Choosing an architect
Collcutt was born in Oxford in 1840 and died in 1924. He began his architectural training as an articled pupil to RW Armstrong in London, followed by a position with Mills & Murgatroyd. For a time he worked with the great Gothic revival architect George Edmund Street who designed the new Law Courts in the Strand, one of the great architectural achievements of the style. Street's zeal and enthusiasm for architecture greatly influenced Colcutt.
In 1867, Collcutt entered the office of Philip Causton Lockwood, the borough surveyor at Brighton. He worked on the conversion of the Brighton Pavilion stables into 'The Dome'. During the 1870s, Collcutt gained international acclaim for his black ebonised furniture designs for the firm Collinson & Lock, examples of which are held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
His great career opportunity came in 1872 when, with H Woodzell, Collcutt won a competition to design the public library and museum in Blackburn. In 1877, he won his next competition to design Wakefield Town Hall. His winning design was a full-bodied Gothic creation, obviously couched to appeal to the competition assessor, GE Street, Collcutt's old master. In the event, he built a different design in the much lighter Queen Anne revival style that he pioneered. Collcutt also designed the interior of which much survives, including the Council Chamber, containing rich relief decorations, carved fireplaces and very good woodwork. Both buildings now have listed building status.
The seal of Collcutt's professional recognition was first prize in the competition for the Imperial Institute in South Kensington. The building was to provide an exhibition centre for the countries of the British Empire. Constructed between 1887 and 1891, it as a considerable architectural achievement combining massive forms with a lightness of treatment and Renaissance decoration. Sadly, only the majestic bell tower survives. The building was almost a dress rehearsal for the Lloyd's Register building, with Portland stone on the outside and marble-lined interiors. George Frampton and Henry Pegram provided sculpture, and carpenters from Great Dunmow made the oak panelling. All these materials, craftsmen and artists would later be employed at 71 Fenchurch Street.
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