BENTLEY, JOHN FRANCIS
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
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
1862, Bentley himself converted to Roman Catholicism.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Lethaby, W. R., and Swainson, Harold 1894
The Church of Sancta Sophia Constantinople:
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
BENTLEY: A MEMOIR. By T. J.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
admired, an ignorant “ decorator ” has long ago, alas I touched and
spoilt them with his
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
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
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
schools, is marked by a thorough fitness to its purpose and quiet dignity, with
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
the project was abandoned. Fearing for his impulsive client, the architect
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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,
capable of being expeditiously carried out, and without unduly heavy
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,
to be reached through snow, and then a most fatiguing journey necessitated
rest at Venice before exploring its wonders and settling down to study the
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
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.