William Milner Fawcett – the Architect for Victorian Cambridge

I’ve written much about the women who made modern Cambridge – and deliberately so for their stories and achievements are incredible as is the fact that so few people know about them. That’s not to say that the men were all scoundrels and layabouts getting in the way of social progress. What I’ve recently discovered are some of the names of the men who helped pave the way for the women to achieve what they did for our city. This includes building modern municipal government.

William Milner Fawcett may have been long forgotten now – his surname more familiar to those involved in the recent centenary of the first votes for women and the achievements of his namesake (but no relation) Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Anyone who catches the bus into Cambridge from the south and/or from the Railway Station drives past one of his most significant buildings – the old police station on St Andrew’s Street.

The obituary below is from the East Anglian Daily Times here, which reads very similar to the one in the Cambridge Independent Press of 01 January 1909 less the headline.

090101 Obit William Milner Fawcett Architect Cllr 1909


The EADT article reads as follows

“The death occurred suddenly Cambridge on Sunday morning of Lieut.-Colonel William Milner Fawcett, one of the pioneers of the Volunteer Rifle movement, and resident the borough for many years, where he had gained high esteem. He was 76 years of age.

“Colonel Fawcett had been ailing for a fortnight, but up to Sunday morning there had been no cause for anxiety. After breakfasting, he, in the spirit of kindliness which was always a characteristic, directed the nurse attendance to obtain her meal, and in a few minutes death occurred from heart failure.

“Lieutenant-Colonel William Milner Fawcett, V.D., M.A., F.R.I.B.A., F.S.A., was  connected with Cambridge through his mother. The third son of the Rev. James Fawcett, late Vicar of Knaresborough, and Isabella, daughter of the late Mr. James Farish, of Cambridge, Mr. Fawcett was born Wood house, near Leeds, in July, 1832. and was educated at Lewis Grammar School and Jesus College, Cambridge, which he was a Scholar. He matriculated in 1859. gaining the place of a Senior Optime the Mathematical Tripos of that year.

“Without loss of time he commenced practice in Cambridge as architect, a profession which attained eminence. Within eleven years was elected Fellow the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was member of the Council 1871-73 and 1884-89. and held the office of Vice-President from 1896 to 1900.

“The monuments of his skill as architect may be found in many buildings in and around Cambridge. His name will ever associated with the Cavendish Laboratory, which planned the instance of the seventh Duke of Devonshire, the Chancellor, whose gift to the University the laboratory was. Subsequent extensions of the laboratory were carried out under Mr. Fawcett’s directions. Other work of his in Cambridge is to be found:

  • the New Museums, such as the departments of physiology, zoology, and human anatomy;
  • lecture rooms in Chetwynd Court King’s College;
  • the restoration of a large part of Queens’ College;
  • additions and alterations to Emmanuel, Peterhouse, and other colleges;
  • additions to Addenbrooke’s Hospital;
  • the building of the Training College for Women, [Today, Hughes Hall, Cambridge] which so many visitors Cambridge have had reason to admire: and
  • in University and several college boathouses and cricket pavilions.

“Mr. Fawcett remodelled the Cambridge County Gaol, and built the Cambridge Police Station, and other buildings within the county. In ecclesiastical circles Mr. Fawcett’s gifts were in great demand. He built or restored about fifty churches, and his versatility found expression in building the mansions of East Norton, Breaghwy (Ireland). Six-Mile-Bottom, and many other large houses.

“From 1861 to his resignation in recent years he was County Architect, and Diocesan Surveyor for the Diocese Ely since 1871. Apart from his profession, Mr. Fawcett greatest pride was probably in his work for the old Volunteers, and was a greet work. As an undergraduate was member of the University Corps, and upon becoming a resident of Cambridge Town, threw himself with enthusiasm into the task of building up the Town Corps. In the work be was supported by others from the University, among them Dr G. D. Liveing (late Professor Chemistry), Captain l.eepingwell, and the late .Mr. C. J. Clay.

“He was enrolled in March. 1860, and for many years commanded the Headquarters’ Companies at Cambridge. He retired with the rank of Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel in January 1896. In the Corps he found such comrades as the late Colonel Beales, Major Knowles, and Major Bowes, who could realise the difficulties the Commanding Officer that period had to face.

“In the early stages of the Volunteer movement. Government were very niggardly with regard to allowances for camp, and for instruction purposes generally, and there were periods when financial difficulties became acute. It was not possible for the Companies to go to camp every year, because of lack of funds. Through that trying period Colonel Fawcett worked without ceasing. During his command, money was raised – subscription, bazaars, and other means to pay off the outstanding debt, to acquire greatly: needed rifle range on Coldham Common, and he handed command over to Colonel C. T. in 1896 with balance in hand.

“The extent of, Mr. Fawcett’s philanthropy will in all probability never be known. He was one of those who preferred to do good without taking the world into his confidence. It was this characteristic which induced him to support for so many years the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society, and to take so keen, an interest the welfare of Addenbrooke’s Hospital. When assistance was needed for the soldiers during the Boer War, he at once interested’ himself in the work, and became the secretary of the Cambridge Association, formed for that purpose.

“For many years he was secretary the Mill Road Cemetery undertaking, a position which he succeeded bis Uncle, In the affairs of the Cambridge Gas Company he also took a great interest, and. for a considerable period had a seat upon the Board of Directors. In 1872, Mr. Fawcett married .Miss Emily Heycock, eldest daughter of. the late Frederick and Mary Heycock, of Braunston Manor. Rutland.”


The article in the Cambridge Independent Press – also in the British Newspaper Archive has a couple of additions to the one in the East Anglia Daily Times. The first is this strangely haunting photo. of W.M. Fawcett.

090101 Obit William Milner Fawcett Photo CIP BNA 1909.jpeg

The late W.M. Fawcett – ‘The Architect for Victorian Cambridge’

This clip below covers his views on the reform of the army in the run up to the First World War and the creation of the Territorial Army by the Edwardian titan, Richard Burdon Haldane, who was Secretary of State for War in the pre-war Liberal government, and later as Lord Chancellor in the first post-war Labour minority government in the mid-1920s.

090101 Obit William Milner Fawcett CIP volunteers comment

The second clip below shows his involvement in both the Mill Road Cemetery – its successors are still going at http://millroadcemetery.org.uk/, his work as a director of the utilities in town – all of which needed Acts of Parliament to be delivered, and finally his support for the Cambridge Antiquarian Society – another civic society that is still going.

090101 Obit William Milner Fawcett CIP Cam Antiq Soc

The one building he didn’t get to see constructed was his design for a new guildhall.

This was his incredible design – a colour copy of which I found for sale in the USA. If I recall correctly, councillors wanted something more grand, but only a few years later rejected John Belcher’s design for being too grand and expensive! Can’t please all the people…!

W. M. Fawcett’s personal papers are held in the [Cambridge] University Library.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s