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Sir William Chambers (1722-96)

William Chambers was a British architect and designer active during the reigns of George II and George III. He is known for his elegant combination of English Palladianism and French Neo-Classicism, best demonstrated by his masterpiece, Somerset House in London (1776–86). In 1757 he was appointed as architect to the Dowager Princess of Wales, Princess Augusta, and architectural tutor to her son, the Prince of Wales (later King George III). Many of his architectural drawings and treatises can be found in the Royal Collection. Not limited to architecture, Chambers also designed the Gold State Coach, contributed to the designs of the Pinchbeck astronomical clock, and acted as advisor on a number of royal commissions,

Chambers was born in Sweden, the son of a Scottish merchant. He was educated in Yorkshire and travelled to India and China with the Swedish East India Company (1740–49). On his return to Europe, he studied architecture in Paris and Italy. In 1757 he was commissioned to design the grounds of the White House, the house of the Dowager Princess of Wales at Kew. He drew inspiration from his travels, ornamenting the land with an Alhambra, a Moorish mosque, and a Chinese Pagoda (1761–2). His publication, Designs for Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines and Utensils (1757) was a remarkable achievement for its time, being the first serious attempt to record the architecture of this strange and distant land.

Chambers followed Designs for Chinese Buildings with A Treatise on Civil Architecture in 1759. In a draft letter to George III, Chambers stated that the treatise was 'originally written for Your Majesty's information', adding, 'Your Majesty's Gracious indulgence and encouragement first prompted me to render publick what at first was certainly not designed for publication'. Chambers maintained a close relationship with George III throughout his life. He advised on a number of projects, not all of them architectural.

In 1760, Chambers was involved in the design for the Gold State Coach. The original designs for this are in the Royal Collection. The Gold State Coach was commissioned late in 1760 for George III's coronation in 1761. However, due to the complexity of the project, the coach was not delivered until 1762. It was thereafter first used at the State Opening of Parliament on 25 November 1762. It has been used at every Coronation from George IV as well as certain state occasions, most recently The Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002. It is on display in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace.

Between 1767 and 1772 Chambers was particularly active as a designer of silver and ormolu. Chambers acted as an advisor on King George III's commission to Matthew Boulton for a number of articles, most notably a pair of candle and perfume vases.

Chambers died in London in 1796.


Objects associated with Sir William Chambers (1722-96)