Burges, William (1827–81), architect, was born 2 December 1827 in London, elder son among at least two sons and one daughter of Alfred Burges (c.1801–1886), marine engineer; his mother's name is not known. He was educated at King's College school (1839–43) and the University of London (1843–4). He was first articled (1844–9) to Edward Blore (1787–1879), special architect to William IV and Queen Victoria, and later articled to M. D. Wyatt (1820–77). He travelled widely copying medieval monuments, and during the 1860s came under the influence of Islamic and oriental design. He designed ecclesiastical and secular buildings, winning several competitions, and established an international reputation with his winning designs for Lille cathedral, France (1856), and the Crimea memorial church at Constantinople (1857), both unexecuted.
Burges won his first major commission in 1863 (under his nom de plume, ‘Non mortuus sed virescit’) when he was unanimously chosen from among sixty-eight international competitors to build St Fin Barre's protestant cathedral at Cork. Other competitors kept to the prescribed costs, £15,000; Burges's projected costs were £30,000, which were clearly stated on his submission; the final costs (£100,000) were met by the fund-raising genius of Bishop John Gregg (qv). In this small, ornate building (begun 1865; consecrated 1870; completed 1904), Burges produced a three-spired early French Gothic cathedral of great distinction, enriched with stained-glass windows; its 1,260 pieces of sculpture, built into the fabric of the cathedral, were each designed by Burges, as were the sumptuous interior furnishings. Though it has received some adverse criticism, Craig described it as ‘one of the wonders of Ireland’ (Craig, 315). Burges also undertook smaller ecclesiastical commissions in Ireland, such as the new church of the Holy Trinity, Crosshaven, Co, Cork, and additions to St Peter's Church, Carrigrohane, Co. Cork (c.1865) and to Bunclody church, Co. Wexford (1877) (1877–8). His work for the marquis of Bute at Cardiff Castle and Castle Coch added greatly to his exotic reputation. A wide-ranging scholar, he published works on a variety of subjects; his numerous architectural publications included Architectural drawings (1870). He was elected FRIBA (1860) and ARA (1881).
A bachelor, plump, affable, and known as ‘Billy’, on occasion he wore the dress of a medieval architect; an exuberant character, he delighted in play-reading and the theatre, was a member of a great variety of clubs, and frequented pubs notorious for rat hunts. He had a wide circle of friends, including many Pre-Raphaelites, and enjoyed parties and entertaining, often greeting his friends with a parrot on either shoulder. He died 20 April 1881 in his thirteenth-century-style Tower House, Melbury Rd, Kensington, London, which he had designed and which his friend E. W. Godwin (1833–86) described as ‘one of the most remarkable houses that the Gothic revival has given the world’ (Crook, 327). He was buried in Norwood cemetery, London; legal reasons prevented his burial in St Fin Barre's, but a memorial service was held there. On that day all the bells of Cork were silent.