George Edmund Street was one of the foremost Victorian architects who specialised in the ‘Gothic’ style. Perhaps best known for the Royal Courts of Justice, Street was also a prolific designer and builder of churches all over the country.
He carried out three major projects in the Dulwich area, St Paul’s Herne Hill, built on the extremity of the Estate, St Luke’s West Norwood, and an ornate mausoleum in West Norwood Cemetery.
St Paul’s Herne Hill, listed Grade II*, was originally completed in 1844 in the ‘Early English’ style to the designs of George Alexander. Following a major fire in February 1858 only the tower, spire and outer walls remained. Fortunately it was insured, and the vicar, Rev Matthew Anderson, employed Street to rebuild it. The contractor, Holland and Hannen, completed the work by October that year. John Ruskin, who lived nearby in Denmark Hill, called the new church ‘one of the loveliest in the country and one that makes the fire a matter of rejoicing’. Only two of the original stained glass windows by Hardman remained after a near miss by a V1 in 1944.
St Luke's, West Norwood stands on a triangular site at the south end of Norwood Road where it joins Knights Hill and Norwood High Street. Listed Grade II, and originally designed by Charles Bedford in 1822-25, the church was at first endowed with box pews, galleries and a triple-decker pulpit, and could seat a total congregation of about 1,800. Between 1870-1872 it was extensively re-ordered by Street who dramatically rearranged the interior including the removal of the galleries.
The mausoleum at West Norwood Cemetery, a two-storeyed polychromatic design, was designed for the successful Greek merchant John Peter (Zannis) Ralli. It is listed Grade II*. The five Ralli Brothers ran one of the largest Greek trading companies of the Victorian era. John had started trading in oriental silk and Russian grain in the 1820s, and the brothers were quick to seize new opportunities created by wars, political events, and the opening of new markets. By the 1840s they owned major trading operations across the Mediterranean, the Levant and Russia. They supplied grain to the British and French armies during the Crimean War and were early traders in grain futures. At its peak the firm employed more than 40,000 people and expanded to the USA and India. In later years they were the suppliers of Jute for sand bags to the British Army in WW1.
G E Street was born at Woodford in Essex, the third son of a solicitor. He went to school in Mitcham and later to the Camberwell Collegiate school, leaving in 1839. He worked for a very short period for his father but, on the latter’s death, his mother helped him to secure a position in an architect’s office, first with Owen Carter in Winchester, and afterwards as an improver (draughtsman) in Sir George Gilbert Scott’s office in London which deepened his interest in Gothic architecture.
He left after five years to set up on his own, his first commission being Biscovey Church in Cornwall. He was an excellent draughtsman and in 1855 he published an illustrated work on ‘The Brick and Marble Architecture of Northern Italy’. He followed this up ten years later with a book on ‘The Gothic Architecture of Spain’. All the drawings in both books were his alone.
Street was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1866, and a fellow in 1871. At the time of his death he was also Professor of Architecture there. He was president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a member of the Royal Academy of Vienna and in 1878, in recognition of the quality of his drawings sent to the Paris Exhibition, he was made a knight of the Legion of Honour. He was twice married.
The architect's death, on 18 December 1881, was allegedly hastened by overwork and professional worries connected with the erection of the Law Courts. He was buried on 29th December in the nave of Westminster Abbey.