Basil Champneys was born in Whitechapel, London, on 17 September 1842, the fourth son of the Rev William W. Champneys, rector of St Mary’s, Whitechapel and later vicar of St Pancras and Dean of Lichfield. He was educated at Charterhouse and Trinity College Cambridge, and about 1862 was articled to John Pritchard of Llandaff. He commenced practice in London in 1867, his father having secured for him a commission to design St Luke’s Oseney Crescent, Kentish Town in a brick-built early French manner.
Once back in London Champneys quickly became acquainted with William Morris, Henry Holiday who was commissioned to provide the stained glass for St. Luke’s, and with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. But in 1872 he was commissioned to design the Eel Brook School in Harwood Road, London, his first essay in the Queen Anne manner with which he established his reputation. Newnham College followed in 1874, commencing a long career as a university architect, particularly for women’s colleges, in Cambridge, Oxford and London where he designed the original buildings of Bedford College. His most ambitious work was the Tudor gothic John Rylands library in Manchester 1890-1905.
Champneys was awarded the Royal Gold Medal in 1912. He wrote poetry and had extensive artistic and literary interests, publishing ‘A Quiet Corner of England’, 1875; Henry Merritt: Art Criticism and Romance’ (1879); editing the ‘Memoirs and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore’ and writing the introduction to ‘The Poems of Coventry Patmore’ (both 1915).