A friendship formed between two undergraduates at Exeter College, Oxford, in the 1870’s would have a profound impact on the architecture of Sherborne School.  The two undergraduates were Reginald Theodore Blomfield (1856-1942) and Henry Robinson King (1855-1935).  After leaving Oxford, King decided his future lay in education and, after a brief stint teaching at his old school Clifton College, he came to Sherborne in 1883 to teach Classics and remained on the staff for over 40 years.  Meanwhile, Blomfield decided on a career in architecture and in 1881 was articled to his uncle the architect Sir Arthur Blomfield.  In 1884, Blomfield set up his own practice and amongst his early commissions was the Bradby Hall (1886) at his old school Haileybury.  Blomfield became interested in the Arts and Crafts movement and in 1887 joined the Art Workers’ Guild, serving in 1892 as secretary alongside the president and fellow Exeter College alumnus, William Morris.

In 1894, King introduced Blomfield to Sherborne School.  In his diary on 14 February 1894, he wrote: ‘I have, whether foolishly or not, undertaken to decorate properly with panelling etc. the orchestra end of Big School at a cost of perhaps £300.  The Governors sanctioned RTB’s [Blomfield] being employed for this job.’  The Big School Room had been built in 1877 by architects Richard Herbert Carpenter (1841-1893) and Benjamin Ingelow (1835-1926), but King felt that the interior needed improving to ‘make it equal to the chapel and library, instead of a disgrace to the place’.  He asked Blomfield to panel the walls of the BSR and to put down an oak floor, thereby creating a space more akin to Exeter College Hall where Blomfield and King had first met.

The Big Schoolroom, c.1900.  Showing Blomfield’s ‘improvements’.

Over the next 32 years Blomfield went on to design all the major new buildings at Sherborne School, including the Carrington Building and Westcott Art School (1910), the classrooms in the north range of the Courts (1913), the Devitt Court workshops (1921), the war memorial staircase and ante-chapel (1922), the gate tower to the Courts (1923), the gymnasium (1923), now the dining hall.  His last commission was the Music School (1926), now the Drama School.

Blomfield’s design for the Carrington Building and Westcott Art School, c.1909.

While completing the war memorial staircase at Sherborne School, Blomfield was also working on designs for the Menin Gate at Ypres in Belgium.  Amongst the 57,000 names inscribed on the panels of the Menin Gate are those of fourteen Old Shirburnians whose names also appear on the war memorial staircase at Sherborne School.  Blomfield was also responsible for designing the Cross of Sacrifice (or War Cross) for the Imperial War Graves Commission, the Brandhoek Military Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery (1915), the Belgian War Memorial on the Victoria Embankment (1917), the Hertfordshire Regiment Memorial (1921), and the Royal Air Force Memorial (1923).

Blomfield’s initial design for the War Memorial ante-chapel at Sherborne School, April 1920.

Blomfield also designed buildings for other Schools, including a chapel for Queen Anne’s School in Caversham (1893), a headmaster’s house for St Edmund’s School in Canterbury (1897), school buildings and a house for Hillside School in Godalming (1897), the main building at Sherborne Girls’ School (1902-1906), and a development plan for Stowe School (1926).

The Music School, c.1927. The last building Blomfield designed for Sherborne School.

Blomfield also carried out restoration work at Chequers in Buckinghamshire (1892-1901, 1909-1912), the redevelopment of the Regent Street Quadrant (1910-1926), and a new bridge at Lambeth (1929-1932).  In 1927, he was appointed by the Central Electricity Board to advise on the design of electricity pylons for the new national grid.  He adopted a design submitted by the American firm of Milliken Brothers  and created the modernist icon that can still be seen today striding across the country.

In 1912, Blomfield was elected president of RIBA and in 1913 he received the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture.  He was knighted in 1919.

Reginald Theodore Blomfield died on 27 December 1942, just seven days after his 86th birthday.  His old friend, Henry Robinson King having passed away seven years before on 28 September 1935.  But the legacy of their friendship lives on today in the buildings of Sherborne School where, as A.B. Gourlay so rightly stated, Blomfield was ‘the man responsible above all others for the aspect of modern Sherborne.’ 

A photograph believed to be of the Blomfields during a visit to Sherborne.

Rachel Hassall
School Archivist
September 2018

Further reading:
M.S. Briggs & Richard A. Fellows, ‘Sir Reginald Theodore Blomfield’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (entry revised 21 May 2009).
Richard A. Fellows, Sir Reginald Blomfield. An Edwardian Architect (London, 1985).
A.B. Gourlay, A History of Sherborne School (Sherborne, 1971, 2nd ed.).
Henry Robinson King’s diaries are held in the Sherborne School Archives.

For further information please contact the School Archivist.

Return to the School Archives homepage.