Willilam WILKINSON (1819–1901)
5 Beaumont Street, Oxford
William Wilkinson was born in Witney to William Anthony Wilkinson, carpenter, auctioneer, and builder, and his wife Mary. William gained practical experience as auctioneer, land surveyor, estate agent, builder, and materials supplier. The first building he designed was Lew Church in 1841. He went on to become a prolific architect engaged in church restorations, the design of country parsonages and gentry houses. In 1856 he opened a practice in Oxford first at 2 St Giles and in 1857 gained a prestigious public contract, succeeding J. C. Buckler as architect to the Oxfordshire Police Committee at a time when many new provincial police stations were to be built.
By 1860 Wilkinson had established his practice at 5 Beaumont Street, where he remained until his retirement in 1886.
Left: 5 Beaumont Street with its blue plaque. No. 4 Beaumont Street disappeared in about 1940, and so Wilkinson's former home is now next door to the Randolph Hotel
When St John’s College decided to release plots for housing development on their Norham Manor Estate to the north of the University Parks, they chose Wilkinson to design the layout of the estate and general character of the houses. He designed many himself and oversaw the work of other architects. The solidly built houses are individually picturesque, with gothic details, asymmetrical features, and spacious gardens: only low front garden walls were permitted in order to create the sense of continuous greenery. In his design book English Country Houses (1875) four of these suburban houses were illustrated as examples of country houses. In the twentieth century it became the fashion to deride the Victorian gothic houses, and they were threatened with demolition in large swathes by University development schemes in the 1960s. Cllr Ann Spokes campaigned to save them and called on John Betjeman for support. The largely intact suburb with its profusion of flowering shrubs and trees in spring and summer is now considered a precious part of Oxford’s architectural heritage.
Randolph Hotel, Illustrated London News, 13 July 1868
Wilkinson was also commissioned to design the grand five-storey Randolph Hotel, opened in 1866, and his most famous and imposing gothic building. Other notable examples of his work in Oxford are St Edward’s School (1872) with its noble quadrangle and tower, the Oxford Union reading room, the former University Gymnasium in Alfred Street, and Grimbly Hughes grocery store (now demolished but fondly remembered) in Cornmarket. From 1881 he worked in partnership with his sister’s son Harry Wilkinson Moore at 5–6 Beaumont Street. Another nephew, Clapton Crabb Rolfe, was also a gifted architect. William’s older brother George (c.1813–1890) had become a significant architect in Ireland, specialising in workhouse and railway station designs. Towards the end of his life William Wilkinson took up residence at the Randolph Hotel. He died there on 24 January 1901, two days after Queen Victoria, and is buried in Witney Cemetery where he had designed the lodge and chapels.
- Sources: “Three Oxford Architects”, article by Andrew Saint in Oxoniensia (journal of Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society) 1970; North Oxford by Tanis Hinchcliffe
The plaque was unveiled by the Revd Professor William Whyte, Tutorial Fellow in History and Vice-President of St John’s College, at 5 Beaumont Street, Oxford on 19 October 2016. Among those attending were the Deputy Lord Mayor and the Warden of St Edward’s School.
- Photograph of the unveiling ceremony
- Oxford Mail, 24 October 2016: “Randolph Hotel architect – William Wilkinson – honoured with prestigious blue plaque”
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
WILLIAM / WILKINSON
of the Randolph Hotel and
designer of North Oxford
lived and practised here