Charles Handley-Read (1916 – 15 October 1971) was an architectural writer and collector and the first serious 20th century student of the work of William Burges, "a pioneer in Burges studies who was the first to assess the historical brilliance of Burges as gesamtkunstwerk architect and designer."
Handley-Read was born in 1916 to a father who was a magazine illustrator and military artist and a mother who, beside being one of the first qualified female doctors and dentists, was a militant suffragette. In the thirties, he went up to Cambridge University to St Catharine's College to read architecture and, on graduation, became art master at his old school, Bryanston School. His career was interrupted by Second World War service as a conscientious objector, during which he worked at the epileptic colony at Lingfield, developing art therapy for children.
On the resumption of his career, Handley-Read's architectural passion was Modernism and in 1951 he completed his monograph on "The Art of Wyndham Lewis." However, the subsequent, and very different, course of his life was set when, in 1952, he saw the Exhibition of Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Following the exhibition, and his marriage to the devotee of Victorian sculpture Lavinia Stainton, Handley-Read "pinned all his hopes and dreams on one central, all-consuming passion: the work of William Burges." In the period between the First World War and the 1960s Victorian architecture reached its nadir of appreciation; "at best an unhappy interlude between Neo-Classicism and Modernism; at worst a period of grotesque bad taste, associated with religious cranks like Pugin and Socialist crackpots like Ruskin and William Morris." The desire for, and consequently the prices of, the Victorian decorative arts were therefore at an all-time low. Handley-Read and his wife, aided by a considerable inheritance, began to collect on an increasingly gargantuan scale. But whilst his collection expanded, his ability to write about the works he bought did not: "A lifetime spent struggling to write produced just seventeen articles." Realising his inability to write with meaning about the object of his passion, Handley-Read wrote to a friend, Joseph Mordaunt Crook; "Now look. You have just edited Eastlake's Gothic Revival...with complete success. You are well soaked in John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute. You know all about Smirke...why not do William Burges?...partnership is less than I am looking for. I want to hand the job over."
On 15 October 1971, Handley-Read committed suicide, followed by Lavinia on 9 December the same year. Their collection of Victorian artefacts was broken up at sale. Many pieces were bought by major museums such as the Victoria & Albert Museum and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, as well as private collectors. The largest part of the collection to stay together was the 200 plus pieces purchased by the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, including William Burges's own bed and dressing table.
Handley-Read's notes on William Burges were passed to Joseph Mordaunt Crook and became the basis of his seminal work on Burges, William Burges and the High Victorian Dream.