Influential English Arts-and-Crafts architect, specializing in houses. With Norman Shaw he was one of the leaders of the English Domestic Revival. His style from the first was deliberately eclectic, drawing on elements from Gothic, Queen Anne, and vernacular architecture. Initially, his fame grew from his association (dating from his time (1852–9) in the office of G. E. Street) with William Morris, for whom he designed the Red House, Bexley Heath, Kent (1859–60), and many artefacts for Morris's firm. Later, he was involved with Morris in the setting up of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (1877). At the Red House the influence of Butterfield and Street is clear, especially in relation to the clear expression of materials and the very free asymmetrical composition: with this building and Benfleet Hall, Fairmile, near Cobham, Surrey (1860), he established his reputation. His best town buildings are the Prinsep House, 14 (formerly 1) Holland Park Road, Kensington (1864–92), 1 Palace Green, Kensington (1868–73—with interior decorations by Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833–98), Walter Crane (1845–1915), and William Morris), and 19 Lincoln's Inn Fields (1868–9), all in London, in which steep gables, Queen Anne sash-windows, and a few Gothic features are used in free compositions. His country-houses include Joldwynds, near Dorking, Surrey (1872–3—destroyed), Smeaton Manor, Great Smeaton, North Riding, Yorkshire (1876–9—much altered), and Standen, East Grinstead, Surrey (1891–4), all gabled and freely composed. Clouds, East Knoyle, Wilts. (1876–91), is perhaps his most eclectic composition, with a veritable jumble of styles making the building almost style-less. His one church, St Martin's, Brampton, Cumb. (1874–8), is certainly Gothic, but treated very freely, with ceilings that are more domestic than ecclesiastical in character. Claims that Webb was somehow a precursor of the Modern Movement do not stand up to serious examination, for his work showed too much of an understanding of traditional materials and vernacular architecture, and his sources lay in historical exemplars. Indeed, his disciples included Lutyens among their number, none of whom could be regarded as Modernists.
R. Curry & S. Kirk (1984);D&M (1985);Ferriday (ed.) (1963);Garnett (ed.) (1993);S. Kirk (1990, 2002);Lethaby (1935);McLeod (1971);G. Naylor (1971);Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);Placzek (ed.) (1982);M. Richardson (1983);Swenarton (1989);Jane Turner (1996)