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Webb, Charles (1821–1898)

by Charles Bridges-Webb

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Charles Webb (1821-1898), architect, was born on 26 November 1821 at Sudbury, Suffolk, England, son of William Webb, builder, and his wife Elizabeth, née Hayward. The youngest of nine children, he attended Sudbury Academy and was later apprenticed to a London architect. In 1847 he was secretary of a short-lived London Architectural Students' Society. His brother James (1808-1870) had migrated to Van Diemen's Land in 1830, married Susannah Wellard at Hobart Town in 1833 and crossed to Port Phillip in 1839 where he set up as a builder in partnership with John Allee; in 1848 he bought Brighton Park, Brighton, from Henry Dendy. Charles decided to join James and on 2 June 1849, with his sister and her husband and family, arrived at Melbourne in the Spartan. Another brother, Richard, followed later and became a timber merchant in Brighton.

Charles lived with James at Brighton and in August they went into partnership as architects and surveyors. Their most important early commission was in 1850 for St Paul's Church, Swanston Street; its construction was disrupted by the gold rush, and in December 1851 Webb briefly and unsuccessfully joined the rush near Bendigo. On 1 November 1853 at St Paul's Church he married Emma Bridges; her father had been chief cashier at the Bank of England and after his death the rest of the family had migrated to Melbourne. The couple lived at Chilton, Brighton.

Charles and James built many warehouses and private homes, a synagogue in the city and the galleries in John Knox Presbyterian Church, and continued the design of St Stephen's, Richmond. They built many shops and houses at Brighton. James went to England in 1854-56 and Webb practised for four years in partnership with Thomas Taylor, designing St Andrew's Church, Brighton, and receiving an important commission for Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1855. In 1857 he added a tower and a slender spire to Scots Church, which James had built in 1841. Webb practised on his own from 1858 until 1888 when two of his sons joined him. He designed Wesley College in 1864, the Alfred Hospital and the Royal Arcade in 1869, the South Melbourne Town Hall and the Melbourne Orphan Asylum in 1878 and the Grand Hotel (now the Windsor) in 1884. In 1865 he had designed his own home, Farleigh, in Park Street, Brighton, and in 1875 Mount Noorat for Niel Black. Webb worked with systematic neatness and painstaking care and his designs in general were serious and dignified.

He was a founding member of the Victorian Institute of Architects in 1856 and was president in 1882-83. He joined the Brighton Volunteer Rifle Corps in September 1860 and helped to found the Boating Club (now the Royal Brighton Yacht Club) in 1875; he was a member of both the Melbourne Club and the Melbourne Cricket Club. For many years Webb was secretary of the local branch of the Bible Society, which James had helped to found. Although he was an Anglican and for many years an active member of Brighton's St Andrew's Church, three of his children became members of the Plymouth Brethren sect. Webb owned real estate in Brighton and held shares in many public companies. Serious, retiring and introspective, he spent long hours reading in his study. Photos of him in later life show him to be tall, immaculate in dress, with smooth hair and a fluffy white beard framing a serene face. As a young man he kept diaries, some of which survive. His death at Farleigh on 23 January 1898 was hastened by 'nervous exhaustion from excessive heat'. Predeceased by his wife in 1893 and survived by five sons and three daughters, he was buried in Brighton cemetery.

James was a devout Wesleyan. Known as 'King Webb' and 'The Lion', he was active, if somewhat cantankerous, in local affairs; he was a councillor in 1859-61 and 1867-70 and mayor in 1867 and 1868. He died suddenly, aged 63, on 9 August 1870, survived by his wife, one of his three sons and six of his nine daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Bate, A History of Brighton (Melb, 1962)
  • C. Bridges-Webb, ‘Charles Webb (1821-98): an early Melbourne architect’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 41 (1970)
  • J. Denton and B. Marshall, Charles Webb, Early Melbourne Architect (Architecture history report, University of Melbourne, 1967).

Citation details

Charles Bridges-Webb, 'Webb, Charles (1821–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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