Richard Reynolds Rowe (1824‒99)

Richard Reynolds Rowe (known as “Reynolds”) was born on 5 June 1824, and baptized in the church of St Andrew the Great, Cambridge on 13 June. His parents, who lived at 1 Brunswick Terrace (off Maids’ Causeway), were Richard Rowe, a keeper at the University Library and Alderman of Cambridge Borough and Sarah Rowe (née Reynolds), both of whom are buried in Mill Road Cemetery.

Richard Reynolds Rowe: portrait, c.1880
Richard Reynolds Rowe: portrait, c.1880

Little is known of his schooling, or of his training as an engineer and architect. He became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1854 (later a Fellow), and a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1855. He was appointed Engineer to the Cambridge Improvement Commissioners in 1850, holding this position to 1869. He was also Surveyor of Bridges and Public Works in the Isle of Ely from 1852. In these capacities he was responsible for overseeing a wide range of projects within the borough and county. Of enduring importance for local historians is his trigonometric survey map of Cambridge, dated 1858 (Cambridgeshire Archives CB/4/19/1/19), showing the streets with building frontages, coloured to show different types of buildings. The map was reprinted in 1872.


St Matthew's Church, Petersfield, Cambridge
St Matthew’s Church, Petersfield, Cambridge

As an architect in his own right from 1850, he designed the vestry of Christ Church, Newmarket Road (1863), St Matthew’s Church (Petersfield), with its octagon centred on a Greek cross (1866 ‒ see illustration), the iron-and-timber church hall of St Mark’s Church, Newnham (1871), the Cambridge Corn Exchange (1875‒76), with its vibrant polychrome brickwork (attractive now, but in 1954 described by Pevsner as “very ugly”), the neighbouring Red Cow public house (1898), the almshouses on King Street (1880), and many private houses and other buildings in Cambridge. He was for many years Clerk of Works to Ely Cathedral, and was involved, under Sir George Gilbert Scott, in the restoration of the octagon, about which he wrote a paper in 1876. He was also involved in the restoration of many medieval churches throughout Cambridgeshire, including within Cambridge the chapel of Jesus College, and Great St Mary’s. Jon Harris described his architecture as “strong, very distinguished, usually quiet and always original”.

Reynolds married Charlotte Hedley in Caistor, Lincs, on the spring of 1879, after which the couple lived at “Park House”, 16 Parkside, Cambridge for the remainder of their lives, apparently childless. His architectural office was at 10 Emmanuel Street.

He took an active interest in local affairs, being for some years a member of the Town Council, of the Improvement Commission, and of the Board of Guardians of the Cambridge workhouse. He was a Knight of Justice of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, and took considerable part in the formation of the Church Congress. At the time of his death he was president of several national societies. He is described as having been “kind and benevolent, his intellect strong, and his energy untiring” (Grace).

Reynolds died on 21 December 1899, aged 75 (see download: obituary), and his funeral on 27 December at St Andrew the Great and at Mill Road Cemetery was a grand affair, with many architects, engineers, city dignitaries and college heads as mourners (see download: funeral report). At his death he left effects worth $9, 250 to his wife and to “the right honourable Charles Lindley Wood viscount Halifax[,] and Benjamin Green Lake gentleman”. In the sale of his estate in 1908 following his wife’s death in 1907, not only Park House itself but also houses in Fitzroy Street, King Street and French’s Road were offered for sale (Cambridge Evening News, 4 March 2008).


Richard Reynolds monument



Parish : St Andrew the Great

See family grave page for more information






Richard Reynolds Rowe, “The Octagon and Lantern of Ely Cathedral”, [Proceedings of the] Royal Institute of British Architects, 3 January 1876, pp. 69‒85

The Victorian Web: Literature, History, & Culture in the Age of Victoria (“Richard Reynolds Rowe”):

Grace’s Guide toBritish Industrial History (“Richard Reynolds Rowe”):

James Frank, “A Man of his Time” , Cambridgeshire Life, November 1981, pp. 32‒36

Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire (Harmonsdworth: Penguin, 1954; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2/1970)

Simon Bradley, ed., The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014)

Jon Harris, “Richard Reynolds Rowe”, Varsity, 24 November 1962

By Ian Bent and Robin Mansfield

Richard Reynolds Rowe