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Who (or what) was/is (Richard) Norman Shaw?

05.10.15

To many, who work at Jesmond Dene House, Norman Shaw is a room. It is a very versatile room: oscillating elegantly between housing the daily breakfast cornucopia and reinventing itself as a private dining space with views of - and access to - the gardens and Dene. But still a room; in the tradition of thing’s functions being overtaken by their names (Hoover is, of course, the most well-known brand of vacuum cleaner). Who, then, has been eclipsed by their signifier?

Richard Norman Shaw – to give him his full name – was, indeed, a man. And, when we begin to survey his life-achievements, we may well blush at reducing him to a mere room*. Born in Edinburgh in 1831, Shaw trained as an architect under the tutelage of William Burn (pioneer of the Scottish Baronial style) and George Edmund Street (leading practitioner of the Victorian Gothic Revival), attending classes at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Travelling on a Royal Academy scholarship, Shaw’s amassed sketches were collated as Architectural Sketches from the Continent (1858). Among the most notable of his private commissioners, Shaw was put to work by painter John Calcott Horsely; illustrator and writer George Henry Boughton; and, most familiar to us, industrialist Lord Armstrong – and our beloved Jesmond Dene House (as well as Cragside in Northumberland).

I might have claimed to know at least some of the above but, what I had not reckoned with is the multitude and magnitude of his commercial buildings.

Old “New Scotland Yard” or “Norman Shaw Buildings” (pictured) were built between 1887 and 1906 and were originally the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police; later becoming Parliamentary Buildings. One can begin to imagine that Shaw must’ve had friends in vertigo-inducing places. And Shaw was prolific: with Churches, Schools, Hotels and City Halls all present on his CV. (One can view a compendium of Shaw’s built work built here; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Norman_Shaw ).

Shaw was later elected to the Royal Academy and, borrowing from the Arts and Crafts Movement, is considered one of the forefathers Edwardian Classicism, so prominent at the beginning of the 20th century. Shaw died, in London, in 1912.

So, not just a room, Richard Norman Shaw was a formidable architect with a lasting legacy: one that stretches beyond our own Jesmond Dene House and into the upper-most echelons of English society.

*It is a very nice room.