*from Waterhouse’s presidential address at the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1890.
“Alfred Waterhouse RA PPRIBA (19 July 1830 – 22 August 1905) was an English architect, particularly associated with the Victorian Gothic Revival architecture, although he designed using other architectural styles as well. He is perhaps best known for his designs for Manchester Town Hall and the Natural History Museum in London (see image), although he also built a wide variety of other buildings throughout the country. Besides his most famous public buildings he designed other town halls, the Manchester Assize buildings—bombed in World War II—and the adjacent Strangeways Prison. He also designed several hospitals, the most architecturally interesting being the Royal Infirmary Liverpool and University College Hospital London. He was particularly active in designing buildings for universities, including both Oxford and Cambridge but also what became Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds universities. He designed many country houses, the most important being Eaton Hall in Cheshire, largely demolished in 1961-63. He designed several bank buildings and offices for insurance companies, most notably the Prudential Assurance Company. Although not a major church designer he produced several notable churches and chapels. He was both a member of The Royal Institute of British Architects, of which he served a term as President, and a Royal Academician, acting as Treasurer for the Royal Academy.
His father was Alfred Waterhouse Senior (1798–1873), a cotton broker, and his mother was Mary Waterhouse, née Bevan (1805–1880), of Tottenham, both Quakers.
Alfred was their first child of eight children. Waterhouse was born on 19 July 1830 when the family was living at Stone Hill, Liverpool. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Oakfield, a Tudor style villa in Aigburth, Liverpool, Lancashire. His brothers were accountant Edwin Waterhouse (1841–1917), co-founder of the Price Waterhouse partnership, which now forms part of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and solicitor Theodore Waterhouse (1838–1891), who founded the law firm Waterhouse & Co, now part of Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP in the City of London.
Alfred Waterhouse was educated at the Quaker Grove House School in Tottenham.
In May 1853 he set out to tour Europe with school friend Thomas Hodgkin…they walked over the Great St Bernard Pass in a snowstorm into Switzerland, in Basle Waterhouse parted company with Hodgkin and returned to Italy in the company of a Manchester acquaintance George Rooke.
In 1860 Waterhouse married Elizabeth Hodgkin (1834–1918), who was also a Quaker, daughter of John Hodgkin and sister of the historian Thomas Hodgkin, who was a school friend of Waterhouse. Elizabeth was herself the author of several books, including a collection of verse and some anthologies. Elizabeth was also an accomplished water-colourist and she and Alfred would often paint together, also she produced designs for embroidery and copper and brass ware in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement. Elizabeth also organised between 1890 and 1914 evening craft classes in Yattendon. She also arranged amateur theatricals at home.
The eldest of the five children the couple had was Paul Waterhouse (1861-1924), after being educated at Eton College and taking a degree in Classics at Balliol College, Oxford he would follow his father’s profession joining the practice in 1884, his father made him a partner in 1891.
In 1877 Alfred, Elizabeth and Paul changed their faith, all were baptised into the Church of England, the four younger children were baptised a few months later.
Waterhouse designed his own house in 1860, Barcombe Cottage, Fallowfield, Manchester. The purchase of 8 (now 61) New Cavendish Street, Marylebone, London, a late eighteenth-century Georgian terraced house was negotiated in the autumn of 1864, preparatory to his relocating in 1865 to London. Waterhouse went on to design the Gothic Foxhill House (1867–68), Reading, as the family’s first country residence. The site was next door to his parents’ house, Whiteknights House. In 1877 he built the even grander Yattendon Court near Yattendon.
In the village of Yattendon Waterhouse designed and paid for several buildings: a Reading Room and caretaker’s cottage (1877) cost £570; several cottages, village shop and farm buildings (c.1878-1900); alterations to the parish church including a new porch, vestry, new altar and organ, and partial rebuilding of the tower (1881) cost £370; a new village school (1885–86) for £2,077.
Friends of Alfred and Elizabeth who regularly stayed at Yattendon included Hamo Thornycroft and Edmund Gosse; they also let the old manor house at Yattendon to their future son-in-law Robert Bridges. In the spring each year the Waterhouses held regular Thursday night dinners at their London house in New Cavendish Street. Guests included Hamo Thornycroft, his sister Theresa Thornycroft, Edmund Gosse, Frank Dicksee, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Ford Madox Brown, Mary Augusta Ward, Benjamin Jowett, James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce and his sister Julia Gaskell. Alfred was a friend of fellow architects Richard Norman Shaw and William Burges.
Hamo Thornycroft spent the Christmas of 1882 at Yattendon, on 23 December he wrote to his future wife Agatha Cox:
Being a well ordered house the family and the guests retire at the hour of eleven, so I am writing to you in my room seated before a jolly fire…This is such a charming house to be in that I feel I may never weary of talking of it. Life is made so pleasant that it becomes precious! Intellectually and physically one feels better for every hour one is here. Everyone is courteous, kind and intelligent, and conversation so bright and happy….After a charming dinner and a menu intellectuelle (but is menu m. or f. ?) we had music and then a chat about the great hall fire, like all fires here, on the hearth. The bedrooms have such names as these ‘Valour’, ‘Hope’, ‘Courage’. I am in ‘Honour’, – Is it not a nice idea? Much better than ‘blue’, ‘red’ or ‘yellow’ room or 1,2,3. It is pleasant to find both the Carol singers and the Mummers are still in existence here…
Waterhouse suffered a stroke in 1901, leading to his retirement from architecture in 1902, having practised in partnership with his son, Paul Waterhouse, from 1891, his son took over the practice. He died at Yattendon Court on 22 August 1905. The Building News‘s obituary described Alfred as “genial, cheery, and yet modest and unassuming demeanor” which had “won him a wide circle of friends within and without the profession”.”