A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

Gilbert Blount trained with Salvin NOT Smirke

The architect, Gilbert Blount, actually trained with Salvin rather than Smirke …

Many biographical dictionaries, including Wikipedia, state that Gilbert Blount trained in the office of Sidney Smirke. In fact, Blount worked with Anthony Salvin (1799-1881).

Constance C. McPhee, in her thesis for the Department of the History of Art in the University of Pennsylvania, entitled ‘Gilbert R. Blount (1819-1876) Catholic Gothic Revival Architect’ clearly outlines the architect’s early career. McPhee’s M.A. thesis, written in 1987, under the supervision of Dr David B. Brownlee, includes the following passage,

‘Early in 1842 Blount experienced a professional upheaval which was to divert him from engineering into architecture. Faced with the imminent loss of his position at the tunnel, he attempted to secure a position with the Le Havre and Rouen Railway Company through a relative in France and even considered emigrating to Australia. It was, however, a developing interest in architecture which became the channel for his energies and hopes. The architect’s diary from the first six months of 1842 records him reading a biography of Christopher Wren and books on Greek architecture and Palladio. At the same time he was writing: “an article on architecture”, designing: the plan and model of a house, and carrying out field works: a visit to Pugin’s St. George’s, Southwark, which was then building. On November 28, 1842 these preparations culminated in the beginning of a new career. Blount entered the Saville Row office of Anthony Salvin (1799-1881).

Salvin was a student of John Paterson of Edinburgh and a member of the Society of Antiquities with a successful practice in country houses and Gothic revival churches…. Blount’s diaries indicate he came to Salvin without adherence to any one stylistic philosophy and was quickly exposed to the most advanced thought on Gothic revival church design. Already interested in Pugin as the most prominent Catholic architect of the day, Blount now absorbed his theory, reading his writings for the first time. He also set to work on a proposed monument to the recently deceased Bishop of York. Modelled in part on Edward III’s tomb in Westminster Abbey.’

McPhee points out that as late as 1847 Blount was still working in Salvin’s office but he became ‘increasingly involved with small independent projects for relatives and Catholic friends.’ However, having written of his move to 1 Montagu Place in 1849, Mc Phee makes the following remark: ‘Sometime during this period there may have been a brief association with Sydney Smirke’ In support of this she cites Blount’s R.I.B.A. obituary but she comments, in Footnote No. 58, that this ‘is substantiated by no further evidence (see Barry, “Address”, Proceedings of the R.I.B.A. (1877-78):11′

Philippa Hunter has made available some of her Blount Family correspondence for the year 1842 and this may help to clarify the question – Smirke or Salvin?

Letter from Eliza(beth) Riddell to Gilbert Robert Blount from Field-gate House, Kenilworth, Aug 24th 1842

‘My Dear Gilbert,

Not knowing for sure whether your Father is at home or that you may not be at Purley (1), I will address this to you, but wish you to communicate the contents to your Father and Mother. I hope, I need not assure you, that it has been my most earnest endeavour and wish to hear of some situation for you and particularly so, since I heard your Father say, your wish was to study architecture. I applied a few days ago to Mrs. De Lisle (Mr. Salvin’s sister) a great friend of mine and have received an answer from her today, which I consider very good. I enclose you a copy of my note to Mrs De Lisle which I hope you will be able to make out, also her answer to me – at your leisure (?) when you have made what use you please of them, I shall like to have them returned to me, and I think it will be a good plan to write a line to Anthony Salvin Esq at his Office to inform him what morning you can call upon him, as he will then make a point of being there. He stands very high in his Profession, I remember some years ago seeing his plan for the new house of Parliament and after Barry’s, it was the most approved of. Mrs Canning from Devonshire tells us, they have lately been to Mamhead (2), where a new house has been built by Mr Salvin (for Sir R. Newman) they think it is the most perfect place and house they ever saw. I cannot tell you, my dear Gilbert, the pleasure it will give me, if you can arrange matters with Mr Salvin. I have not the slightest idea on what terms he will be willing to receive you, that will depend upon what your knowledge is, as to architecture, be sure to take some of your drawings, and be not discouraged at first, if he does not seem to think your knowledge so great as he may expect it to be, as you have not had time or experience. Be sure to let me know the result of your interview with Mr. Salvin, and if he is willing to receive you, whether he will remunerate you, or you on the contrary have to give him a premium, but all this remains to be seen, and of course that subject you will have Mr. S. to broach. I will write a line to your dear Mother – wishing you a happy termination to this business I remain, Dear Gilbert. Your affectionate Aunt, El. Riddell

Best love and good wishes from my dear Mother, Sister, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Riddell nee Blount

Elizabeth Riddell nee Blount


(1) Purley is situated on the River Thames opposite to Mapledurham and it was the home of Gilbert’s parents.

(2) In 1823, Mamhead Park was bought by Robert William Newman (1776–1848), who completely rebuilt the house on a new site in 1827–1833, to the designs of  Anthony Salvin.

Letter from Eliza(beth) Riddell to her brother, Michael Joseph Blount, father of Gilbert Robert Blount, from 53 Wellington Street and dated 2nd October 1842:

‘I cannot tell you, my dear Michael, how pleased I am at your account of your interview with Mr. Salvin, I do think it promises well. I hope you will have several drawings to show him next time you go to town, it will indeed be a great gratification if I have been the means of promising him what I trust may turn out a desirable situation. In the mean time a little country air, good living, and cheerful society with a little shooting will do him good for he has had long confinement in town and hard work….’

Letter from Michael Joseph Blount to his son, Gilbert Robert Blount, from Purley, dated 13th October 1842:

‘Dear Gilbert

I had an interview yesterday morning with Mr Salvin who received me with cordiality, examined your drawings and agreed to receive you in his office. I had a clear understanding with him that you were to be initiated into every department of the profession. My impression is that you will like him and I think he is favourably inclined towards you. Let us hope that it will prove an advantageous opening for you. Mr. Salvin appears to be a good natured gentlemanly person. He will let us know when he has moved into his new house, which I do not expect will be the case for three weeks to come, therefore make the most of your time… Pray remember me very kindly to all friends at Hartpury and I hope you have some good shooting. Adieu M.J.B.’

Letter to Michael Joseph Blount from Anthony Salvin, from 32 Somerset Street and dated 21st October 1842:

‘Dear Sir,

I have sent the drawings to Lower Berkeley Street, The first work to study is certainly Vitruvius and if your son has not yet looked into (?)  it my copy is at his service. There are others on church and domestic architecture which I shall recommend his attention to afterwards. The work in Saville row gets on slowly but I hope in two or three weeks I shall be able to move my offices there. I am dear Sir, Yours truly, Anthony Salvin.’

Forwarding notes from Michael Blount to Gilbert Blount:

‘I expect that Sir Edward Blount has got a Vitruvius or some other works on architecture.’

Dear Gilbert,

I send you Mr. Salvin’s note in order that you may not think it necessary to hurry back to Town, for I don’t expect he will remove to his new office in Saville Row, at soonest, before the middle of Novr. We hope you will enjoy yourself at Mawby…’

Letter to Gilbert Blount from Eliza Riddell, his aunt, from 53 Wellington Street, Leamington, and dated 2nd December 1842:

My dear Gilbert,

I was very glad to find by a letter from your Father, that you had entered into Mr. Salvin’s employ, also that you and Alfred have most comfortably lodged in Mr. R. Walmesley’s house, I trust you will go on most satisfactorily with Mr. S. and that you will like your occupation. Your hours of attendance are very reasonable, from 9 till 5 so you will have plenty of time to yourself. I enclose you half a £10 note which I shall be glad to hear you have received, the other half will follow in a day or two. I send £10 this quarter, as you may want a few extras, the next quarter I will send £5 which will make the £25 I told you, I would give you the first year you are with Mr. Salvin. May every blessing attend you, for your own sake and that of your anxious Father and Mother…’


Philippa Hunter and Richard Barton

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