One of the most gifted and scholarly architects working in England within the Classical tradition in C19, his work was at once bold yet fastidious, thoroughly based on archaeologically proven precedents yet free from dull pedantry, and full of refinements yet achieving a noble monumentality. Born in London, he was the son of S. P. Cockerell, with whom he trained before moving to Robert Smirke's office in 1809. He travelled with John Foster to Athens, where they met the German archaeologists Haller and Jakob Linckh (1786–1841), and together they discovered the Aegina marbles (now in Munich) in 1811, studied the temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae in Arcadia (in particular the Bassae Order of Ionic), and found the Phigaleian marbles. With Haller, Cockerell observed the entasis on Greek column-shafts (see Allason; Pennethorne; Penrose). In 1811–16 he visited several sites in Asia Minor, the Peloponnesos and the Archipelago, Rome, and Florence before returning to London where he set up his own practice in 1817.
In 1819 he succeeded his father to the Surveyorship of St Paul's Cathedral. Receptive to the work of Wren, he was an early admirer of the compositions of Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh. His designs were an eclectic mix of Greek Revival, Renaissance, and Baroque, with a refinement of detail acquired from his archaeological research. A splendid example of his work is the Ashmolean Museum and Taylorian Institution, Oxford (1841–5), where the Bassae Order is much in evidence but the columns stand forward of the façade in the manner of a Roman triumphal arch, while the Italian Renaissance influences are strong, notably in the robust cornice.
In 1833 Cockerell succeeded Soane as Architect to the Bank of England. He designed much distinguished work, including the branches of the Bank in Bristol (1844–6) and Liverpool (1844–7), where Greek, Roman, and Renaissance features were confidently and intelligently used. He also designed the University Library, Cambridge (1837–40), where the Bassae Order was again incorporated, in conjunction with a coffered barrel-vault. Cockerell completed the interiors of both the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (1845–7), after Basevi's death, and St George's Hall, Liverpool (1851–64), after the death of Elmes.
Cockerell was elected to the Royal Academy in 1829, and became Professor of Architecture there in 1840. Awarded the Gold Medal of the RIBA (1840), he was the Institute's first professional President in 1860, and he was honoured by French and many other European academies. His works included Antiquities of Athens and other Places of Greece, Sicily, etc. (1830), a supplementary volume to Stuart and Revett's The Antiquities of Athens; The Temple of Jupiter Olympius at Agrigentum (1830); works on William of Wykeham's contributions to Winchester Cathedral (1845), on the sculptures at Lincoln Cathedral (1848), on the west front of Wells Cathedral (1851 and 1862), and on colour in Antique architecture (1859); The Temples of Jupiter Panhellenius at Aegina and of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae (1860); and the diary of his travels, published as Travels in Southern Europe and the Levant 1810–1817 (1903).
Cockerell (1830, 1860);Colvin (1995);Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);Placzek (ed.) (1982);Jane Turner (1996);Watkin (1974)