Sir Aston Webb served as President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, President of the Royal Academy and founding Chairman of the London Society, a group of luminaries who, according to their website, debated key issues about the future of the capital – housing, roads, railways, the channel tunnel, bridges and airports – all high on the agenda today.
Webb transformed the face of royal London in an époque of impressive urban planning, with earlier parallels by Hausmann in Paris and the Hobrecht-Plan in Berlin. His vision for The Mall scheme combined grandeur with practicality, beauty with sincerity. His values were no doubt imparted upon the London Society, whose motto holds just as true today as one hundred years ago:
“Look after the old
Seek the beautiful
Cultivate the future”
The son of an engraver and watercolourist, Webb trained in the office of Banks & Barry before setting up his own practice, working in partnership with Ingress Bell.
Sir Aston Webb, P.R.A. (1849-1930). Design for Queen Victoria Memorial, The Mall, Westminster, London: plan and aerial perspective looking towards Buckingham Palace, November 1903. Diploma Work, accepted 1903.
Awarded the Pugin Scholarship for English medieval architecture, Webb’s architectural style varied greatly throughout his lifetime, between Arts & Crafts, Gothic and neo-classical. A common thread is evident nevertheless, one of great presence and strength of purpose.
In his design for Admiralty Arch, Webb’s achievement was twofold. He offered London a textbook axis, from the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square into the peace and tranquility of The Mall and Royal Park. The triumphal arch could serve as a focal point for processions and ceremonies yet remain accessible to the man on the street. He also placed the Royal Navy even more firmly on the map, with Admiralty Arch effectively serving as the gatehouse to Buckingham Palace, counterbalancing the symbolism of the Army’s Horse Guards.
Sir Aston Webb by Solomon Joseph Solomon, circa 1906
Thinking through every detail, inside and out, Webb made designs for everything from the grand plan for the Victoria Memorial down to the fixtures and fittings at Admiralty Arch. His rational approach extended to having four separate entrances to the building, each serving its own purpose and remaining equally convenient today.
Webb’s commission to design the Victoria Memorial scheme, including Admiralty Arch, seems all the more fitting when one takes into consideration another of his famous works, the Victoria and Albert Museum whose foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria in 1899.
His legacy to the nation also extends beyond the creation of iconic buildings and avenues to the improvement of the habit around many urban dwellers today. The London Society’s 1919 Development Plan for London called for, amongst other things, green spaces in the outer suburbs – a precursor of the Green Belt legislation.
- Royal Gold Medal, 1905
Buildings by Webb
- Assize Courts, Birmingham, 1886
- Victoria Law Courts, Birmingham, 1891
- University buildings, Birmingham, 1901
- Christ’s Hospital School, Horsham, 1902
- Britannia Naval College, Dartmouth, UK, 1905
- Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1909
- Royal College of Science, London, 1909
- Royal School of Mines, London, 1909
- Admiralty Arch, London, 1910
- The Mall, London, 1911
- Remodelling of the east façade of Buckingham Palace, 1913
East façade of Buckingham Palace