Architect born at Clapham (then in Surrey), the son of Edward Webb, a watercolourist and steel engraver. Webb was articled to Banks and Barry, 1866–71. Before setting up in independent practice in 1873, he won the RIBA’s Pugin studentship which financed his travel to Europe and Asia. During the 1880s he began a working relationship with Edward Ingress Bell (1836–1914), their first successful competition entry being in 1886 for the Victoria Law Courts, Birmingham (completed 1891); this collaboration continued up to 1909 and included the critically acclaimed Metropolitan Life Assurance Company offices, Moorgate, London (1890–93). Webb’s independent work includes the restoration of St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield (1885 onwards); the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth (1898–1907); the southern extension to the V&A with unified façades along Exhibition and Cromwell Roads (1899–1908); and, most importantly, Admiralty Arch, The Mall, the architectural surroundings of Brock’s Victoria Memorial and the refacing of Buckingham Palace (1905–13). Webb’s obituarist in The Times considered his most successful building, ‘from the point of view of unity of effect’, the Royal College of Science, Imperial Institute Road (1900–06; demolished 1970s). Greatly concerned about London’s future, in January 1914 he delivered an address to the London Society, in which he described a dream image of what the city would be like in 2014, ‘with a salmon weir at London Bridge’. While not considered a great architect whose works were touched by genius, his inoffensive, restrained baroque classicism and his immaculate planning skills, allied to his personal charm and trustworthy, businesslike character, made him the ‘most prominent British architect of his time’ (Times obit.). He was president of Architectural Association, 1881–82, and of the RIBA, 1902–04. He was elected ARA in 1899 and RA in 1903, and was PRA, 1919–24, the first architect president since James Wyatt in 1805. He was knighted in 1904 and was an original member of the Royal Fine Art Commission, formed in 1924. In that year, he was injured in a motor accident, never fully regaining his health. The elder of his two sons, Maurice Webb (1889–1939), continued his practice (the younger had been killed in the war). Webb died in his sleep at his house at 1 Hanover Terrace, Kensington, on 21 August 1930, and was interred in the family plot at Gunnersbury cemetery, Middlesex. In 1932, a memorial tablet designed by William McMillan was unveiled in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Sources: Dungavell, I., ‘Webb, Sir Aston (1849–1930)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; The Times, 22 August 1930, p. 12 (obit.); Ward-Jackson, P., Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011; Who was Who.
Terry Cavanagh November 2022
Sir Thomas Brock RA, Bust of Sir Aston Webb PRA, c. 1922 (photo: © Royal Academy of Arts, London; photographer: Paul Highnam)