Sir William Chambers (1723-1796)

Somerset House, by William Chambers.

William Chambers was one of the most important architects of the second half of the 18th Century, his principal work being Somerset House (see the Walk down the Strand), home of the three important art galleries and of course the Witt and the Conway libraries. He was born to Scottish parents in Stockholm, and was taken to Britain at the age of two, spending much of his youth in Yorkshire. On reaching his maturity, after a time travelling to India and China as a supercargo to the Swedish East India Company (his father and grandfather were traders), he decided to become a draftsman and architect and studied in Italy and France before returning to England in 1755 and settling in London. He achieved royal favour as the drawing teacher of the Prince of Wales, which was to help him throughout his career. Along with Robert Adam, he became architect of the King's works. Because of his close relationship with the Royals, he was able to persuade the King to help in the setting up and initial funding of the Royal Academy. Chambers became the first Treasurer of the new organisation, from 1769 until his death in 1796, and also held several other distinguished establishment positions.

Chambers' most important work is Somerset House on the Strand (see the walk there), with its astonishingly long river frontage of some 800 ft. He also laid out Kew Gardens and furnished them with classical temples etc from 1757-63, as well as two major buildings: the Pagoda and the Orangery. And also in London is a mansion at Roehampton, which I think to be now in the possession of Greenwich University (Woolwich Polytechnic). His style was Classical, more or less Palladian, eschewing the Greek in favour of the Roman.

Chambers wrote important architectural works on designs for Chinese buildings, an explanation of his work at Kew, and most well-known (not in any way to imply that I've read it) Treatise on civil architecture. As well as these, his influence continued through his various pupils, of which the best known was Hardwick.

Top of page

Architecture pages // Full list of artists