The Twickenham Museum
People : Architects and Scientists

Col. Sir Robert Edis
Architect, Soldier and Sportsman
1839 - 1927

Colonel Sir Robert Edis CB, KBE, was born at Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire on 13 June 1839. He was educated at Huntingdon Grammar School and articled to William Gilbee Habershon and Edward Habershon, later becoming head assistant to Anthony Salvin. He practised nationally as an architect from 1862.

A section of the 1871 colour scheme in St Mary's Church

Work in Twickenham

In 1871 he prepared a colour scheme for the redecoration of the interior of St Mary's Church. Carried out in part, this remains, beneath the over-painting of about 1955.

Richard Cobbett describes this in "Memorials of Twickenham", published in 1872 (p39 et seq), the last year of his curacy. As an eye witness his account can probably be relied on for accuracy:

“In 1871 designs for the decoration of the interior were furnished by R W Edis, Esq, FSA. Mr Messom of Twickenham was the contractor for such portions of them as were eventually carried out in 1872 at an estimated cost of 425l. The aim was to give to the church an effect of both light and warmth. To accomplish the former the upper part of the walls and the ceiling have been made lighter in tone, the ornaments being picked out in colour with great taste; whilst the latter object has been secured by painting the walls, under and, for the distance of a few feet, above the galleries, a rich but dull red, relieved by bands of brighter colours, separating the tints. The colouring of the chancel is exceedingly careful and effective; the upper portion of the east window is bordered with a series of medallions, emblematical of the Holy Spirit, intended hereafter to harmonize with a new window, having for its subject the patron saint of the church, Saint Mary the Virgin.”

St John's Hospital

Edis also designed St John's Hospital, in Amyand Park Road (1879), Newland House in Oak Lane (1871) and the Mission Room (1870) which now houses the Mary Wallace Theatre on Twickenham's Embankment

Edis delivered the Cantor lectures at the Royal Society of Arts in 1880, published in 1881 as Decoration and Furniture of Town Houses. This was a practical and accessible guide to Queen Anne and 'aesthetic' taste, and it influenced the diffusion of these movements to the middle classes, modifying their more extreme aspects. In 1884 he published Healthy Furniture and Decoration.

Soldier and Sportsman

A keen sportsman, he shot big game in North America. He was of military persuasion through his involvement with the Artists' Rifles which he joined in 1860, and commanded for 20 years. He was aide-de-camp to the Earl of Albemarle, in Paris, during the last days of the Commune. After he had witnessed the burning of Paris in 1871 his interest was stimulated in various practical aspects of building design, including fireproof construction.

In his RIBA obituary Edis is described as having spent much of his professional career in building and altering private houses in England and Scotland. His early work was Gothic in style, but with Godwin he moved quickly into the Queen Anne style, reflecting the Aesthetic Movement.

He was knighted for his military services in 1919 and died at The Old Hall, Great Ormsby, Norfolk on 13 June 1927. His wife had predeceased him but he was survived by his five daughters.

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