Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912)

The architect Richard Norman Shaw was the most influential architect of the last decades of the 19th Century. For the purposes of these pages, we have to look at him slightly askance, for he reacted against the high Victorian ornamentation and decoration, moving back to a simpler style, which was later taken to extremes by others and arguably was a major step along the way to modernism, brutalism and brutishness. However, he did produce many buildings which we can ungrudgingly admire, and it is not his fault what others did afterwards.

Shaw was born in Edinburgh, grew up in London, studied under an Edinburgh architect, then at the Royal Academy, where he won a travelling scholarship. He took this mostly in Italy and France, before in 1858 joining the practice of the Gothicist G. E. Street. He then set up his own practice, in partnership with Nesfield, and later on his own, eventually having one of the largest architectural businesses of his day.

Shaw designed several churches, mostly in the North of England, but I have not visited any of them. However, most of Shaw's considerable body of work consists of domestic architecture - country and town houses. He used a variety of styles, of which perhaps the most appealing is half-timbered Early Tudor, as exemplified by Grim's Dyke, Harrow Weald (which although now housing some commercial organisation, can be admired externally from public land nearby.) In central London, he produced a lot of fairly substantial blocks with various degrees of ornamentation over rather solid space-maximising structures, for example the Royal Geographic Society building in Kensington, Albert Hall Mansions (flats), and several in Queen's Gate, South Kensington, of which no. 196 has some terra cotta decoration. Shaw's best known work is New Scotland Yard (1887-90) by Westminster Bridge, in the style of the keep of some huge medieval castle - a second block in identical style was added at the turn of the century.

New Scotland Yard, by Norman Shaw.

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