English architect, designer, and writer, from Bristol, who received his early training under William Armstrong (d. 1858). In 1856 he joined his brother Joseph Lucas Godwin, civil engineer, in the North of Ireland, and designed three RC churches whilst there, all Gothic, and all in Co. Donegal. They are at St Johnstown (1857–60—unsympathetically modernized in the 1970s), Newtowncunningham (1857–61), and Tory Island (1857–61). By 1858, on the death of Armstrong, he was back in Bristol, where he designed a huge round-arched warehouse at Merchant Street (1856–8), another warehouse at 104 Stokes Croft (1860), and the Jacob Street Brewery (1863–5). He made his name with Northampton Town Hall (1861–4— gained through winning an architectural competition), an accomplished Anglo-Franco-Italian Gothic Revival polychrome essay (influenced by Ruskin) for which he designed all the decorations and fittings (sensitively restored (1992–3) by Gradidge). He took Henry Crisp (1825–96) into partnership to enable him to concentrate on competitions, but although the new firm was awarded the first premium in several, in only one case, Congleton, Ches. (1864–6—again Ruskinian, but more French in character), did the win lead to a realized building. His career seemed set fair when he received two important commissions for country-houses in Ireland: Dromore Castle, Pallaskenry, Co. Limerick (1866–73—ruined), and Glenbeigh Towers, Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry (1867–71—burnt 1922). The latter was a fortress-house in the form of a massive keep, and the former was a composition of exceptional quality, not only archaeologically correct, but beautifully composed and partly designed for defence (the period of building was the time of the Fenian disturbances). Godwin also introduced a Japanese flavour into the décor of Dromore, which established him as one of the earliest designers of the Aesthetic Movement. Regrettably, both buildings leaked, and at Dromore the water-penetration was so bad that the wall-paintings by Henry Stacy Marks (1829–98) on the subject of Spenser's Faerie Queen were destroyed. These disasters damaged his reputation. Nevertheless, he designed Beauvale House, Newthorpe, Northants. (1872–3), Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 18, 37, and 39 The Avenue, and other houses at Bedford Park, Chiswick (1875–7), and several houses in Chelsea which were remarkably avant-garde for their time. The last include the White House, Tite Street (1877–9—demolished), for James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); the studio-house at 44 Tite Street (1878–9), for the artist George Francis (‘Frank’) Miles (1852–91); the Tower House, 46 Tite Street (1881–5); and the interiors of 16 Tite Street (1884–5), for Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), which exemplified the ideal of the ‘House Beautiful’.
Godwin was undoubtedly one of the most original designers of his time, and was a pioneer in the evolution of Anglo-Japanese styles of decoration and furnishing. His furniture designs were widely copied, notably in the USA, and he was a considerable influence on German and Austrian taste. Despite this, his considerable output as an architectural journalist, and his work for the theatre designing costumes and sets (he lived with (1868–75) the actress Ellen Terry (1847–1928), with whom he had two children, one of whom was the theatrical designer Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966) ), his income was inadequate and he died in debt.