Basic Biographical Details

Name: Peter Willis
Designation: Architect
Born: 26 August 1933
Died: 12 August 2016
Bio Notes: Peter Willis was born on 26 August 1933 in Thornaby, Yorkshire, and attended Coatham School, Redcar. He entered King’s College, Newcastle upon Tyne (University of Durham) in 1951, graduating BArch with First Class Honours in 1956. In 1954 he was awarded an Archibald Dawnay Scholarship (for building construction) by the RIBA. In 1956 he went up to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, on a W B Noble Studentship from King’s College, to undertake research under Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (as he became) on the life and work of the 18th-century landscape designer Charles Bridgeman. After two years at Cambridge, and a year in architectural practice with Philip R Middleton and Partner, Middlesbrough, he spent the academic year 1959-60 on a postgraduate studentship from the University of Edinburgh, continuing his research on Bridgeman under H F Clark in the Department of Architecture.

In 1960 he gained a Fulbright Scholarship, and spent the academic year 1960-61 in California as a teaching assistant in the Department of Art at UCLA, simultaneously working on the Stowe Papers in the Henry E Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino. On his return to the UK in l961, he completed his thesis on Bridgeman and was awarded the degree of PhD at Cambridge in 1962. He was elected ARIAS in 1964.

In the autumn of 1961, as an architect, he joined Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners in Edinburgh, and contributed to a variety of projects, including a scheme for Queen’s College, Dundee, and a competition for St Paul’s Choir School, London.

In 1964-5 he was a junior fellow in landscape architecture at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (Trustees for Harvard University) in Washington, DC. During this year, apart from continuing his work on Charles Bridgeman, he lectured widely in the United States, and prepared designs for a sculpture court in Washington for the National Collection of Fine Arts.

Returning to Britain in 1965, he was appointed to a lectureship in architecture at Newcastle University where, after becoming personal reader in the history of architecture in 1979, he remained full-time until 1990; from 1990-96 he taught part-time. His responsibilities at Newcastle involved studio teaching, lecture courses in history and theory of architecture, supervision of undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations, and acting as tutor for final year BArch design thesis projects.

In conjunction with the project office at Newcastle University, he was architect for a group practice surgery in Alnwick, completed in 1984.

Whilst at Newcastle, he returned to the United States frequently. For the academic year 1968-9 he was a visiting professor in the department of art history at the University of Minnesota, and in 1980-81 a visiting fellow in the department of history of art at Yale University. In 1979 he was visiting professor in landscape architecture at the University of Manitoba, and in 1994 Frederic Lindley Morgan Professor of Architectural Design at the University of Louisville.

After leaving Newcastle University, he took an MA (1995) in the Department of Theology at the University of Durham, with a study of the monk and architect, Dom Paul Bellot, OSB. In 1999 he gained a Diploma in Music at the Open University, and then enrolled as a postgraduate student in the Department of Music at Durham, completing a thesis entitled ‘Chopin in Britain’ in 2009, and graduating PhD in 2010. Previously, in 1992, on the basis of his publications, he had been awarded the degree of DLitt by the University of Durham.

He was elected ARIBA on 5 January 1960, proposed by Professor J H Napper, Professor W B Edwards and Professor Sir Leslie Martin, and FRIBA on 8 April 1970 proposed by Napper, Professor Douglass Wise and Harold Wharfe. He became ARIAS on 24 June 1964, and FRIAS on 30 October 1968. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) on 9 October 1978, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (FSA Scot) on 11 October 1982, and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA) on 3 March 1983.

He was Honorary Treasurer of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB) from 1967-77, and a member of the Society of Architectural Historians (the American equivalent of the SAHGB) from 1965 onwards.

Peter Willis married Jennifer Mary Rae Gilchrist, of Edinburgh (born 2 March 1933) in St Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh, on 27 June 1968, and he and his wife had one son, Magnus Peter Robert Willis (born 26 October 1969).


Apart from journal articles, book reviews, and contributions to various volumes of essays, he published the following books:
(Editor) Furor Hortensis. Essays on the history of the English landscape garden in memory of H F Clark. Edinburgh: Elysium Press, 1974
(Editor, with John Dixon Hunt) The genius of the place. The English landscape garden, 1620-1820. London: Paul Elek, 1975; 2nd edition, Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1988
New architecture in Scotland. London: Lund Humphries, 1977
Charles Bridgeman and the English landscape garden. London: A Zwemmer (Studies in Architecture, volume XVII), 1977; 2nd edition, Newcastle upon Tyne: Elysium Press, 2002
Dom Paul Bellot, OSB. Architect and monk. Newcastle upon Tyne: Elysium Press, 1996
Chopin in Manchester. Newcastle upon Tyne: Elysium Press, 2011
Chopin in Britain. Chopin’s visits to England and Scotland in 1837 and 1848 (in preparation, 2012)

He was also a consultant editor (with John Nelson Tarn) for the 19th edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture, edited by John Musgrove (London: Butterworths, 1987).

Willis's books, papers and files on 18th-century architecture, landscape and 20th-century architecture (including Sir Leslie Martin) are deposited in the Willis Papers in Durham University Library, and his material on Dom Paul Bellot, OSB, in Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight.

In 2012, his books, papers and files on Chopin were in the process of being given to the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Willis died on 12 August 2106.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 5Teesdale House, Acklam Road, Thornaby-on-Tees, Yorkshire, EnglandPrivate19331937 
Item 2 of 548, The Green, Norton, Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham, EnglandPrivate19371964 
Item 3 of 548, The Green, Norton, Stockton -on-Tees, Durham, EnglandPrivate1960 *  
Item 4 of 531, Nelson Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate/business1964 *After 1975 
Item 5 of 55, Fenwick Close, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, EnglandPrivate1971  

* earliest date known from documented sources.

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 2Philip R Middleton & Partner19581959Assistant 
Item 2 of 2Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners (RMJM)19611964Architect 


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 6(Professor) Wilfrid Bythell Edwards5 January 1960For Associateship
Item 2 of 6(Sir) John Leslie Martin (known as Sir Leslie Martin)5 January 1960For Associateship
Item 3 of 6Jack Hollingworth Napper5 January 1960For Associateship
Item 4 of 6Jack Hollingworth Napper8 April 1970For Fellowship
Item 5 of 6Harold Wharfe8 April 1970For Fellowship
Item 6 of 6Douglass Wise (Professor)8 April 1970For Fellowship


Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 3Courtesy of Peter WillisInformation sent to Yvonne Hillyard August 2013
Item 2 of 3RIAS, Rutland SquareRecords of membership  
Item 3 of 3RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers A no20560, F no7053 (Combined Box 172)