Edward William Godwin (1833 – 1886) British architect & furniture designer

Drawing 1860 - 1865 (made) by Edward William Godwin
Drawing 1860 – 1865 (made) by Edward William Godwin

Edward William Godwin (1833 – 1886) was a British architect and designer. He was born in the city of Bristol. He began his career designing in mid-Victorian Britain’s strongly polychromatic “Ruskinian Gothic” style, inspired by The Stones of Venice, and then transitioned to the “Anglo-Japanese taste” of the Aesthetic Movement and Whistler’s circle in the 1870s. The Arts and Crafts Movement bears Godwin’s imprint.

Early training

He received his training in Bristol under the tutelage of William Armstrong.


He was a city surveyor, architect, and civil engineer who worked for William Armstrong. In 1854 in Bristol, he established his practice with no notable commissions. Consequently, between 1857 and 1859, he lived in Ireland and worked with his engineer brother.

“One of the most artistic spirits of this century”

Oscar Wilde

His first significant commission was the 1857 church in Saint Johnston, County Donegal (Ireland). In 1861, he designed the town halls of Northampton and Congleton, both of which were inspired by Ruskin’s Gothic interpretation.

His work was influenced significantly by the 1862 London ‘International Exhibition on Industry and Art .’ He experimented with interior design in his Bristol home, where he arranged Japanese prints on plain-coloured walls, Persian rugs on bare floors, and 18th-century furniture.

Japanese influence

In 1862, at a time when few others were interested, he began collecting Japanese artefacts. In 1866, he collaborated with William Burges, a fellow admirer of Gothic and Japanese design who had relocated to London in 1865.

His association with Henry Crisp lasted from 1864 to 1871. Godwin established his own office in London in 1865. He began designing wallpaper for Jeffrey and Co in 1866 and furniture in various styles in 1867, the year he completed his work on Dromore Castle in Ireland.

Sideboard - Edward William Godwin (1867 - 1870)
Sideboard – Edward William Godwin (1867 – 1870)

His most well-known works include William Wall’s stark Anglo-Japanese ‘Art Furniture.’ For a brief period, the Art Furniture Company manufactured his designs, with subsequent production by Gillow, Green and King, Collingson and Lock, and W.A. Smee.

Interior design plans for Japanese inspired interiors by Edward William Godwin.
Interior design plans for Japanese inspired interiors by Edward William Godwin.

The term ‘Anglo-Japanese’ was coined to describe Godwin’s art furniture’s slender lines and geometric shapes, which were frequently produced in ebonized wood without mouldings, carving, or ornamentation.

He collaborated with friend and painter James Whistler from 1874 to 1878.

He designed vernacular-style houses for the Bedford Park Estate in Chiswick (Britain’s first garden suburb) in 1876 but was later replaced on the project by Richard Norman Shaw.

Oscar Wilde described him as ‘one of the most artistic spirits in England’ when he decorated Wilde’s house on Tite Street in London in 1884. He was an accomplished writer who developed an interest in costume and set design towards the end of his life. His 1870s designs influenced subsequent industrial and interior design and anticipated Modernism in Germany and France at the turn of the century.


His first winning competition entry was the Italian-Gothic design for Northampton town hall. He collaborated with James Whistler (with Whistler’s painted panels); they were produced by William Wall and shown at 1878 Paris ‘Exposition Universelle.’


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Wikipedia contributors. (2021, February 28). Edward William Godwin. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 04:41, April 27, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Edward_William_Godwin&oldid=1009362061

Additional Reading

Arbuthnott, C., Soros, S. W., & Godwin, E. W. (1999). E.W. Godwin: Aesthetic movement architect and designer. Yale University Press.

Weber, S., & Godwin, E. W. (1999). The Secular Furniture of E.W. Godwin: With catalogue raisonné. Published for the Bard Graduate Center by Yale University Press.

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