Basic Biographical Details

Name: Charles Robert Cockerell
Designation: Architect
Born: 27 April 1788
Died: 17 September 1863
Bio Notes: Charles Robert Cockerell was born in London on 17 April 1788, the second son of Samuel Pepys Cockerell, architect. He was educated privately initially and then at Westminster. When he was sixteen he entered his father’s office where he remained until 1809 when he transferred to the office of Robert Smirke, a friend of his father. Smirke had the commission for Covent Garden in hand at that time. In 1810 the young Cockerell was sent abroad on the Grand Tour initially in the capacity of King’s Messenger with despatches for the Fleet at Constantinople as France and Italy were enemy territory at the time. After an adventurous journey he arrived there and three months later he moved to Athens in the company of another young architect, John Foster of Liverpool.

In the spring of 1811 along with two German archaeologists they made the discovery of the Aegina Marbles. Cockerell had hoped these might go to the British Museum but in the end they went to Munich. However soon afterwards they discovered the Phigaleian Marbles at Bassae which were purchased by the British Government in 1813. In 1811-12 Cockerell and Foster joined a group who were embarking on a tour of Hellenistic sites in Asia Minor and from there he was invited to join Captain Francis Beaufort who was surveying the southern shores of Asia Minor. In Malta they parted company and Cockerell proceeded to Sicily. There he spent some months making a measured survey of the Temple of Jupiter at Agrigento. Cockerell visited Albania and then toured the Peloponnese and the Archipelago. The political situation changed with the abdication of Napoleon in April 1814 enabling Cockerell to visit Italy where he spent time in Rome and Florence and north Italy before returning home in 1817 to open his practice.

By this time Cockerell had a reputation as an archaeologist having been involved with the discovery of some major classical sculptures and made some major surveys of Greek temples which had led incidentally to the observation of entasis in columns. He found architectural practice, of which he had little or no experience, very dull. He considered giving it up but was persuaded to continue by his father. Even after his practice was established he continued to draw Greek antiquities for exhibition at the Royal Academy. He planned a history of Greek art with the archaeologist Haller but Haller died in 1819 and this was abandoned. In 1819 he exhibited a scheme for the restoration of the Capitol and Forum of Rome and in 1824 a similar scheme for Athens. It was not until 1860 that he published ‘The Temples of Jupiter Panhellenus at Aegina and of Apollo Epicurus at Bassae’.

In 1819 he had succeeded his father as Surveyor of St Paul’s Cathedral. By 1822 he had gained sufficient reputation to be chosen as the architect for the National Monument in Edinburgh. In 1833 he succeeded Soane as architect to the Bank of England and was also surveyor of the estates of Seckford and Northampton in Clerkenwell.

Thereafter Cockerell’s career blossomed. He was elected ARA in 1829, RA in 1836 and Professor of Architecture at the RA in 1840, a post which he held until 1857. He was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Oxford in 1844 and the RIBA’s Gold Medal in 1848, the medal’s first recipient. In 1860 he succeeded Earl de Grey as the RIBA’s first professional president. He was also a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, a member of the Institut de France, of the Academy of St Luke in Rome and of many other academies.

Cockerell retired from practice in 1859 and died on 17 September 1863 aged 75. He was buried in St Pauls’ Cathedral. He had married Anna Rennie, daughter of the engineer John Rennie in 1848. The couple had ten children. Various portraits of Cockerell are in the Illustrated London News and there is a drawing of him as a young man by Ingres.

Despite his early archaeological discoveries and his continued enthusiasm for classical antiquities, Cockerell did not resort to literal reproduction in his designs. He came to admire the more recent past including the Italian buildings of the 16th and 17th centuries and appreciated the work of Wren, Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor. His work according to Colvin is ‘a unique synthesis of neo-classical and baroque, of Greek Revival and English ‘Renaissance’.’ He was fond of including sculpture in his designs (which he designed himself) and wrote that ‘sculpture is the language of architecture’ He was also adept in using contrasting coloured materials in his designs.

Cockerell’s best work is seen in his public buildings. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the University Library in Cambridge are notable examples. All his important London buildings have been demolished. His country houses are less successful though there are exceptions to this such as Hinchwick in Gloucestershire. Though he was recognised as one of the leading architects of his day, he missed out on some major commissions such as the National Gallery and the Houses of Parliament. Some major work such as the National Monument in Edinburgh was left unfinished and only one wing of the University Library in Cambridge was built.

Although Cockerell did not take many pupils into his office, his reputation was very high among succeeding generations of architects, through his lectures, publications (a full list of which is given in Colvin) and work exhibited at the Academy.

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 2Samuel Pepys Cockerell18041809Apprentice 
Item 2 of 2(Sir) Robert Smirke18091810Architect 

Buildings and Designs

This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 11824National MonumentCalton Hill EdinburghScotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 3Colvin, Howard2008A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 London: YUP. 4th edition 
Item 2 of 3Dodd, E M 1963Charles Robert Cockerell in Ferriday, P (ed.) 'Victorian Architecture'  
Item 3 of 3Watkin, David1974The Life and Work of C R Cockerell   

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 7Architectural Record1911xxix R P Spiers: 'Cockerell's Restorations of Ancient Rome', pp123-8
Item 2 of 7Architectural Review1902xii R P Cockerell: 'The Life and Works of C R Cockerell', pp23-7, 129-46
Item 3 of 7Builder1863XXI p683-5
Item 4 of 7Gentleman's Magazine1863XV p785-91 Obituary
Item 5 of 7RIBA Journalbetween 1899 and 19003rd ser. viiLondon: Royal Institute of British ArchitectsJ M Brydon: 'The Works of Professor Cockerell', pp349-68
Item 6 of 7RIBA Transactionsbetween 1863 and 4  S Smirke: 'Some Account of the Professional Life and Charavter of the Late Prof. C R Cockerell'.
Item 7 of 7RIBA Transactions1890ns, vi G Aitchison: 'C R Cockerell', pp255-61

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Drawings Collection Main collection of Cockerell's drawings.
Item 2 of 2RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA MSS Collection Diaries for the years 1821-30 and 1832. Also MS scrapbook compiled by his assistant J E Goodchild in 1889 and entitled 'Reminiscences of twenty-six years association with the late Professor C R Cockerell'.