Architect and engineer, of Cork and Dublin. Benjamin Woodward, third son of Captain Charles Woodward of the Royal Meath Militia by his second wife, Mary, daughter of Dr Edward Atkinson, of English Street, Armagh, was born in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, on 16 November 1816. It is not known where he went to school; his family left Tullamore in 1818 and lived in Armagh, Kells, Co. Meath, and Dublin, before finally settling in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, in 1833 or 1834. It was probably as soon as his family had arrived in Dublin in 1833 that he was articled to the surveyor and engineer, WILLIAM STOKES  , who was then based in Dublin; O'Dwyer suggests that his apprenticeship probably lasted from 1833 to 1839. After completing his articles, Woodward remained with Stokes as an assistant for at least two further years. Stokes was principally engaged in works on the Shannon during the 1830s and 1840s, and shifted his base from Dublin to Co. Cork, by the early 1840s. Woodward would almost certainly have made the acquaintance of Sir THOMAS DEANE while Stokes was active in the Cork area.
In 1844 Woodward made a set of measured drawings of Holy Cross Abbey, Co. Tipperary, which O'Dwyer describes as the foundation stone of his architectural career; O'Dwyer suggests that it was the understanding of mediaeval detailing shown in these drawings, which led Deane to take Woodward into his office in 1846. Only months earlier Deane had been appointed architect for the new Queen's College in Cork, and Woodward thus became intimately involved in the design and execution of this important Gothic Revival building. As late as 1850 he still sometimes described himself as an engineer; a slate roof ridge carved by machinery which had designed was among the exhibits deplayed by the slate quarriers Blackburn, Bewick & Co. in the Great Exhibition of 1851.
In 1851 Thomas Deane took Woodward and his son THOMAS NEWENHAM DEANE into a partnership under the name of 'Sir Thomas Deane Knt., Son and Woodward', more commonly referred to as DEANE & WOODWARD . In 1853 the firm was invited to prepare working drawings and specifications for the new museum building at Trinity College, Dublin, with the result that T.N. Deane and Woodward opened an office in Dublin at 3 Upper Merrion Street. Soon afterwards, in December 1854, a Venetian Gothic design by Woodward won the competition for a new university museum in Oxford. The museum, completed in 1860, brought Woodward into the circle of John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1855 the partnership opened an office in London. As the 1850s progressed, Woodward was increasingly perceived as its creative genius, responsible for generating much of its business in both Ireland and England.
During the later 1850s tuberculosis began seriously to undermine Woodward's health, causing him to spend three successive winters in warmer climates in the hope of improving his condition; he was in Algiers in the winter of 1858-59, in Madeira in 1859-60, and in Marseilles and the Iles d'Hyères in 1860-61. It was on his return home from the last of these sojourns that he died at the Hotel de l'Univers, Lyons, on 15 May 1861. He was buried in the Cimitière de Loyasse at Lyon. Following his death a memorial committee was formed for the purpose of publishing a memoir accompanied by photographs of his principal works and of commissioning a portrait bust for the Oxford Museum. All of the twenty-four committee members except two were English and included the architects G.F. Bodley and GEORGE EDMUND STREET and prominent members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. The two Irish members were Woodward's mentor Dr William Stokes and the Principal of Trinity College, Dublin, J.H. Todd. The project eventually foundered, partly because of the hostility of the Deanes, who had been left out of the project despite the fact that their active co-operation was essential for its success. Only the bust was executed; it was carved by Alexander Munro and placed in the Oxford Museum. Thomas Newenham Deane commemorated Woodward in the right-hand light of the central window in the north choir aisle of St Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny, which he presented to the cathedral while he was in charge of the restoration of 1864-1870.
Woodward never married. He was described in the circular of the memorial committee as being 'characterised by a quiet gentleness of manner, harmonizing with a keen sensibility to everything noble, both moral and material, which made him singularly attractive to all who became acquainted with him; while at the same time, his retiring disposition, which amounted to positive shyness, greatly restricted the number of his intimate friendships'. Dante Gabriel Rossetti described him more succinctly as 'well worth knowing, but … the stillest creature out of an oyster-shell'. His pupils and assistants included JAMES EDWARD ROGERS.
RSAI (Kilkenny Archeological Society): elected member, 7 January 1852, having been proposed by the Dean of Waterford, Edward Newenham Hoare.
Addresses: 14 Clare Street, Dublin, 1854; 3 Upper Merrion Street, 1854 until death; also 88 St James's Street, London, 1855-1861.
See WORKS, works of DEANE & WOODWARD , and BIBLIOGRAPHY.
All information in this article not otherwise accounted for is extracted from Frederick O'Dwyer's definitive account of Woodward's life and work inThe Architecture of Deane and Woodward (Cork University Press, 1997), which see for further details, references and an extensive bibliography. There are several portraits of Woodward in the book (Pls. 2.1, 2.4, 5.31, 5.32) as well as a photograph of the memorial bust.(Pl.7.1).
JRSAI 2 (1852-53), 184.
JRSAI 2 (1852-53), list of members, corrected to Mar 1854.