Thomas Garner

Thomas Garner

Infobox Architect

image_size = (use only if image is smaller than 250px)
caption =
name =Thomas Garner
nationality =British
birth_date =1839
birth_place =Wasperton Hill, Warwickshire
death_date =April 30, 1906
death_place =Fritwell Manor, Oxfordshire (buried Downside Abbey)
practice_name =Garner & Bodley
significant_buildings=Downside Abbey choir
significant_projects =Watts & Co.
significant_design =
awards = |

Thomas Garner (1839–1906) was one of the leading English Gothic revival church architects of the Victorian era. His name is usually mentioned in relation to his almost 30-year partnership with George Frederick Bodley. Garner never received full recognition for his remarkable abilities, scholarly knowledge and extraordinary achievements in designing and constructing ecclesiastical, private and public buildings. This is attributable, according to Edward Prioleau Warren, a fellow architect, to his singularly shy and retiring disposition and to the fact that his name was for so many years coupled with that of the distinguished Mr. Bodley, leading to frequent confusion of their individual efforts and a mistaken attribution of their designs.

Early life

Born at Wasperton Hill Farm in Warwickshire, Thomas Garner grew up in a rural setting that inspired deep appreciation for the simple country life. His instinctive feeling for country crafts and construction, for "ancientry" of all sorts, was derived from his frequent archeological journeys on horseback, shared by his family and friends. These instincts were never weakened by long years spent in London. His last residence, the beautiful Jacobean manor house at Fritwell in Oxfordshire, took him back to the countryside, where he died on April 30, 1906. His interest in conservation was fostered throughout his life by his study of history, fine arts and literature. He was the author (with Stratton) of "The Domestic Architecture of England during the Tudor Period" (B.T. Batsford, 1911).


Thomas Garner was articled to the architect Sir Gilbert Scott at the age of 17. One of his immediate predecessors at "Scott's" was George Frederick Bodley, who was already beginning to establish his own reputation. A warm friendship developed between two. When he returned to Warwickshire, Mr. Garner undertook various small works as a representative of Sir Gilbert Scott, including the repair of the old chapel of the Leicester Hospital at Warwick, which he buttressed into security.

He married Rose Emily Smith on October 6, 1866. In 1868, he returned to London to assist his friend Bodley and established the long and fruitful partnership at their office at 7 Gray's Inn Square, that was dissolved amicably in 1897 (Thomas Garner was received into the Roman Catholic Church that year and was concerned that this might harm Bodley's business). Bodley's partnership with Thomas Garner was beneficial to him in more ways than one. Garner was a happily married man — his wife is said to have read to him while he drew his designs — but Mr. Bodley was not, so the Garner household was a haven.

At first, their collaboration was close and produced work of such homogeneous character as to give no external evidence of dual authorship. What is perhaps noticeable in some of the earlier buildings by the "firm" is the supersession of the French influences which previously had shown themselves in Bodley's work, by a distinctively English manner. This period of close collaboration produced the church of St. John at Tuebrook, Liverpool, soon followed and eclipsed by the churches of the Holy Angels at Hoar Cross, Staffordshire, and of St. Augustine's Church, Pendlebury, near Manchester — the former begun in 1871, the latter in 1873. They also designed a cathedral at Hobart, Tasmania.

As Bodley and Garner's work increased, it became less exclusively ecclesiastical, and though church building remained predominant, their practice widened to collegiate buildings in Oxford and Cambridge, and to private houses and offices. This broadening of scope brought about a lessening of actual collaboration.

The ensuing period of dual practice under partnership left most of the secular opportunities to the control of the junior partner, while the senior, with his penchant for Gothic forms and ecclesiastical work, devoted himself to church building and decoration. Garner was almost exclusively responsible for the design and supervision of most of the work at Oxford, that included the alterations and tower at Christ Church, St Swithin's Quadrangle and the High Street Entrance Gate at Magdalen College, and the Master's Lodgings at the University College. He was entirely responsible for the subsequent President's Lodgings at Magdalen. To him are also due River House in Tite Street, Chelsea, and the new classroom building at Marlborough College. Hewell Grange, Lord Windsor's Worcestershire mansion, with all its elaborate details, terraced gardens and their architectural accessories, was his work.

Thomas Garner also contributed to the large amount of the firm's ecclesiastical work. He designed the well-known altar screen in St Paul's Cathedral and several sepulchral monuments, including those of the Bishops of Ely, Lincoln, Winchester and Chichester, and that of Canon Liddon. In 1889, he designed the decorated gothic case for the organ at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon.

Subsequent to Thomas Garner dissolving his partnership with George Bodley, he designed and supervised the construction of Yarnton Manor, Oxfordshire; the Slipper Chapel at Houghton-le-Dale; Moreton House, Hampstead; the Empire Hotel at Buxton; and the crowning work of his life, the choir of Downside Abbey, near Bath, beneath whose roof his body now lies.

Despite Bodley's distaste for business and trade, he and Thomas Garner also set up a fabric company with Gilbert Scott the younger in 1874, to offer embroidered and textile goods, wallpaper and stained glass. The firm became known as Watts & Co (trading initially out of Baker Street, and today still continuing its traditions from premises near Westminster Cathedral). (Note: The name derives from Bodley's distaste for trade. When the founders were asked: "Who was Watts?" Bodley replied: "What's in a Name.")


Thomas Garner was well respected by his contemporaries. When the architect John Francis Bentley, stricken by a fatal illness, was asked by Cardinal Vaughan which architect he would choose to carry on his work in the Cathedral at Westminster, he replied: "Garner, for he is a man of genius." His genius derived from the minutely careful finish of his work, based on his unremitting study and love of mediaeval archeology, Gothic and Renaissance art, particularly its English manifestations. River House, Tite Street, Chelsea Embankment, completed in 1879, showed that he could design in a manner that was relatively little appreciated at the time: its sober early 18th-century character is singular as the design of a reputed Gothicist.


*Article about Thomas Garner by Edward Prioleau Warren, Victorian Architect, circa 1906 (Document in Garner family possession).
*Garner Family Bible.
*Talk (Pamphlet) by Rev. Geoffrey Connor, Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, Epping, September 1, 2002.
*James Stevens Curl, "Oxford Dictionary of Architecture", Oxford University Press, 1999.

External links

* [ Entry] in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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