The name Decimus is quite unusual. A quick search on Google indicates that in 2018, only 8 boys were named Decimus in the USA, and famous people named Decimus are few and far between. Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus was a Roman general and politician, and one of the prime instigators in the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44BC. The most well-known Decimus that crops up is in fact Decimus Burton (1800-1881), architect of the Regency Period, born the tenth son of James Burton, and one of the Georgian period's most successful builders.
I came across Decimus Burton in 2011 when I was asked to write an updated history of one of London’s most famous royal parks: the Regent’s Park. Having only visited the park a few times, and knowing little of its fantastic history, I clearly had a lot of research and reading to do. From my initial work, it was John Nash, Regency architect, whose name was considered synonymous with Regent’s Park. But Decimus Burton was clearly involved - despite the fact that most historians seemed to discount or barely acknowledge the young Burton’s contribution. He intrigued me and I was keen to know more.
The success of the book on Regent’s Park, led to a new book on the history of Hyde Park and yet again, Burton’s involvement was considerable. In this instance, he was clearly more successful and established as an architect in his own right. A brief search on Amazon indicated very little had been written on Burton, apart from some earlier work by Philip Whitbourn and Guy Williams- which although valuable, did not cover Burton’s entire career and contribution to architecture.
It was clear that Decimus Burton was much undervalued, even though his works covered major projects in the royal parks, grandiose buildings such as the Athenaeum on Pall Mall, works at Kew Gardens, and town planning initiatives in Tunbridge Wells, Kent and Fleetwood in Lancashire. There was clearly so much more to this fellow...
It was therefore my intention to write the book on Decimus Burton at some stage (and when time allowed, as I was busy on other books, including monographs on Sir Christopher Wren, Grinling Gibbons and a major new book on the history of the Victorian and Edwardian bandstand for Historic England). My conversations with Historic England were timely and I eventually persuaded them to commission a book on Burton, to be started as soon as the bandstands book was completed. I eventually commenced the book in 2017 and submitted the manuscript to Historic England - but sadly not in time, as with cut backs, their publishing arm was closed, and I found myself with a manuscript and no publisher. Books such as these are specialist, so finding a new publisher was always going to be a challenge. As luck would have it, it was the former Head of Publishing at Historic England, John Hudson, who recommended Lund Humphries, and so the next stage of Decimus Burton began.
Paul Rabbitts, 2021
Paul Rabbitts will be continuing this behind-the-scenes look at his new book on Decimus Burton with a second blogpost: Decimus Burton – His Works.
You can pre-order your copy of Decimus Burton: Gentleman Architect by Paul Rabbitts HERE.