Decimus Burton

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Decimus Burton
Decimus Burton.png
painted by Thomas Lawrence
Born (1800-09-30)30 September 1800
North House, Southampton Terrace, Bloomsbury, London
Died 14 December 1881(1881-12-14) (aged 81)
1 Gloucester Houses, Hyde Park, London
Nationality English
Occupation Architect
Buildings Palm House & Temperate House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Decimus Burton (30 September 1800 – 14 December 1881) was a prolific English architect and garden designer.[1] A protegé of John Nash, he is particularly associated with projects in the classical style in London parks, including buildings at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and London Zoo, and with the layout and architecture of the seaside towns of Fleetwood and St Leonards-on-Sea, and the spa town Tunbridge Wells.


File:Colosseum, London.png
The Colosseum, Regent's Park, London (1827-74)

Decimus Burton was the son of the architect James Burton. His first name, from the Latin for 'tenth', denoted his position as the tenth child in his family.

After attending Tonbridge School and then spending a few years in Royal Academy Schools, Burton trained in the architectural and building practice run by his father James Burton. Through his father's work on the Regent Street and Regent's Park projects he came into contact with John Nash.[2] Nash entrusted him with the design of Cornwall Terrace and Clarence Terrace in Regent's Park[3] the former, begun in 1821, being the first building erected in the park.[4] James Burton was the builder of both.[3] His first major project (1823) was nearby: an enormous domed exhibition hall, the Colosseum. Circular in plan with a Doric portico,it resembled the Pantheon in form.[5] It was demolished in 1875; the site is now occupied by the Royal College of Physicians. After this, he was appointed to design the gardens and buildings at the adjacent new London Zoo including the llama building (1828), complete with a clock tower, and the Giraffe House (1834).

Hyde Park

At the age of twenty-five Burton was commissioned by the Office of Woods and Forests to carry out a series of work intended, in the words of John Summerson "to bring Hyde Park within the monumental orbit of the palace". He laid out paths and driveways, designed a series of lodges, and the Ionic screen and Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner. These last two originally formed a single composition, designed to provide a monumental transition between Hyde Park and Green Park, although the arch was later moved. His other work for the Office of Woods and Forests included the elaborate Parliamentary Stables at Westminster.[6]

Athenaeum Club

File:Athenaeum in 1830.jpg
The Athenaeum Club in 1830

In 1824 he was commissioned by the Athenaeum Club, London to build a clubhouse for them on the west side of Waterloo Place. The task was complicated by the Office of Woods and Forests' initial desire to have its facade matching that of the United Services Club opposite, on which Nash was working. This demand was eventually dropped[7] and Burton's building was constructed in 1829–30,[8] its exterior decorated with a full-size replica of the Panathenaic frieze. Burton later made alterations to the United Service Club.[7] Burton's connections to the Athenaeum lasted for many years in the form of his membership and as evidenced in the 30 years of correspondence between himself and one of the club's founders, John Wilson Croker.[9]

St Leonards

In 1828 Burton's father James bought up an estate in East Sussex, on which he developed the new holiday resort of St Leonards. The development had a frontage to the sea of about 1 km (two-thirds of a mile). Burton was probably the architect of the central section, a hotel with giant Corinthian columns, flanked by terraces in the Tuscan order.[10]

Beulah Spa

Burton landscaped the grounds and designed the buildings at the Beulah Spa, a spa and pleasure gardens in Upper Norwood in south London, for the entrepreneur John Davidson Smith. It opened in 1831[11] and became a popular society venue attracting large crowds to its fêtes.[12] Burton's buildings were in a " rustic" style,[13] with the ticket office in the form of a thatched cottage.[11] The spa closed in 1856 soon after the opening nearby of the Crystal Palace.[14] Burton also drew up designs for a grand crescent of terraced houses on the hill above the spa, which was, however, never built.[11]

Gothic Revival churches

Burton sometimes worked in a Gothic Revival style, using it for the rebuilding of the St Mary's Church at Goring-by-Sea in West Sussex[15] and at the new churches of Holy Trinity, Eastbourne, East Sussex [16] and St Augustine, Flimwell, East Sussex (1839).[17] Architectural historian Ian Nairn described Burton's Gothic churches as "disappointingly limp".[15]

Kew Gardens

The Palm House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Burton had a 30-year association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, beginning with the layout of gardens and paths before moving on to major buildings. With iron founder Richard Turner, he designed the glass and iron Palm House (1844–1848); at the time, this greenhouse was the largest in the world at 363 ft long (111 m), 100 ft wide (30 m) and 66 ft high (20 m).

He then designed the even larger Temperate House, but did not live to see the project completed: although a section opened in 1863, lack of funds meant it was not finally completed until 1898. Other projects at Kew Gardens included the Main Gate (1846; renamed the Elizabeth Gate in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II) and the Water Lily House (1852).


Another major concentration of Burton’s work is at Fleetwood on the Lancashire coast. Burton's work with his father on the East Sussex town of St Leonards-on-Sea (1827–1837) had impressed wealthy landowner and fellow Atheneaum Club member Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood who commissioned Burton to lay out his new port and seaside resort. Burton's buildings include the North Euston Hotel, Pharos Lighthouse and Beach Lighthouse, Queen's Terrace, St Peter's Church, the Town Hall and his own house on Dock Street (where he lived until 1844).


Decimus Burton retired in 1869, died in December 1881 and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

List of architectural works [18]

Greater London

  • The Holme, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park (1818).
  • Grove House, Holford House and Winfield House villas, Regent's Park (1822–5)
  • Coliseum, Regents Park (1823–27) demolished 1875.
  • Clarence Terrace, Regent's Park (1823)
  • Hyde Park Screen (1825)
  • Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner,(1826–8)
  • London Zoo, various buildings (1826–28) and (1831–34); surviving buildings include the Giraffe House, the Camel House, the Raven Cage and the tunnel under the Outer Circle, connecting the two parts of the zoo.
  • Cornwall Terrace, Regent's Park, London (1827)
  • The Geological Society's apartments at Somerset House (1828)
  • Athenaeum gentlemen's club, Waterloo Place/Pall Mall (1828–30)
  • Charing Cross Hospital, London (1831–9)
  • Putney Park House, Roehampton, London (1837–38)[19]
  • Devonshire House, London, added portico and remodelled the hall and staircase (1843) demolished
  • The library at 18 Hyde Park Gardens (c.1844)
  • Oriental Club, additions (1851)
  • The Palm House, Kew Gardens, Kew with Richard Turner (1844)
  • Elizabeth Gate (formerly Main Gate), Kew Gardens, Kew (1846)
  • The Museum, Kew Gardens, Kew (1857) extended 1881
  • The Temperate House, Kew Gardens, Kew (1859–1863) (the flanking wings, also part of Burton's design, were not built until 1897–98)
  • Beulah Spa, Upper Norwood(1831)
  • Vicarage, Isleworth, alterations (1865)
  • Holwood House, Keston (1823-1826 – now a Grade II listed building)


  • Stockgrove House, Buckinghamshire/Bedfordshire border (1831) demolished circa 1928



East Sussex

  • Oaklands Park, Sedlescombe (1830)
  • Adelaide Crescent, Hove (1831) (only numbers 1–10 were built, the remainder were completed from 1850 to a much grander design)
  • Wick Hall, Hove (1840; demolished 1936)
  • Holy Trinity Church, Eastbourne (1837-9; later extended)
  • St. Augustine's Church, Flimwell (1839)
  • West Marina, The Lawn, and Uplands, St Leonards-on-Sea (1850s)


  • Bay House (originally Ashburton House), Gosport (1838)


  • Haydon Hill House, Bushey (1840s; later extended - now a Grade II listed building and converted into flats)




  • Sennowe Hall, near Guist extended 1855–56, remodelled 1908 - very little of Burton's work survives.

North Yorkshire


  • Grammar School, Retford (1855–1857)

West Sussex


Martinstown House, Co Kildare (1833)



  1.  [ "Burton, Decimus" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. ODNB, Burton, Decimus (1880-1881)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Summerson 1962, p.181
  4. Britton, John; Pugin, A. (1825). Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London: With Historical and Descriptive Accounts of each Edifice. 1. London. p. 233.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Elmes, James (1852). Sir Christopher Wren and his Times. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 144.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Summerson 1962, pp.202– 4
  7. 7.0 7.1 Summerson 1962, p.246
  8. Summerson 1962, p.301
  9. Decimus Burton video, 22 minutes in, RIBA. Retrieved 21 January 2013
  10. Pevsner and Nairn 1965, p.527–8
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Coulter, John (1996). Norwood Past. London: Historical Publications. pp. 80–4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "London Borough of Croydon: The Lawns - The Lawns History". Retrieved 17 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Beulah Spa". New Monthly Magazine: 496. 1833 ("Part the Third"). Check date values in: |year= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Warwick, Alan R. "5". The Phoenix Suburb: A South London Social History. Crystal Palace Foundation. ISBN 0-904034-01-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> One widely publicized event was a "Grand Scottish Fete" on 16 September 1834 "with a tightrope performance by Pablo Fanque, the black circus performer who would later dominate the Victorian circus and achieve immortality in The Beatles song, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!'
  15. 15.0 15.1 Pevsner and Nairn 1965, p.231
  16. Pevsner and Nairn 1965, p.487
  17. Pevsner and Nairn 1965, p.503
  18. List based on: Decimus Burton Esquire, Architect and Gentleman (1800-1881), Philip Whitbourn, 2003, The Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society
  19. "Putney Park House". English Heritage list. English Heritage. Retrieved 1 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Homan, Roger (1984). The Victorian Churches of Kent. Chichester: Phillimore & Co. Ltd. p. 106. ISBN 0-85033-466-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Summerson, John (1962). Georgian London (revised ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus; Nairn, Ian (1965). Sussex. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links