William Wardell: Building with Conviction

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William Wardell: Building with Conviction

A.G. Evans

ISBN 9781921421440 

Hardback, 314 pages


Born into lowly circumstances in London’s East End in 1823 WILLIAM WILKINSON WARDELL became one of Australia’s greatest architects whose crowning works are his two cathedrals, St Mary’s in Sydney and St Patrick’s in Melbourne. As well as being a leading exponent of Gothic Revival architecture of the 19th century, he served for a period as Chief Architect in the Victorian Public Works Department where he stamped his character and his high standards on many of Melbourne’s best-loved public buildings including his own design, Government House.

Wardell was a contemporary and devoted admirer of Pugin. Both were converts to the Catholic Faith and both shared a deep religious conviction in the superiority of Gothic architecture for church building. 

As a young architect he enjoyed the friendship and intimacy of Charles Dickens and other prominent writers, artists, and actors, but he feared for his health in 1858 due to the wretched climatic conditions that claimed the lives of thousands of Londoners at that time. To the sorrow of his friends Wardell chose to sail with his family for Melbourne, lured by the climate and the urgent need for new churches for the burgeoning population. 

During his early years in Australia Wardell suffered sectarian animosity and jealousy among members of his profession. Forced unfairly to leave Victoria in 1878 he was welcomed in Sydney where he was honoured and revered as a leader of his profession. At his death aged 76 a newspaper stated: ‘He closed his life of noble labours, a life crowded with artistic triumphs in a manner in keeping with the modest gentleness of his whole career.’

In this first major biography of Wardell, Evans reveals for the first time his early life and influences at home in a Workhouse, his apprenticeship at sea, and his work in England and Scotland where he was responsible for over twenty much-admired churches, schools, and private houses. 

His architectural legacy in Australia is rich and varied but it is for his two monumental cathedrals that he is best remembered. He lavished much of his time, his love and his exacting standards on each of them simultaneously so that now they are emblematic of their cities and judged by architectural historians as among the finest examples of the Gothic style anywhere in the world. 

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