathedral church for the site near Victoria Street, Westminster. It was to be of ample dimensions, giving a wide, uninterrupted view of its sanctuary and high altar; to contain larger and smaller subsidiary chapels ; to be monumental in character, and yet capable of being expeditiously carried out, and without unduly heavy expenditure.

Such conditions were truly a challenge, which the architect may be said to have worthily taken up with ability and courage. His preconceptions were against the long-drawn perspec­tive of pier and arch, at the same time to fall back on a round-arched style more remote than our Western instances of the Romanesque; and no doubt the recent publication upon Santa Sophia, by Mr. Lethaby and the late Mr. Swainson, strongly influenced him. The use of large masses of brickwork, of concrete, and of rapidly setting cement, favoured some of the conditions, and rendered possible the result which the dearness of labour might have frustrated; so this building has deservedly attracted the attention of the engineer, along with the practical architect and the man of art.

In November 1894, Mr. Bentley started on a visit to Italy, not in the best of health, to meet, unfortunately, the severest winter known there for eighty years. Staying at Milan. Pavia, and Florence, he spent Christmas in Borne, seeing all he possibly could there, un­favourably impressed with most of the architecture of the Renaissance, at St. Peter’s and elsewhere. Umbria was next visited with great delight; Assisi, and after that Ravenna, which had to be reached through snow, and then a most fatiguing journey necessitated complete rest at Venice before exploring its wonders and settling down to study the Basilica of St. Mark, his chief object. Before this time the project of a tour including Constantinople had to be given up, and returning by Turin, after a few days in Paris, he reached London in March 1895.

The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid on St. Peter’s Day, 29th June, of the same year.

In May 1898, Mr. Bentley visited the United States at the wish of the Bishop Brooklyn, to advise upon his intended cathedral, a design for which had been made by a deceased architect of New York. The great difficulty, that of reliable foundation in its deep alluvial soil, necessitated serious>and protracted consideration. The newly appointed architect set his face against the use of iron columns and other artificial methods, and having investigated the selection of suitable stone, brick, and other materials, he returned to England in July, insufficiently rested by the voyage, to resume his usual work, and to elaborate this new design. The Mediaeval Style seemed to him best to meet all requirements, and the drawings show a complete Gothic church about 850 feet in length, having two western towers, and a boldly-treated lantern at the intersection of the transepts. Its style may be classed as “ advanced,” there being flowing traceried windows and other features of a late period.

The duties relating to ordinary works in his practice, some of them minute and requiring inventive skill, besides those of the completion and fittings of his great work at Westminster, seemed to overtax his strength. He denied himself too often the rest he was advised to take, and in November 1899 a sudden weakness pointed to a paralytic affection. After some repose, work was steadily resumed ; but in June next year another warning came, and the vocal organs were affected, rendering speech difficult. Courage and patience enabled him to continue working on for nearly two years longer, and, pencil in hand, he pursued his work within a few hours of the seizure of 1st March, 1902, which ended fatally the following morning.

Mr. Bentley leaves a widow and a large family, of whom his second son is following his father’s profession. Personally, whilst reticent and firm of resolve, he was a true friend, kindly, considerate, and much beloved.