Born in Bath, his first major work was the rebuilding of Theatre Royal, Bath in 1862/3, after the old theatre had been destroyed by fire. Moving to London, he quickly established himself as the leading theatrical architect. He designed and directed the building of several London theatres, and was responsible for over forty theatres in the provinces. He also designed Leinster Hall in Dublin (opened in 1886 and closed in 1895), the Star and Garter Hotel at Richmond (demolished in 1919) and the Savoy Turkish Bath. Phipps was chosen to design the Royal Institute of British Architects’ own premises at 9 Conduit Street. The building is still there, though no longer occupied by the RIBA (now in Portland Place) and is considered by some to reflect the influence of the architect’s native town.
Phipps died May 25, 1897, aged 62. Though ill with afflictions of heart and kidneys, he continued active in the theatre right to the last. He had felt sufficiently strong to run down to Dover to inspect the building of one of his theatres, took a severe chill, and died three days later. Less than three weeks before his death, his last London theatre, Her Majesty’s, had opened in the Haymarket.
He was admitted ARIBA on 23 January 1860, his proposers being George Gilbert Scott, Edward I Anson and John Whichcord all of London; and FRIBA on 12 February 1866 his proposers being Scott, Edward William Godwin and William Burges. In his later years his theatre practice was damaged by the fire at the Theatre Royal Exeter where smoke had not been sufficiently considered and he lost ground to Frank Matcham. He died at Meiklenburgh Square 25 May 1897; his practice was continued by his son-in-law Arthur Blomfield Jackson.