Woodward, Benjamin (1816–61), architect, was born 16 November 1816 in Tullamore, King's Co. (Offaly), seventh child among five sons and four daughters of Capt. Charles Woodward (1781–1864), formerly of the Royal Meath Militia, and his wife Mary (d. 1824), daughter of Dr Edward Atkinson, an Armagh physician. For many years the family was itinerant, following Capt. Woodward's regiment across the country. Little is known of Benjamin's early education, but he most likely boarded for a time at Carrickmacross grammar school, Co. Monaghan, as his brothers had before him. After his wife died, Capt. Woodward apparently moved the family to Armagh and then on to Kells, before eventually settling in Dublin in 1833. It was probably in that year that Benjamin began his apprenticeship in civil engineering, and although the name of his master was never published, he most likely trained with William Stokes (1793–1864), CE, first cousin of Dr William Stokes (qv), whose family were close friends of the Woodwards. There is evidence that Woodward, after articling till c.1839, remained with Stokes for several more years as his assistant engineer on such projects as the improvement of the River Shannon navigation. During this time he also developed an active interest in medieval art, particularly in architecture. His proficiency in the profession was thus self-taught; but during the Victorian period, engineering training provided most of the skills required to become a competent architect, and it was not uncommon for engineers simultaneously to practise both professions. Woodward went on to become the most celebrated and original architect of nineteenth-century Ireland, designing over sixty buildings in the last twelve years of his life.
In June 1844 he advanced his architectural training by producing a set of measured drawings of Holy Cross abbey, a twelfth-century Cistercian foundation in Co. Tipperary, on the basis of which he was later (January 1852) elected to the Kilkenny Archaeological Society. These caught the eye of Sir Thomas Deane (qv), a Cork architect, and while the two men may already have been acquainted, it was no doubt the expertise of the drawings that persuaded Deane to invite the young Woodward to join his Cork firm in 1846; in June that year, Deane proudly displayed the drawings before the Royal Institute of British Architects in London. Woodward was hired to help design QCC (1846–9), where he was responsible for many of its medieval features, and he was later put in charge of the design and construction of the Killarney Lunatic Asylum (1847–52); both were large-scale Gothic revival works that demonstrated his knowledge of Irish medieval architecture and of the work of contemporary Gothic revivalists. In 1851 Woodward and Thomas Newenham Deane (qv), son of Sir Thomas, were made full partners in the firm, and it was renamed ‘Sir Thomas Deane, Son & Woodward’, but in time was simply known as ‘Deane & Woodward’. Soon after, Sir Thomas began to withdraw from the daily activities of the firm, and consequently his son assumed most of the administrative duties while Woodward became the creative talent behind the firm's design style. In August 1852 TCD invited the new practice to submit plans for a museum building, and when they were accepted, Deane & Woodward moved to 3 Upper Merrion St., Dublin (1853). The Museum Building was the first major project of the new partnership and was completed in 1857. Designed by Woodward to a plan by the college architect John McCurdy, it was a single monumental block of Italian Romanesque form, with a symmetrical massing, nearly symmetrical plan, and rich sculptured ornamentation by James and John O'Shea and several other stone-carvers. It demonstrated the influence of John Ruskin (1819–1900), who praised medieval architecture and argued that form and ornamentation should be based on nature. Woodward was a great admirer of Ruskin, and his work is said to be the closest physical achievement of Ruskinian theory.
It is popularly believed that Ruskin himself saw the Museum Building and was so impressed that he invited Deane & Woodward to design one in Oxford, but this is untrue: Ruskin did not actually visit TCD till 1861, and if he had visited in 1854 (the year they were awarded the Oxford commission) he would have found the foundation stones barely laid; and while Ruskin had taken an interest in the Museum Building submissions, he played no part in the final decision. If anything, what might have played a small role in their victory was the fact that both Sir Thomas and Woodward were friends of Dr Henry Wentworth Acland, the main promoter of the project, who trusted the firm and was an admirer of Gothic architecture. In any case, when architects were invited to submit designs for an Oxford museum of natural sciences (April 1854), Woodward's design was ultimately successful and building commenced 20 June 1855. In order to supervise the completion of both major projects, Woodward divided his time between Dublin and London, probably residing with his father in Blackrock as well as at chambers in the firm's London office, opened in 1855 at 88 James's St. An exceedingly quiet and reserved man, he never married, but during his time in London he developed a rare friendship with Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites, and while Ruskin played no direct role in the design of the Oxford museum building, Woodward frequently consulted with him during the course of its construction (1855–61). The completed building was easily Deane & Woodward's most famous and influential creation, and proved to be the progenitor of countless Victorian museums and town halls. It consisted of three ranges around a glazed courtyard done in Veronese Gothic; it was similar to the TCD building in that it had an internal top-lit court or hall, but its iron arch braces and glass roof were innovative for pioneering the integration of modern engineering with Gothic style. Woodward again provided for elaborate ornamentation and once more had the O'Sheas complete some of the carvings.
The late 1850s proved especially productive for Woodward, and as his reputation grew so too did the demand for his services. While the Deane family had been responsible for securing most of the commissions in the 1840s, by the 1850s it was Woodward's talent and connections that brought in the most work. Overseeing construction of the two museum buildings remained his primary concern, but he designed many smaller projects, the completion of which he left to his assistants and students or to the Deanes. His work, while too numerous to list, included the design or alteration of more than twenty private homes in Co. Dublin, Co. Kilkenny, and Co. Wexford, several public buildings in Dublin such as Dundrum courthouse (1855–7), St Stephen's school, Ballsbridge (1856), and Dundrum schools (1857–9), Rathmichael church, Shankill (1860), renovations to Kilkenny castle (1858–62), and the creation of ornamental fountains in Beresford Place and Parkgate St., Dublin (early 1860s). Deane & Woodward also replaced the flat ceiling in TCD's Old Library with a new barrel vaulted one (1857–61), and Woodward designed Oxford's Museum Curator's House (1857–9, demolished) and union debating hall (1856–7). In London he was also responsible for the reconstruction of the Crown Life Insurance offices in Blackfriars (1857–8, demolished). Having won several high-profile jobs, he came close with another: an open competition called to design new government buildings in London (1856). Woodward's final Gothic design (submitted 1857), inspired by a trip to Venice, was somewhat rushed and incomplete but was ultimately placed third out of 218 entries and won him high praise and generated positive publicity.
His last major work for the firm was the Kildare Street Club, Dublin; designed in 1858 with Venetian details, it included a magnificent central staircase and remarkable stone carvings by C. W. Harrison and probably James O'Shea. It was finished in 1861, but he did not live to see its completion. It is not known when exactly he developed tuberculosis, but by the spring of 1858 he was quite ill. Hoping a change of weather would help, he spent two winters (1858–9, 1859–60) in Algiers and Madeira. Although his condition never improved, he found work palliative and continued actively to supervise construction of the Oxford Museum Building. After struggling through 1860, he visited the almost completed building one last time before travelling on to France (December 1860), where he spent the winter off the French Riviera on the Iles d'Hyères. Realising his health was worsening, he endeavoured to return home in May 1861 but had only reached the Hôtel de l'Univers on rue de Bourbon, Lyons, when he died 15 May from a violent lung haemorrhage. He was buried two days later in the city's Cimetière de Loyasse. Woodward was remembered as an exceedingly quiet and reserved man with a gentle manner who spoke little but was recognised for his appreciative mind and architectural genius. However quiet he may have been, he was silent rather than grave, and his personal letters often revealed a wry sense of humour and breezy cheerfulness.
Soon after his death, a twenty-four-person committee, including his friends Drs Acland and Stokes and several Pre-Raphaelites, was assembled in his honour to gather donations to produce a biographical sketch, a collection of his designs, and a memorial bust. However, little progress was made because the Deanes refused to release his papers, perhaps fearful that the publication would reveal that Woodward was the talent behind their firm. The money that was raised was used to have Alexander Munro carve a marble medallion bust in his likeness, which was presented to Oxford; it can still found on display in the Museum Building. In the late 1860s, while restoring St Canice's cathedral, Kilkenny, T. N. Deane had a stained-glass window erected in Woodward's honour, which erroneously lists his year of death as 1860.