Posted by: mike on Apr 16, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureFun PalacesLatest

Theatre Royal, Nottingham

The classical portico of Nottingham’s Theatre Royal has dominated the streetscape since it was built in 1865:

Originally designed by the prolific and prestigious Victorian theatre-architect Charles John Phipps (1835-1897), it was modernised in 1896-7 by the more famous Frank Matcham (1854-1920), who at the same time built the new Empire Palace Theatre for what shortly after became Moss Empires partly on what had been the site of the Theatre Royal dressing-rooms.

There are stories of artistes straying into the wrong backstage-area, particularly after Moss Empires took over the Theatre Royal in 1924.

The Empire was also the site of Ken Dodd’s stage debut, as Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty, “Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter”, in 1954.

The Empire closed in 1958 and was demolished eleven years later for road-widening.  At a time when Nottingham City Council were planning and building the ultra-modern Playhouse as a repertory theatre, there was talk of demolishing the Theatre Royal also and building a replacement touring house elsewhere.

In fact, the Theatre Royal lingered on, becoming so decrepit that eventually the D’Oyly Carte company refused to appear because of the state of the backstage areas.

In 1977 the City Council purchased the County Hotel, on the opposite side of the Theatre Royal building to the former Empire, and commissioned Renton Howard Wood Levin to restore Matcham’s design, except for the proscenium arch and adjacent boxes, within Phipps’ auditorium envelope.

Subsequently, in 1980, Renton Howard Wood Levin built from scratch the magnificent Royal Concert Hall behind the Theatre Royal.  The two auditoria work in tandem [], with the Playhouse operating at the other side of the city centre:

Nottingham has a proud claim to have been at the forefront of the late twentieth-century revival of live performances in provincial towns and cities.

Posted by: mike on Mar 2, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageSacred placesLatest

St Thomas' Church, Brightside, Sheffield

Because of the discussions about the future of the redundant St Cecilia’s Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield, I’m looking at examples of successful conversions of redundant religious buildings which have preserved the architecture while enabling the building to earn its keep.

I’ve already written about the former St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Seel Street, Liverpool (now a restaurant) and the Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield (now a Muslim community centre) and the spectacular revival of the Monastery of St Francis, Gorton.

One of the best examples I’ve come across is the former St Thomas’ Church, Brightside, Sheffield, a modest Victorian parish church of 1854 by the local architects Flockton & Son, built to serve the first growth of artisan housing as the steelworks crept across the Lower Don Valley after the arrival of the railway in 1839.

It’s a more modest building than Flockton & Son’s contemporaneous work in Sheffield – the General Cemetery Church and Christ Church, Pitsmoor (both 1850), and St Matthew’s, Carver Street (1855) – but it is, as the cliché goes, small and perfectly formed, with a nave and chancel, a south aisle but no north aisle, a bell-tower and spire.  The architects’ plans are online at  and

It was listed Grade II in 1973 and made redundant in 1979.  At first it was converted as a gymnasium for the Sheffield School of Gymnastics but then fell into neglect.

It was rescued by Anneka Rice’s TV programme, Challenge Anneka, broadcast on August 27th 1995 [ and] as a circus school for Greentop Circus [].

Apart from a shortage of storage-space, the interior is ideal for its present purpose.  The trapeze rig sits comfortably on the load-bearing walls of the nave;  there is ample height and floor-area and cramped but well-organised office-space in the west gallery, accessible by an intriguing spiral staircase in the tower.

Greentop is an arts education charity which provides, alongside training facilities for professional performers, school workshops and team-building for adults as part of its mission “to use contemporary circus skills to enhance people’s lives and inspire positive change”.

When I met a committee of the Church Commissioners to discuss the proposal to demolish St Cecilia’s, I was asked if there weren’t already enough community facilities on the Parson Cross estate.  I replied that if the existing six buildings were sufficient, the area would not figure so high on indices of deprivation.

Greentop’s value to the local Firvale community is incalculable.  Some of the young people who have become involved are from the local Roma community, who have had a famously bad press recently:

And without Greentop, the consecrated churchyard of St Thomas would contain only graves and a wreck or an empty space.

Posted by: mike on Feb 25, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesLatest

The Towers, Scarborough

Castle-by-the-Sea, Scarborough

Scarborough has three castles – the genuine article which dates back to Roman times, and two Victorian shams which have their own unique appeal.

The Scarborough brewer Thomas Jarvis built The Towers, designed by William Baldwin Stewart in 1866, immediately below the gatehouse of the medieval castle on the promontory that divides Scarborough’s two bays.

He later added the Castle-by-the-Sea, which overlooks the North Bay, at the other end of the little street that became Mulgrave Place, and in 1876 leased it to the Leeds artist, Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893).

Atkinson Grimshaw was the son of a Leeds policeman, an ex-railway-clerk who without formal training executed canvases of dusk and moonlight scenes, mainly of coast and harbour settings, with considerable commercial success.

One of his first and finest Scarborough works is 'Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, the Burning of the Spa Saloon' (1876), which was probably commissioned by Jarvis and was painted in great haste for the sake of topicality but not publicly exhibited.  It is now in the Scarborough Art Gallery [], along with 'Scarborough Lights' (c1877), 'Burning off a Fishing Boat at Scarborough' (1877) and 'Lights in the Harbour, Scarborough' (1879).

Atkinson Grimshaw reputedly influenced Bram Stoker into setting Dracula in Whitby.

He’s also regarded as a possible influence on Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, the Whitby photographer.

He returned to Leeds in 1879 after getting into financial difficulties, and went on to paint numerous scenes in Hull, Liverpool, London and Glasgow Docks.

The Castle-by-the-Sea is a notably welcoming bed-and-breakfast hotel, one of the pleasantest places to stay in Scarborough:

The Towers is a private residence and not open to the public.

Posted by: mike on Feb 7, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New YorkLatest

New York City:  Trinity Church

Perhaps the most famous image of Wall Street is the vista westwards along the canyon of tall twentieth-century buildings to the apparently modest-sized Trinity Church, designed by Richard Upjohn and completed in 1846.

This was itself once the tallest building on Manhattan, 281 feet high.

The original foundation dates from a royal charter of 1697, and the present building is the third on the site.

The great wealth of the trustees arose from Queen Anne’s 1705 grant of the land west of Broadway between Fulton and Christopher Streets, the rentals of which have supported widespread endowments, educational institutions and subsidiary chapels.

Upjohn’s church was a significant influence on the architecture of nineteenth-century New York, firstly because it effectively established the Gothic Revival here (though its suspended plaster vault would have offended contemporary English purists such as Pugin), and because it helped to popularise the use of the local brownstone, a material which became synonymous with New York housing in the half-century that followed.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture 'The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City', please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jan 29, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureLiverpool's HeritageFun PalacesLatest

Liverpool Lime Street

As Liverpool city-centre regenerates, the remaining patches of neglect stand out more clearly.

The east side of Lime Street has been neglected for years, and yet the stretch between the Crown and the Vines pubs includes a spectacular landmark building that still, somehow, remains in one piece.

The Futurist Cinema, originally the Lime Street Picture House, was the first purpose-built cinema in Liverpool, opened in 1912.  It was the first to show sound movies, in 1926, three years before The Jazz Singer at the Olympia, West Derby Road.  It converted to Cinemascope in 1954 without interrupting performances, and at the end of its long history it was the only place in Liverpool fitted with Sensurround for the film Earthquake (1975):  [].

It closed in July 1982 and has remained empty and untended ever since.  Kim Ryan’s film of the Merseyside film-maker Alex Cox revisiting the Futurist shows the interior in 2008:  An April 2013 news article raises the question of whether the building is beyond saving:

The campaign to save at least the façade of the Futurist is at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jan 18, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureLiverpool's HeritageFun PalacesLatest

Liverpool Vines Hotel

The Vines Hotel, next door to the Adelphi, is a sister pub to the splendid Philharmonic Hotel on Hope Street, designed by the architect Walter Thomas.  It’s a little later than the Phil, opened in 1907, so its mahogany, copper, glass and plaster interior has a distinctly Art Nouveau feel.

Alcohol has been served here since 1823, and the present building takes its name from its late-Victorian licensee, Albert B Vines, who came to the site in 1867.

Because of its location at the end of Lime Street the Vines has traditionally been noisier than the Phil.  Indeed, one reviewer [] comments,–

The Vines will usually give you a fairly rockin’ Friday, Saturday and indeed Sunday evening provided what rocks you are karaoke and somebody's grandmother pinching your arse.

Architectural-history enthusiasts may choose to visit for breakfast.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jan 14, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureLiverpool's HeritageLife-enhancing experiencesFun PalacesCemeteries, Sewerage & SanitationLatest

Liverpool Philharmonic Hotel gentlemen's lavatory

One of the great Liverpool experiences is having a drink – or perhaps more than one drink – in the Philharmonic Hotel (1898-1900) on the opposite corner of Hope Street to the Philharmonic Hall from which it takes its name.

This palace of a pub is the result of a partnership of the architect Walter W Thomas and Robert Cain’s Brewery during the great boom in public-house building at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Thomas was well-funded and fortunately placed to call on the formidable design-skills of the Liverpool University School of Architecture and Applied Art and of the Liverpool craftsmen who executed the decorative schemes of the interiors of the great ocean-liners.

The exterior is an odd combination of Scottish Baronial and Art Nouveau, with elaborate iron gates by the German-American artist H Blomfield Bare, who also designed the repoussé copper panels inside.

The interior scheme was co-ordinated by George Hall Neale and Arthur Stratten, who employed Charles J Allen to produce the distinctive plaster caryatids and atlantes in the billiard room (the former modelled by his friend Mrs Ryan), the Irish plasterer Pat Honan and the stone-carver Frank Norbury.

The gentlemen’s lavatories at the Philharmonic Hotel are not to be missed.  Indeed, the protocol is that any respectable lady customer can request any respectable gentleman customer to check the coast is clear so she can admire the marble, the mosaic and the brass-work of this palatial pissoir.

John Lennon declared that one of the disadvantages of fame was “not going to The Phil any more”.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Dec 19, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureLatest

Wainhouse Tower

Wainhouse Tower

John Edward Wainhouse (1817-1883) was the owner of the Washer Lane Dyeworks on the side of the Calder valley below King Cross, on the southern outskirts of Halifax.

In 1870 he leased the works to Henry Mossman, and at the same time responded to complaints about atmospheric pollution, particularly from a neighbour, Sir Henry Edwards Bt (1812-1886) of Pye Nest, by commissioning an extremely tall chimney, 253 feet high, connected to the works below by an underground flue.

Construction began in 1871, the year after the passing of the Smoke Abatement Act which required that industrial smoke should be carried away at a height.

J E Wainhouse instructed his architect, Isaac Booth of Halifax, to encase the functional brick chimney in stone, with a spiral staircase of 403 steps to the top.

The purpose of installing a staircase at considerable expense to the top of a smoking chimney was never clear:  a regularly repeated legend is that J E Wainhouse wished to annoy Sir Henry Edwards, who was High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1872, by overlooking his residence.

In 1874 J E Wainhouse sold the dyeworks to Edward Mossman, who declined to take on the cost of the chimney, so instead Wainhouse took on the liability of what became a tower instead of a chimney, resolving to turn it into a “General Astronomical and Physical Observatory”.

He dismissed Isaac Booth, who in any case appears to have grown sick of being caught in the midst of the feud between Wainhouse and Edwards, and commissioned Booth’s assistant, Richard Swarbrick Dugdale, to finish the architectural treatment of the tower with an elaborate gothic cupola that is so densely embellished that it is practically useless as an observatory, except to look down on neighbouring properties and to admire the distant views.

By the time this second phase of construction was completed on September 9th 1875, the entire project had cost £14,000 or £15,000.

By 1893, ten years after J E Wainhouse’s death, it was open as a public attraction and in 1909 it was operating a radio transmitter.  Suggestions in 1912 that it should be adapted as a crematorium came to nothing, but in 1919, prompted by a campaign in the Halifax Courier, Halifax Corporation bought it;  the Corporation and its successor, Calderdale Borough Council, have maintained it ever since.  Its only practical function appears to have been as an observation post in World War II.

It was substantially repaired and restored in 2008 at a cost of £400,000, and reopened to the public on May 4th 2009.  It is open on bank holidays, and available for private openings at other times.

Posted by: mike on Nov 30, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesLatest

Bunyan Meeting, Bedford

The Bunyan Meeting is a Free Church congregation in Bedford which dates back to 1650 and was led by Rev John Bunyan (1628-1688) from the time of his release from his first imprisonment in 1672 until his death.

John Bunyan is regarded as a literary giant as the author of Pilgrim’s Progress (1678/84), which is at once a great devotional work and a precursor of the English novel.  One section of Part Two became the hymn of which the original first line is ‘Who would true valour see’.

His life was a remarkable journey from working as a tinker, through an agonising religious conversion to imprisonment for his Puritan beliefs in the Restoration period and a subsequent career as a powerful popular preacher.

The fine 1849 galleried chapel has stained-glass windows and elaborate bronze doors by Frederick Thrupp depicting scenes from Pilgrim’s Progress, and Bunyan’s life is commemorated in a compact, vividly displayed museum adjacent to the Meeting church:

The great prison reformer John Howard (1726-1790) is Bedford’s other figure of international importance.

He had an estate nearby at Cardington:  when he attended the Bunyan Meeting services he stayed at the adjacent house from Saturday night to Monday morning so that his coachman didn’t have to drive on the Sabbath.

As a result of the controversy over paedobaptism, John Howard founded a breakaway congregation which became the Howard Church (1775-6):

Posted by: mike on Nov 20, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesBirmingham's HeritageLatest

All Saint's (formerly St Aidan's) Church, Small Heath, Birmingham

The Anglican parishes around the Birmingham Small Arms factory in Small Heath were carved out of the ancient parish of Aston between 1846 and the end of the nineteenth century, and became part of the Anglo-Catholic “biretta belt” of South Birmingham. 

One of the last of these was St Aidan's Church, begun in 1893, designed in red brick with buff terracotta by Thomas Frederick Proud (d 1901), with a clergy house, intended for a team of single curates, by the Birmingham metalworker and architect Arthur Stansfield Dixon (1856-1929).

The eastern end of the church – chancel, guild chapel and two bays of the nave – was completed in 1894 and consecrated two years later;  the western end including the baptistery and bellcote was finished by the end of 1898.

Once the shell of the church was complete, Arts & Crafts designers supplied much of the decoration:  Bertram Lamplugh of the Birmingham School of Art designed the Good Shepherd window in the Guild Chapel in 1907, and Frederick Bligh Bond (1864-1945) and W E Ellery Anderson (1888-1942) collaborated with the incumbent, Canon Newell Long, to begin an ambitious decorative scheme, some of which remained unexecuted because of the intervention of the Great War.  The last decorative addition during Canon Long’s incumbency was the free-standing reredos for the Sanctuary by Ellery Anderson, executed by Mowbray & Sons of Oxford and dedicated in 1921.

The grandiose celebrations of Anglo-Catholic worship created continuing problems within the politics of the Birmingham diocese.  Bishop Ernest W Barnes (1874-1953;  bishop 1924-1953) took against the figures on the Rood Screen, the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and the use of incense, and at one stage refused to take confirmations within the parish.

St Aidan’s was valued highly by the early aficionados of Victorian and Edwardian art and architecture, such as John Betjeman – “[a] successful Perpendicular design in red brick and terra cotta”, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner – “a striking and successful example of the local red brick and terracotta school...with an atmosphere much encouraged by the splendid Rood and Screens”.  The Victorian Society identified it as “one of the six or seven finest Victorian churches in Birmingham”.

Housing clearance and the collapse of the BSA company in 1973 encouraged the flight of the local population.  By 1991, only nine of St Aidan’s communicants lived within the parish boundary.  Meanwhile an influx of Asian families meant that by 1997 at least 65% of the population within the parish was Muslim, and most of the local schools had at least 90% Muslim pupils on roll.

From 1994 the diocese of Birmingham closed and disposed of surplus buildings in the parishes of St Gregory and St Oswald, and concentrated activity on the St Aidan’s site, while renaming the parish All Saints to commemorate the dedication of the original early Victorian parish.

The St Aidan’s building was radically reordered, reversing the direction of worship to use the apsidal baptistery as a sanctuary, enlarging the Lady Chapel to provide an intimate worship space and forging an entrance directly on to the street with a meeting-hall above where the High Altar had formerly stood.

The Victorian Society vigorously opposed this attack on the historical integrity of the building, and in 1998 forced the issue to a Consistory Court where the Chancellor found against them, accusing the Society of acting “arrogantly, unreasonably and without common sense”.

This fine church, the “Cathedral of the Back Streets”, continues to serve its purpose under the oversight of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet in an environment vastly different to that for which it was built.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Nov 14, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCountry HousesLatest

Sion Hill Hall

Sion Hill Hall has been described – convincingly but imprecisely – as “the last of the great country houses”.  It was built for Percy Stancliffe, the son of a wealthy brewer by one of Yorkshire’s foremost local architects, Walter H Brierley, in 1912-3. 

Walter Brierley (1862-1926) was a partner in the dominant York architectural practice which was begun in the eighteenth century by John Carr and had included in the intervening years such figures as J P Pritchett (1789-1868) and G T Andrews (1804-55, architect to the North Eastern Railway).

Like John Carr, Walter Brierley’s fame was limited because his work is concentrated in the North.  He built a rich collection of houses, churches and public buildings including a distinctive series of 1890s school buildings for the York School Board and the Principal's House at the King's Manor in York.  He restored Sledmere House after the major fire in 1911 and designed Welbeck Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire, which was built (1930-1) after his death.

At Sion Hill Hall there were temperamental clashes between the rich but parsimonious Percy Stancliffe and his perfectionist architect, whose belief that “cheap work is always there to remind and annoy us” did not encourage a quiet relationship.

Nevertheless, the resulting building made Brierley’s reputation as “the Lutyens of the North”, and its expansive horizontal façades, enlivened by generous hipped roofs and tall chimneys, have a strong air of assurance, with an ambitious classical doorcase, dated 1913, as an entrance and on the south-facing garden front, roundels and painted shutters.

In fact, the house is only one room deep, with connecting corridors the length of the north front and all the principal rooms facing the sunny south.  At the western end the corners are stepped, so that Percy Stancliffe’s study and his wife’s boudoir share the advantage of south- and west-facing windows.

(The real Edwin Lutyens, on one of his rare Northern commissions, took no nonsense from his rich Yorkshire client, whom he despised.)

Percy Stancliffe lived at Sion Hill House until his death in 1949.  It was eventually purchased in 1962 by a remarkable collector, Herbert W Mawer (1903-1982), who rose from humble origins, trained as a chef at the Royal Station Hotel in Hull and started his own model bakery, “Our Herbert’s”, at Stokesley in 1926.  The family business prospered enough for Herbert to retire in his forties with sufficient wealth to support a passion for antiques which had begun with the purchase of two candlesticks for £1 5s in Hull when he was eighteen.

In the late 1930s he bought Ayton Hall near Guisborough, but by the 1950s that modest Georgian house was too small to house his accumulating possessions.

Herbert Mawer chose, in the absence of an heir, to establish the H W Mawer Trust to administer Sion Hill Hall and the Mawer Collection, which has since his death been increased to include the remarkable pot that contained the Breckenbrough Hoard (discovered in 1985) and paintings by the identical twins Dorothy and Elizabeth Alderson (respectively 1900-1992 and 1900-1987), who were Herbert Mawer’s aunts.

The house is open for group visits by prior arrangement:

Posted by: mike on Nov 4, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesLatest

Reform Synagogue, Bowland Street, Bradford

Reform Synagogue, Bowland Street, Bradford

The Bradford Jewish communities were never numerically large, perhaps a hundred families in the late-nineteenth century, but they were extremely influential.

The German and Danish Jews whose warehouses are now called “Little Germany” were not refugees, but came in search of prosperity in the early decades of the nineteenth century.  They assimilated, and then coalesced into the city’s Reform Congregation.

From their ranks came four Bradford mayors, including Charles Joseph Semon (1814-1877;  Mayor 1864-5) and Jacob Moser (1839-1922;  Mayor 1910-11), as well as the merchant Sir Jacob Behrens (1806-1889) and Professor Friederich Wilhelm Eurich (1867–1945) who led the search for a cure for cutaneous anthrax or “wool-sorter’s disease”.  The composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934) and the painter Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945) both came from Bradford German-Jewish families.

This Reform Congregation built the magnificent Moorish Grade II*-listed Reform Synagogue on Bowland Street, designed by T H & F Healey in 1881, a rare and fine survival of the Islamic Revival style.

In the 1880s, fleeing the pogroms that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, came Russian Jews who disliked the practices of the Reform Synagogue and founded their own Orthodox Synagogue in Spring Gardens in 1906.

The Orthodox community were sufficiently confident of their future to close the Spring Gardens synagogue in 1970 and move to a modern building at Springhurst Road, Shipley.  The Spring Gardens building, with the inscription above its doorway, “How goodly are your tents, O Israel”, is now the Al Mumin independent Muslim primary school, and the Orthodox Congregation had to close their Shipley synagogue in April 2013 because they no longer had sufficient numbers to hold services.

Meanwhile, the Reform Congregation of around thirty-five people somehow manages to maintain their building and hold monthly services:

Among the supporters who have helped this tiny community financially are the Bradford Council of Mosques and other members of the local Muslim community:

The local MP, George Galloway, tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons which congratulated “the members of the Bradford Muslim community for their extraordinary ecumenical gesture in raising a very large sum of money to repair the roof of Bradford’s last remaining synagogue, thereby enabling members of the Jewish community to continue to worship there;  and believes that this generous gesture shows the true spirit of Islam towards other People of the Book.”

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Oct 24, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesCountry Houses

Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, Bavaria

Hohenschwangau (foreground) and Neuschwanstein (background)

Among the tourist highlights of Bavaria are the fascinating castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, the former built by King Maximilian II of Bavaria (1811-1864) and both most vividly associated with his son, Ludwig II (1845-1886), who is a most interesting, sad figure.

Hohenschwangau reminded me a great deal of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill, whereas the vast, unfinished Neuschwanstein has the dark, dreamy Gothic quality of Pugin’s Alton Towers and Alton Castle, and Burges’ Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch.

Both sit high above the valley – Hohenschwangau beside the lake Alpsee on a prominent hill which is no great problem to surmount by stairs or a circuitous driveway;  Neuschwanstein high up the valley side.

There’s no easy way to Neuschwanstein:  the shuttle bus only runs in the summer;  the horse-drawn carriages are in heavy demand;  the line of least resistance is, paradoxically, to walk.  It took me over half an hour, with regular stops on the way.  Even the wheeled transport gives out well below the castle gatehouse.

Both castles operate a strict timed-ticket admission system, to the nearest five minutes, and there are no compromises for latecomers.  My guide at Hohenschwangau was audible, precise and unhurried.  Neuschwanstein was a very different matter.  When I arrived at the gatehouse there appeared to be a species of riot going on, which turned out to be a large group of Italian teenagers who stood between me and the gents, though not for long.

When we got inside we were herded round in a group of over forty, with a determined lady guide who did surprisingly well in the circumstances.  The traipse through a series of astonishing interiors, intricately decorated like a mad version of the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras, is crowded with swans (hence Neuschwanstein – new-swan-stone) at every turn.

There’s little wonder that Ludwig, a seriously damaged personality, brought up by distant parents, conflicted about his sexuality and his Roman Catholicism, introverted and reclusive and addicted to building using his own rather than the state’s financial resources yet drowning in debt, was eventually dethroned by despairing practical politicians.

His mysterious death four days after his deposition secured his place as a national hero. 

Neuschwanstein was opened to the public six weeks after his death, and his castles, ironically, have become a significant source of prosperity to the surrounding district.

Posted by: mike on Oct 12, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

Wentworth New Church

The estate-church of Holy Trinity, Wentworth (1875-7), with its spire nearly two hundred feet high, was commissioned by the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam (1815-1902) and designed by John Loughborough Pearson in his scholarly, dignified Gothic Revival manner, in late thirteenth-century Geometrical style.

Holy Trinity is an imposing cruciform building with elegant rib-vaulting and a distinctly understated simplicity.  The east window (1888) is by Clayton & Bell and the west window (c1903) by Kempe.

Other windows with coloured glass are mostly given in memory of successive Agents, and in the south transept is a sequence of brasses commemorating members of the Fitzwilliam family from the generation that built the church onwards.

There is a story that the 6th Earl needed a bigger church to accommodate his large family:  certainly the pews on the north aisle are designed for children.

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner [in The Buildings of England: Yorkshire West Riding (2nd edn, revised by Enid Radcliffe, Penguin 1967)] comments, “The Fitzwilliams of the day could not have spent their money more judiciously.”

The Country Houses of South Yorkshire (June 5th-9th 2014) tour, based at Wortley Hall near Sheffield, includes visits to the two parish churches in the estate village of Wentworth and several of the Wentworth Monuments, together with a Connoisseurs Tour of Wentworth Woodhouse.  For details please click here.

Posted by: mike on Oct 6, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Peter's Anglican Cathedral, Armidale, New South Wales

St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral, Armidale, stands just round the corner from its Catholic neighbour.  Though both are Gothic in style, their differences are distinctive.

St Peter’s was designed by John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904), the Canadian-born original architect of Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle (begun 1869) on the New South Wales coast and Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton (1881).

Hunt favoured brick, an unexpected material for a cathedral, because its relative cheapness ensured that as much as possible could be built with the limited amount of money available.

The first Bishop of Grafton & Armidale, James F Turner, commented, “Our architect has studied carefully to give the church a certain stateliness of character, and therein has succeeded admirably…it is real, honest, and true; and shows what may be done in a material often too little regarded, viz, common brick.”

Hunt used local blue brick sourced from clay on the Saumarez estate, with Uralla granite dressings and a scissor-truss roof.  Building began in 1873 and after two years the first phase was opened.  The vestries and chapter house were added in 1910, and the tower completed in 1938.

I visited Armidale to lecture to the local decorative and fine arts society on Chicago.  Illustrating skyscrapers in that city, I remarked the Mies van der Rohe’s IBM Tower ignores its surroundings while the earlier Wrigley Building is carefully shaped to fit into its geographical context on the bend of a river – very like, I said, the modern annexes to St Peter’s Cathedral, which blend in a neighbourly way with Hunt’s original design.

At the end the gentleman who gave the vote of thanks remarked how pleased he was that I’d mentioned the extensions to St Peter’s Cathedral because he was Tony Deakin, the architect who designed the Parish Hall:

When you address an audience, you never know who’s listening.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here. 

Posted by: mike on Oct 4, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureExploring Australia

St Patrick's Orphanage, Armidale, New South Wales

St Patrick's Orphanage, Armidale, New South Wales

When I lectured to the Armidale Decorative & Fine Arts Society, I was invited to dinner by Les and Libby in their spacious Gothic Revival apartment, part of the former St Patrick’s Orphanage.

This surprisingly late example of Gothic design was built between 1919 and 1921 for the Sisters of Mercy by George Nott, who had previously built Armidale’s Catholic Cathedral of St Mary & St Joseph.

By 1924 there were 120 children at the home, cared for and largely educated by the Sisters.  The regime at St Patrick’s Orphanage was not, it seems, a bed of roses:

The orphanage transferred to two cottages in 1976 and eventually closed in 1984.  The 1921 building stood derelict for some years, and has now found a happier fate as an opulent apartment-block.

There is an image of the building when it was new at

Posted by: mike on Oct 2, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Mary & St Joseph's Catholic Cathedral, Armidale, New South Wales

Sited in the midst of the Northern Tablelands above the Hunter Valley, Armidale is a strange city to British eyes:  it has two cathedrals, a university, and a population of less than twenty thousand.  Its oddity to most Australians is that because of its altitude, over 3,000 feet above sea-level, it has seasons, so they call the region “New England”.

Many of the early settlers were Irish, and Catholicism has remained a significant force in the community.

The fine Catholic Cathedral of St Mary & St Joseph was designed by Joseph Ignatius Sheerin (d 1915) & John Francis Hennessy (1853-1924) of Sydney, and built in polychrome brick and Pyrmont sandstone by the Armidale building contractor George Nott in 1911-12.

The Anglican George Nott (1865-1940) owned timber mills and brickworks in the area, and supplied the 1.1 million bricks for the cathedral, the largest project of his career.  Built in a little over twenty months, it cost A£32,000.  Its needle spire, 155 feet high, is a major landmark.

It was one of the last works of the Sheerin & Hennesssy partnership, designers of a series of prestigious Catholic buildings in and around Sydney – the Archbishop’s House (1885) and St Patrick’s Seminary, Manly (1885-1889), St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill (1884-94), St Vincent’s College, Potts Point (1886), Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, Randwick (1888)and the Sacred Heart Monastery, West Kensington, Sydney (1895).

When St Mary & St Joseph’s Cathedral celebrated its centenary, a member of the congregation was George Nott’s daughter, 91-year-old Peggy Becke, wearing the gold chain from the watch that the parishioners presented to her father when the building was completed:

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Sep 27, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureLiverpool's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Liverpool St James's Cemetery (1979)

St James's Cemetery, Liverpool (1979) – Huskisson Monument in the foreground

A page of Liverpool City Council’s website [] presents the former quarry below the Anglican Cathedral as an “oasis of peace”, a bland description that matches the 1970s landscaping of one of the city’s most dramatic corners.

The stone for much of eighteenth-century Liverpool was quarried here.  As Mount Zion it was a place of resort, especially after the discovery in 1773 of a chalybeate spring which was thought good for “loss of appetite, nervous disorders, lowness of spirit, headache…proceeding from crudities of the stomach, rickets and weak eyes”.

Renamed St James’s Mount, after the newly-built adjacent parish church, around 1775, it became more genteel.  John Bridge opened “a coffee house of considerable repute…frequented principally by persons of a superior class”.  Visitors relished the contrast between the vast quarry face and the “subterraneous [entrance], supported by arches, [which] has a pleasing and romantic effect”.

When the quarry was practically exhausted in 1825 it became St James’s Cemetery, so immediately profitable that as soon as it opened in 1829 its first year of trading paid an 8% dividend.

The Liverpool architect John Foster Jnr designed a funerary chapel, the Oratory, and built a series of retaining walls, ramps and catacombs into the quarry face.  Mike Faulkner’s informative website [] provides details of the tunnels that gave access for mourners and hearses.

By the time St James’ Cemetery closed in July 1936, 57,774 burials had taken place.  From that time onwards maintenance became an increasingly severe problem.

The floor of the cemetery was almost entirely cleared by the City Council between 1969 and 1972, isolating John Foster Jnr’s magnificent 1833 mausoleum of the Liverpool MP and President of the Board of Trade, William Huskisson (1770-1830).  Huskisson’s statue by John Gibson has been removed for safety.

Other celebrated Liverpudlians buried here include the architect, John Foster Junior (1786-1846), Sir William Brown (1784-1864), donor of the William Brown Library, and the much-loved Catherine “Kitty” Wilkinson (1786-1860), an Irish-born washerwoman of Denison Street.  She is famous for making her water-boiler available to maintain cleanliness during the 1832 Cholera Epidemic, “indefatigable and self-denying, she was the widow’s friend, the support of the orphan, the fearless and unwearied nurse of the sick, the originator of baths and wash-houses for the poor”.

St James’s Gardens, as it’s now known, provides a green amenity in the midst of the city.

But I miss the Gothick atmosphere of the accumulated gravestones and monuments that filled the quarry floor until 1972.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Sep 24, 2013

Category:Victorian architecture

Sea Marge, Overstrand

Sea Marge, Overstrand, Norfolk

Sir Edgar Speyer (1862-1932), was an exceptionally rich and exceptionally cultured man.  He came from a German Jewish family that ran finance houses in Germany, Great Britain and the United States and he took British nationality in 1892.  As such, he organised much of the capital that enabled the Chicago transit tycoon Charles Tyson Yerkes to establish the deep-level underground railways that became London’s Bakerloo, Northern and Piccadilly lines.  After Yerkes’ death in 1905 Edgar Speyer became chairman of Underground Electric Railways of London.

He used his wealth to further his enthusiasms, funding Henry Wood’s Promenade Concerts from 1902 to 1914, the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1901) and Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated 1910-12 Antarctic Expedition.

He was one of the millionaires who populated the quiet village of Overstrand on the north Norfolk coast at the beginning of the twentieth century.

He commissioned the prestigious architect Sir Arthur Blomfield to design Sea Marge (meaning “on the margin of the sea”) and incorporated the neighbouring property, The Gables, after the death of its owner.

The year the house was completed, 1902, Edgar Speyer married the American violinist, Leonora von Stosch (1872-1956), for whom he provided Stradivarius and Guarneri violins.   Speyer became a baronet in 1906 and a Privy Councillor in 1909.

Sir Edgar and Lady Speyer became victims of intense anti-German prejudice during the First World War, such that Speyer offered to resign from the Privy Council and revoke his baronetcy, offers that were summarily rejected by King George V and the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.  Accusations ranged from serious charges of trading with the enemy to suggestions that he was using Sea Marge as a base from which to signal to German submarines.

Post-war in camera investigations into Speyer’s wartime conduct, however, concluded that through his international trading operations he had practically collaborated with the Germans.  Sir Edgar and Lady Speyer’s and their daughters’ British nationality was revoked:  he was removed from the Privy Council, though allowed to retain his hereditary baronetcy.  He sold up all his British business interests and his London house, and moved to New York.

There is a biography examining the case against Sir Edgar:  Antony Lentin, Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy?:  the troublesome case of Sir Edgar Speyer (Haus 2013).

Sea Marge remained in the Speyers’ hands until Sir Edgar’s death in 1932.  The purchasers, Mr and Mrs Gibbons, moved into the Coach House, and sold the main house on.  It opened as a hotel in 1935:  after closing in 1955 the property was for long neglected, but has now been fully restored and once more operates as a hotel:

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Norfolk's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 19, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Castell Coch:  Drawing Room overmantel

While William Burges was unhurriedly transforming Cardiff Castle for the 3rd Marquess of Bute, the question arose of what to do about the crumbling Castell Coch (the Red Castle), an outlying Bute property in Tongwynlais, north of the city centre.

Presenting William Burges with a medieval ruin inevitably led to a plan to rebuild it.  Presenting the Marquess of Bute with a project to rebuild a castle could have only one outcome.  He opened his cheque-book.

The result is a beguiling Victorian fantasy of medieval life and art, a wealthy magnate’s weekend retreat into a Gothic dream world.

Though the project was compromised by being brought to a conclusion after Burges’ death, it contains some of the finest examples of his design genius, such as Thomas Nicholls’ figures of the three Fates, Clotho spinning the thread of life, Lachesis measuring its length and Atropos with her shears.

Lord Bute’s bedroom is fairly spartan, but a spiral stair leads from it to Lady Bute’s bedroom, a huge vaulted space decorated with symbols of love.

And to ensure privacy, this High Victorian castle was fitted with a fully functioning drawbridge.

Castell Coch is administered by Cadw:

Posted by: mike on Aug 17, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Cardiff Castle:  Animal Wall

John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847-1900), was born with every advantage.  His father, the second Marquess, had tapped the trading wealth of the South Wales coalfield by establishing Cardiff Docks on his ancestral lands from 1822 onwards.  John came into his vast patrimony when he was just over six months old.

Though he was a conscientious Victorian aristocrat and landowner and nurtured his great inheritance, he had time and energy to spare for his fascination with art, architectural and the medieval.

The architect William Burges (1827-1881) was also born with advantages.  His civil-engineer father, who outlived him, provided him with an ample private income, so he could travel extensively and, when he set up his practice, pick and choose his collaborators, and pick and choose his clients.

When the 3rd Marquess of Bute came of age, he called for Bruges to transform the Roman, medieval and eighteenth-century structures that made up Cardiff Castle, first into a bachelor residence which was then extended, after his marriage in 1872, into a palatial residence from which to dominate the port and city growing on the doorstep.

Burges’ capacity for solid, sculptural, dramatic skylines and mysterious, whimsical interiors makes Cardiff Castle a fascinating place.  Every surface is thronged with colour, relief and meaning.  The craftsmanship is of the highest quality.  And the humour is quirky and irreverent, like medieval manuscripts and misericords – a monkey bell-push, a crocodile sitting at the top of a bannister eyeing a baby beneath.

Such was Bruges’ creative power that his team of craftsmen – William Frame (1848-1906), Horatio Walter Lonsdale (1844-1919), the Carrarra-born sculptor Ceccardo Egidio Fucigna (1836-1884) – that after his unexpected death the work carried on for years.  The sculptor Thomas Nicholls (c1825-c1900) completed a typical piece of whimsy, the boundary wall of Cardiff Castle, bristling with escaping animals, designed in 1866 but only executed ten years after Burges’ death.

Cardiff Castle is open to the public:,57&parent_directory_id=1&id=159.

Posted by: mike on Jul 28, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St James' Church, Morpeth, New South Wales

St James' Church, Morpeth, New South Wales

The final church that Phil and Jane Pullin showed me when I stayed with them on my ADFAS tour is a contrast to Edmund Blacket’s other churches in the area.

Whereas St Mary’s, West Maitland and St Peter’s, East Maitland replaced earlier functional buildings, St James’ Church, Morpeth [] is Blacket’s 1860s adaptation of an existing building of 1837-40:  he added the sanctuary and sacristy and designed the font and pulpit.

It was rebuilt by John Horbury Hunt after a fire in 1874:  he raised the nave walls and devised the lightweight hammerbeam roof, but left the tower at its original height so that it now looks undersized.

The organ (1877) is a rarity, one of the few surviving instruments by the Sydney organ-builder William Davison.  St James’ has two fine statues, of St James and the Virgin Mary, by the sculptor Englebert Piccolrauz (b 1942).

All this I would have missed as a tourist.  It makes all the difference to spend time in a foreign country working and receiving the hospitality of people who’ve lived there all their lives.

And in the Hunter Valley coalfield of New South Wales, with its Tyneside place-names, there is a constant reminder to a Brit that Australia is, in many respects, remarkably like home.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 26, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Peter's Church, East Maitland, New South Wales (exterior)

St Peter's Church, East Maitland, New South Wales (interior)

St Peter’s Church, East Maitland (1875-85) was designed by Edmund Blacket in 1875 and built 1884-6 under the supervision of his son Cyril (1857-1937).  It is more ornate than St Mary’s, West Maitland, but lacks the intended 180-foot-high tower and spire, so that the west wall is blank apart from a clearly temporary doorway.  Another aisled church, built of local sandstone, it has an apsed east end has three traceried windows.  The interior columns are granite capped with Melbourne bluestone basalt.  St Peter’s has a fine Willis organ of 1876, installed in the church in 1886:

In the years after its completion St Peter’s was richly embellished by local benefactors.  The very fine alabaster and marble pulpit by Rhodes of Birmingham dates from 1893;  the reredos is made of Oamuru stone from New Zealand, with red Girotte marble shafts from the Pyrenees and Ashburton marble from England;  the lectern dates from 1897, and the floor was tiled in 1900-4.

Blacket’s tower will presumably never be built, yet St Peter’s is as fine and impressive a Victorian church as any you could find in Britain.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 24, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Mary's Church, West Maitland, New South Wales

 St Mary’s Church, West Maitland, New South Wales

Phil and Jane Pullin were my final Australian Decorative & Fine Arts Society hosts, when I lectured to the Pokolbin DFAS.  I warmed to them immediately because, when I texted to say I was stuck on a train with no buffet, they greeted me on the platform with a bottle of water and a chicken sandwich.

They were also enormously helpful in filling my free time with visits to a collection of Victorian Gothic churches in around the amalgamated towns of Maitland and Morpeth, which lie at the tidal limit of the River Hunter and became an important junction on the Great Northern Railway between Sydney and Brisbane.

The modern city of Maitland is a good place to see the work of the English-born, self-taught Australian architect Edmund Blacket (1817-1883), who is best known for his St Saviour’s Cathedral, Goulbourn, New South Wales (1884) [], St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney (1868), and the Great Hall and Quadrangle of the University of Sydney (1861) [].  He was the mentor of other major nineteenth-century Australian architects such as John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904).  Blacket is regarded as a safe, conformist architect, who seems to have been most comfortable designing small parish churches.  In fact, some of his parish churches are quite grand.

St Mary’s Church, West Maitland (1860-7) is a spacious, gracious, aisled church with twin porches and a tower added in 1880, two years after the church was consecrated.  Built of local Ravensfield stone, its oddity is the undersized west window, which lights the west gallery in which the 1881 Willis organ was placed in 1959:

The plainer, brick sister church, St Paul’s, West Maitland (1858) is also by Edmund Blacket.  Its detached bell tower of 1888 was part of an uncompleted enlargement plan.  It is now deconsecrated:

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 21, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureBirmingham's Heritage

The Red Palace, Birmingham

Birmingham’s answer to New York’s Flatiron Building is commonly known as the Red Palace, standing at the sharp angle between Constitution Hill and Hampton Street.

Originally it was the factory-workshop of H B Sale, die-sinkers.

Designed by William Doubleday & James R Shaw in 1895-6, it demonstrates the value of terra-cotta as a material that was relative cheap to manufacture and produced rich architectural effects – in this case, according to Andy Foster’s Pevsner Architectural Guide, Birmingham (2005), “eclectic Gothic with Spanish touches”.

This adaptable material had obvious benefits for a commercial organisation that wished to make an impact without extravagant expense.

Its unusual layout was put to practical use.  Each floor was a triangular open-plan workshop with an office at the apex.

The modern fifth storey is unfortunate.

For years now its lower storeys have been occupied by a succession of restaurants.  The elaborate cupola is sprouting vegetation.

This fine ornament to Birmingham’s streetscape is clearly underused.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 12, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiences

Todmorden Industrial & Co-operative Society

When I’m hungry in Todmorden, on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border, I head for the old-fashioned Co-op.  It’s not a co-op any more, though it retains its splendid iron-and-glass two-storey shop front emblazoned with the title ‘Todmorden Industrial & Co-operative Society Limited’.  The building dates from the 1860s, and was refurbished when the Co-operative Society took it over as its haberdashery department in 1910. 

Now it’s the Bear Café [], a vehemently wholefood shop and café bringing the very finest local produce in conjunction with the food hub Incredible Edible Todmorden Unlimited

Sometimes you simply can’t get a seat at the Bear Café, so next door is Bramsche Bar [], a little more relaxed and slightly less purist, offering alcohol and meat for those who’re so inclined.  I had eggs Benedictine, which is a combination of the ham and spinach components of Benedict and Florentine.

There used to be a nice little café with interesting posters in the loo which has now been transformed into Hanuman Thai & 3 Wise Monkeys Pub [] which might be worth a look.

And that’s just for starters.

Posted by: mike on Jul 6, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesHumber HeritageFun Palaces

White Horse Inn, Beverley

When I was an undergraduate at Hull University in the late 1960s, what passed for debauchery was a trip on the train to Nellie’s at Beverley.

Once I’d ascertained that Nellie’s was in fact a pub – I was mindful of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (1945), which tells of men who went to the Bear Flag Restaurant for a sandwich – it became, and remains, a favourite.

This famous and memorable hostelry has medieval timbering but has been radically altered in and since the eighteenth century.  It belonged to St Mary’s Church (which stands at the opposite end of the street) probably from 1585, and had become an inn by 1666.

It seems to have changed little since the tenancy was taken on by a sadler, Francis Collinson, in 1887.  Mr Collinson bought the inn in 1927, and after his death it was run by his son, William, and after his death by three of William's sisters, Nellie (after whom it is now popularly known), Ada and Dorothy, who maintained the ancient tradition of opening their private kitchen to drinkers during the evening, serving from a table beside the hand pumps and washing up with hot water from the coal-fired range.

After the three sisters died in rapid succession during 1975-6 the White Horse was sold to Samuel Smiths of Tadcaster:  under this new ownership the nineteenth-century fittings and gas lighting are lovingly preserved, but not the brick wall that served as the original gents’ lavatory.

There is a grandiose unofficial website at  It has a link to the masterly site of Beverley’s chimney-sweep,, which is classic example of internet style and enterprise.  Take a look, even if you don’t have a chimney, aren’t getting married and don’t live in Beverley.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 4, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureHumber HeritageBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

45 North Bar Without, Beverley

45 North Bar Without, Beverley (detail)

Just outside Beverley’s North Bar stands a riotously decorated black-and-white revival house 4-6 North Bar Without, loaded with dormers and turrets, statues, mottoes and coats of arms, and two endearing carved caricatures of Gladstone and Disraeli, dating c1890.

This is the work of the Beverley carver James Edward Elwell, whose fine carvings can be found in churches, public buildings and houses across the East Riding.

In Beverley he executed, among much else, Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Gothic organ screen in the Minster (1878-80) and John Oldrid Scott’s reredos at St Mary’s Parish Church (1880-1).

He also provided carvings at his own house at 43 North Bar Without (Oak House) (Smith & Brodrick 1880) and the house next door, 45 North Bar Without, which he designed himself (1894).

He died in 1926 aged  ninety:  his work, much of it for the architects Temple Moore and F S Brodrick, dates from the 1880s to around 1910.

His son was Frederick William Elwell (1870-1958), a painter with a national reputation who chose to live most of his life in Beverley with his artist wife Mary Dawson, née Bishop, (1874-1952).

His portrait-subjects included King George V, whose lying-in-state he also painted, and the Earl and Countess of Strathmore, and he painted numerous civic leaders in Hull and the East Riding.  He is now most celebrated for his genre-paintings of local life, including several of the kitchen-staff at the Beverley Arms Hotel, such as ‘Preparations’ and ‘Three Maids’ (both c1940-45), which are displayed on weather-proof panels around the streets of Beverley.

By this means Beverley is embellished by the talents of both father and son.

Posted by: mike on Jun 22, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

Newcastle Cathedral, New South Wales

Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Newcastle, New South Wales

Every major Australian and New Zealand city possesses at least one, usually two, fine cathedrals, many of them started in the Gothic Revival style in the early years of settlement.  Some, such as St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Perth and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, were completed to newer, cheaper, more practical designs;  others such as William Wilkinson Wardell’s magnificent St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, and St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, were eventually completed as the original architect intended.

The Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Newcastle, New South Wales, begun in 1869, is a superb essay in Gothic Revival style by the Canadian-born architect John Horbury Hunt (1838-1904), who designed (among much else) Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton (1881-4), St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral, Armidale (1871) and rebuilt the charming little church of St James, Morpeth after a fire (1874-7) – all three in New South Wales.

The original design by the architects Leonard Terry (1825–1884) and Robert Speechly (1840-1884) proved unworkable, and John Horbury Hunt provided a new design in 1882.  It has the signature of this talented, often controversial architect – an uncompromising choice of materials, in this case brick, and a forthright acceptance of asymmetry.  The building as it stands is not exactly as John Horbury Hunt intended:

Construction stalled in 1893 in a flurry of litigation over contracts and costs, and resumed in 1900 under the supervision of the Sydney architect John Hingeston Buckeridge (1857-1934), so that the nave and crossing could be brought into use in 1902.

Thereafter, a succession of architects progressively extended the building:  Frederick George & A C Castleden designed the Warrior’s Chapel (1924) at the east end, using Buckeridge’s plans, and the nave was completed with a roof unlike Hunt’s intention in 1928.

E C Sara of the practice Castleden & Sara added the Columbarium in 1955.  Eventually, in 1979, the transepts and tower were completed, largely according to Hunt’s intentions, by E C Sara’s son John.

The only omission from the spirit of Hunt’s design was the spire, which is almost certainly for the best, because the Cathedral was damaged in the 1989 earthquake, and the repairs that took place in 1995-1997 were only practicable because of the quality of the original structure:

The result is a magnificent, remarkably harmonious essay in Gothic architecture, completed in the 1970s and rescued in the 1990s.  At the time of its consecration in 1983 it had been in use for eighty years.

I was fortunate to be shown round by Bronwen Orrock, who has inventorised the cathedral’s many treasures, including sixty stained-glass windows by Kempe & Co and one, the Dies Domini window of 1907, by Edward Burne-Jones and Morris & Co.

The font and the bishop’s throne are by William Douglas Caroe (1857-1938);  the pulpit is by the German-born artist Frederick Burnhardt  Menkens (1855-1910);  in the Warriors’ Chapel are fourteen terracotta panels designed by the Doulton ceramicist George Tinworth (1843-1913).

The Cathedral is the parent church of Toc H in Australia and is rich in war memorials, from Gallipoli, Flanders, Singapore, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam.

Newcastle is, perhaps, off the tourist beat, yet Christ Church Cathedral is one of the most memorable buildings I’ve so far seen in this vast and varied country.

The Cathedral website is at

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 24, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureBirmingham's Heritage

Birmingham Town Hall

Birmingham’s Town Hall is the equivalent of Liverpool’s St George’s Hall, designed solely as an assembly hall, and intended for the fund-raising concerts that supported the General Hospital.

Based on the Roman Temple of Castor and Pollux and designed in 1831-2 by Joseph Aloysius Hansom (whose name is indelibly linked to the cab he invented), this is the building that ruined Hanson, his partner Welch and the contractors Thomas & Kendall:  they were obliged to complete the contract for no more than £17,000, but the eventual final cost was around £25,000.  “Bankruptcy has been fixed as the price of my adventure,” Hansom declared.

The project took until 1861 to complete under the supervision of Charles Edge.

Hanson’s original design had a gallery round three sides of the interior, and was crowded by other buildings on the north and east sides.  As early as 1837 the decision was taken to rebuild northwards to accommodate the organ in its present position;  a further northward extension of 1849-51 brought the Town Hall to its present size, and only then was the north façade completed to match the south and the west podium refaced to match the east.

Subsequent alterations have not been kind to Hanson’s design.   Modifications to the lobby in 1890-1 reduced the size of the auditorium.  In 1926-7 two rear galleries were designed by Owen Williams to replace the original one and a redecoration scheme by White, Allom & Co completely obliterated Hanson’s ceiling.

The William Hill organ (built in 1834 and successively rebuilt in 1843, 1889-90, 1932-3 and 1984) was until 1922 owned by the Governors of the General Hospital, because it was primarily intended for use in their fund-raising Triennial Festivals which date back to the late eighteenth century.  It was the biggest of its time:   it had the first ever 32-foot pipe and the first part-pneumatic action;  it was the first four-manual pipe-organ (enlarged to five manuals in 1984) and it had the first full pedal-keyboard.

The Town Hall has always been the scene of prestigious musical events.  It was the venue for the premières of Mendelssohn’s Elijah (1846), Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius (October 3rd 1900 – “one of British music’s more famous disasters”), The Apostles (1903) and The Kingdom (1906).

The list of eminent conductors who have performed at the Town Hall runs from Mendelssohn, through Elgar, Sibelius, Dvorak, Bruno Walter, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Malcolm Sargent and Sir Thomas Beecham to Sir Simon Rattle.  The inaugural performance of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was conducted here by Sir Edward Elgar on November 10th 1920.

When the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra moved to Symphony Hall in 1991 the Town Hall was little used and it closed in 1996.  After a radical restoration, involving the reinstatement of the 1834 single balcony, it reopened as a partner to Symphony Hall in October 2007.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 18, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's Heritage

Jessop Hospital for Women, Edwardian Wing, Sheffield

Jessop Hospital for Women, Edwardian Wing, (May 5th 2013)

Thomas Jessop (1804-1887) was a Sheffield steelmaker whose wealth took him from his birthplace on Blast Lane by the canal to the opulent Endcliffe Grange to the west of the town.  He served as both Mayor and Master Cutler, the two leading roles in the borough, in 1863.

His greatest benefaction to Sheffield was the Jessop Hospital for Women, a 57-bed facility, designed by the local architect John Dodsley Webster, which cost £26,000 when it opened in 1878.

An Edwardian extension, also by J D Webster, trebled the capacity in 1902, and an unremarkable new wing was added in 1939-40.

The whole hospital was replaced by a women’s wing in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in 2001:

Sheffield University took over the site in 2007, demolished most of the peripheral buildings [] and carefully restored Webster’s original wing as a base for the Department of Music, which opened in 2009:

The University then proposed to demolish the Grade-II listed Edwardian wing to replace it with an arrogantly modern £81-million New Engineering Building, and caused uproar.

The Director of Estates & Facilities Management, Mr Keith Lilley, told the Sheffield Telegraph (April 22nd 2013), “Having a new building across the whole site would allow us to provide around five per cent more space and cost 10% less per square metre.  A totally new building would create 19,600 square metres of space whereas incorporating the hospital wing would provide 17,300 square metres.”

Sheffield City Council chose to support demolition, ignoring the recommendations of their own planning team:  “The proposals have
serious implications and constitute poor design and should therefore be refused
in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Specifically, the principal planning officer supported the 1902 block for its “positive townscape value”, and described the New Engineering Building as an “ungainly big box with an overly-complex external envelope that has no relationship with its setting”.

In bean-counting terms the argument has weight, but RMJM Architects’ showy cube cannot compare with Webster’s elegant building.

Moreover, there is a vital legal issue at stake.  Conservationists are deeply angry that listed-building legislation is being disregarded.

The Ancient Monuments Society, the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings and the Victorian Society [] each condemned the decision, and the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society declared this was simply “the easy way out” and “a dangerous precedent”.

Private Eye (March 22nd-April 4th 2013) described the University’s plans as “gratuitously destructive and wasteful”.

A request to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, to review the planning application was turned down.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage is mounting a legal challenge, believing that the City Council “relies on an unsatisfactory interpretation” the new National Planning Policy Framework [] and the social media are buzzing:

It’s only one building, but the need to preserve it is hugely significant.  Why should a university, of all things, dump on the city a jazzed-up vanity building to gain 5% extra space in place of a polite, well-built, valuable piece of townscape?

Whose campus is it, anyway?

Posted by: mike on May 16, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Main Post Office

Sheffield Head Post Office (1993)

Sheffield was a town that thought it was a village, until 1893, when it became a city that thought it was a town.

Indeed, the first impressive piece of civic planning in the centre of Sheffield was Fitzalan Square, which grew from street clearance in the 1880s and is dominated by the baroque bulk of the former Post Office, built in 1910 to the designs of the Office of Works architect, Walter Pott.

This imposing place in which to buy a stamp closed in 1999, and three successive developers have failed to find a way of financing a new use:

Meanwhile, the urban explorers have kept an eye on the place, and their posts show that while most of the interiors are functional, the public spaces and the main staircase deserve to be kept: and

The latest word is that this fine but mouldering building is to become a college for overseas students with 18-storey residential tower on the vacant plot behind:

If another high-rise building in the city-centre is the price of keeping Pott’s Edwardian splendour I think it’s worth paying.

Meanwhile, within a couple of minutes’ walk of Fitzalan Square, the Old Town Hall and the United Gas Light Company Offices, both listed, stand idle and neglected, and two fine post-war department stores, the former Walsh’s and the Co-op’s Castle House are in an uneasy state of transition.

And the City Planning Committee and the Secretary of State have waved through the demolition of the Edwardian wing of Jessop’s Hospital – which is another story…

Posted by: mike on May 10, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Blackpool Winter Gardens Empress Ballroom

Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens, Blackpool

The great rival of Thomas Sergenson, Blackpool’s late-Victorian theatre impresario, was William Holland (1837-1895), “the People’s Caterer”, who first made his name managing the Canterbury Music Hall, Lambeth [].

Bill Holland was employed by the Winter Gardens Company specifically to counter the competition from Sergenson.

Against the opposition of a number of Winter Gardens directors, including the chairman, Dr Cocker, Bill Holland proposed and carried through the construction of the huge Opera House, designed by Frank Matcham and built in nine months flat at a cost of £9,098.  It opened with a D’Oyly Carte production, The Yeomen of the Guard, on June 10th 1889.

As part of the same project, Frank Matcham redesigned the Winter Gardens Pavilion in the form of a proscenium-arched theatre.

Holland promoted an all-day admission charge of 6d which included operatic ballet spectaculars directed by John Tiller.  Fixed budget catering also appealed to thrifty Blackpool holidaymakers:  “One Shilling Dinner and One Shilling Tea.  Plenty of Everything.  Help Yourself!” 

Bill Holland apparently owned an old grey parrot, which he had trained to say “Going to see Bill Holland’s ballet?”  For the Winter Gardens, he initiated The Great Parrot Scheme:  he bought a hundred parrots, each in a cage marked “Blackpool Winter Gardens – Two Shows Daily”.

The birds were lined up in rows four deep and trained to repeat the grey parrot’s message and were allegedly placed all the leading hotels and restaurants of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

The total investment in the Opera House and associated extensions cost the Winter Gardens Company approximately £14,000:  gross receipts trebled between 1887 and 1891 to £36,000 and the dividend reached 8%.

In response to the opening of the Tower in 1893, Bill Holland persuaded the directors to install electric lighting throughout the Winter Gardens at a cost of £3,307, and to pay an additional £975 to buy out Dr Cocker’s 1875 covenant against dancing, so that he could plan the Empress Ballroom, designed by Mangnall & Littlewood of Manchester (who shortly afterwards built Morecambe’s Victoria Pavilion), with a barrel-vault roof, a balcony promenade and a proscenium stage. 

The Empress Ballroom was at the time one of the largest in the world, 189ft × 110ft, with a dancing-area of 12,500 square feet.

The Art Nouveau decorative scheme included plasterwork by J M Boekbinder and twenty-eight Doulton tile panels of female figures symbolising jewels by William J Neatby.

It opened in 1896, the year after Bill Holland’s death.

The Tower Company paid him a posthumous compliment by refurbishing their somewhat functional Assembly Hall as the sumptuous Tower Ballroom.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Lancashire's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 7, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Paul's Church, Cobbitty, New South Wales

When I lectured to the Camden Decorative & Fine Arts Society, on the south-western outskirts of Sydney, my hostess Nola Tegel insisted on taking me to one of the oldest intact churches in Australia, St Paul’s Church, Cobbitty.

Cobbitty was developed around the pioneer ranch of Rowland and Elizabeth Hassall, missionaries who arrived in Australia in 1798.  Their son, Rev Thomas Hassall (1794-1868), founded the first Sunday School in Australia when he was nineteen years old, was the first Australian-born Anglican priest and became the first rector of Cobbitty in 1827.

He built the Heber Chapel, a simple stone schoolroom dedicated in 1829 to the memory of the much-travelled Rt Rev Reginald Heber (1783-1826), who was Bishop of Calcutta at the time when the whole of Australia was one of its archdeaconries.

Known as the “galloping parson”, Thomas Hassall farmed sheep and acted as magistrate while serving a huge parish:

The later church, a simple Gothic building with a spire, was designed by John Verge (1782-1861), the English-born architect who is best-known for a series of fine villas in the Sydney suburbs, and was at least partly responsible for Elizabeth Bay House (1835-9).

St Paul's Church was completed in 1842.  In the churchyard is the grave of Edward Wise, aged 21, who was struck by lightning while building the steeple.

Recent renovations have revealed, so I’m told, that the unusual shape, with a vestigial sanctuary and broad transepts, results from a decision during construction to extend and reorientate the church.

The church has one of the very few surviving organs by William Davidson (1876):

Thomas Hassall is buried at Cobbitty, and his family are still linked to the parish:  the grandson of his great-great-nephew was christened there in 2011:

Brits used to be sniffy about the lack of history in the former outposts of Empire.  In fact, Cobbity has all the history you’d expect in a traditional English village – buildings going back to the roots of the settlement, fascinating characters, archaeology, and family links back to the Australian equivalent of the Norman Conquest:

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Apr 21, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Alton Castle

Photo:  Maureen Mannion

When you drive down the hill from the entrance to Alton Towers, into the steep valley of the River Churnet, you see on the opposite cliff the gaunt outline of Alton Castle, built by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin for Charles, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury.

Quite why Lord Shrewsbury wanted a Bavarian-style mock castle on top of the twelfth- and fifteenth-century remains of the original Alton Castle is unclear.

He might have wanted a more compact retreat from the extravagant splendours of Alton Towers.  He could have intended it as a dower house for his mother.

He was a major patron of the Catholic Church, a great deal more pious than his predecessor, and the unfinished castle includes a spectacularly tall, narrow, unexpectedly tiny private chapel.

Lord Shrewsbury also had Pugin design a chapel, schoolroom and almshouses for “decayed priests”, which became known as Alton Hospital (in the original sense of a home, rather than a medical facility).

Pugin took against the Earl’s suggestion that the hospital might look like a castle:

I implore and entreat your Lordship, if you do not wish to see me sink with misery, to withdraw that dreadful idea about the alteration to the hospital.  I would sooner jump off the rocks than build a castellated residence for priests.  I have been really ill since I read the letter...for heaven’s sake, my dear Lord Shrewsbury, abandon this suggestion which must be a device of the Devil to spoil so fair a design.

There wasn’t a lot of point in arguing with Pugin.  The Earl rarely constrained the great architect's genius with a budget, and the result – though not fully complete – is an exquisite complex of Victorian Gothic buildings by the greatest architect of the day, working for one of the most generous patrons.

Alton Castle was used by the Sisters of Mercy for a prep school from 1919 to 1989.  It stood empty until 1996 when the Archdiocese of Birmingham put it to good use as a retreat centre run for, and largely by, young people:

Posted by: mike on Apr 19, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Alton Towers ruins (1977)

Alton Towers ruins (1977)

Individual adult visitors to the Alton Towers theme-park currently pay £46.20 for a thrilling day out:

It’s a pity that there isn’t a way of enjoying the place for its own sake at any reasonable price.

Alton Towers was one of the greatest of all British country estates.  The gardens were developed on an unpromising valley site by Charles, 15th Earl of Shrewsbury (1753-1827), who adapted a lodge into an increasingly grand residence which he spuriously named Alton Abbey.

The writer Christopher Hussey described it as “...the last achievement in England, and on the grand scale, of the Georgian passion for creating private elysiums, which produced Stowe, Stourhead and their derivative landscape parks in the eighteenth century.”

His nephew and heir, John, 16th Earl (1791-1852) carried on his work, and after a fire at his main house at Heythrop, Oxfordshire, he relocated to Alton after 1831.  He was a champion of the Catholic Revival, and the principal patron of the architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, who contributed, among much else, the Banqueting Hall and Chapel of the vast house.

His heir Bertram, 17th Earl (1832-1856) was his second cousin once removed.  After his early death the title was disputed between Bertram’s designated Catholic heir and a Protestant descendant of the Jacobean 7th Earl.

As a result the entire contents of the house were sold in a forty-day auction.  When the Protestant Henry, 18th Earl (1803-1868) took possession, a quarter-mile-long procession of tenants and yeomanry welcomed his train at Uttoxeter station.  The incident figures in Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Lothair (1870).

The eighteenth Earl refurnished the house, but it was never as splendid again.  Henry’s grandson, Charles, 20th Earl (1860-1921), caused a great scandal by running off with Ellen Miller-Mundy, the wife of a Derbyshire coal-owner, in 1881.

They eventually separated, and she lived at Alton Towers, which he neglected in the hope of driving her away.

This, rather than wartime neglect, started the physical decline of the building, which was sold with the estate in 1924.

Between the wars it was a highly successful and entirely decorous entertainment centre.  The Coronation Street actor William Roache discovered that his enterprising grandmother, Zillah Waddicor, ran the catering operation there, providing lunches for up to a thousand covers at once:

From 1973 onwards John Broome, son-in-law of the majority shareholder Denis Bagshaw, began to develop the spare land away from the house and garden as an adventure theme park, which was taken over by the Tussauds Group in 1990.

As a business it’s clearly never looked back, and provides entertainment to millions.  But it’s a pity you can’t spend a day exploring the house-ruins and the gardens for less than a year’s subscription to the National Trust.

Posted by: mike on Apr 16, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Blackpool Grand Theatre

Blackpool’s oldest theatre, the Theatre Royal, has now gone, destroyed by fire in 2009:

In the late nineteenth century its lessee was Thomas Sergenson, who ran a stage-production of Ellen Wood’s East Lynne – “Dead!  Dead!  And never called me mother!” – for twenty-five summers.

He was a smart businessman and made enough money to purchase a plot of land in 1887 to build a Grand Theatre.

He initially erected a row of shops with a temporary circus building behind, until it became apparent that he held a prime site between the Winter Gardens and its new rival the Tower, which was started in 1891.

Accordingly, he commissioned Frank Matcham to complete the Grand Theatre auditorium at a cost of £20,000 and opened it on July 23rd 1894, two months after the Tower opened, with Hamlet, starring Wilson Barrett.

By 1901 Sergenson had bought out his business partners, and he sold the theatre to the Tower Company on December 23rd 1909 for £47,500.

Like so many Victorian theatres, the Grand was threatened with demolition:  in 1972 it was planned to demolish it to make way for a department store.  It was restored, after vociferous public protest, first as a bingo house, and then sold for a quarter of a million pounds to its present owners, the Grand Theatre Trust.  It was reopened as a theatre by HRH the Prince of Wales on May 29th 1981.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Lancashire's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

Posted by: mike on Apr 10, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureHistoric ChesterBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Chester St Michael's Row & Arcade:  1912 façade

Chester St Michael's Row & Arcade:  1910 interior

St Michael's Row and Arcade, Chester:  (top) 1912 façade;  (bottom) 1910 interior

Much of the centre of Chester is a Victorian reconstruction in the black-and-white idiom of the medieval buildings of the famous Rows [see Quaint old Rows].

It’s odd that the developer, the second Duke of Westminster, and his architect, William Lockwood (1863-????), the rugby-playing son of Thomas Lockwood (1830-1900) who had built much in the city, should have so badly miscalculated public taste when they faced St Michael’s Row and Arcade (1910) with an elaborate Beaux Arts confection of white and gold Doulton tiles, right in the middle of Bridge Street.

There was immediate uproar – from the local press, the City Council and the Bishop.

Within a year, His Grace agreed to demolish the frontage and at his own expense, around £4,000, rebuild it from row-level upwards in black-and-white revival style to fit with the streetscape.

The original Doulton ware remains within, and it is indeed elegant, but not the right style for the centre of Chester.

The Duke’s successors dramatically ignored the lesson when they conceived the gross Grosvenor Precinct in the same block in 1963-5.  No amount of tinkering has tempered its ugliness.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic Chester tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Apr 1, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureExploring Australia

Yackandandah Hotel, Victoria

Yackandandah Hotel, Victoria

Before I left Albury after my Murray River DFAS lecture, Sally and John took me to Yackandandah for lunch.

It’s a former gold-mining town that now seems to use tourists as a gold-mine.

Though there were settlers here from the 1840s, the discovery of gold in 1852 brought prospectors who based themselves in tiny camps with such names as Staghorn Flat, Allan’s Flat, Osborne’s Flat, Rowdy Flat, Whisky Flat, Bell’s Flat and Hillsborough.

The trading centre, which took the name Yackandandah from the creek that ran down the valley, was laid out in 1856-7 and by the 1860s had a population of 3,000.

The very first pupil on the roll of the state school in 1864 was Isaac Isaacs (1855-1948), who became the first Australian-born Governor General (1931-1936).  He was born in Melbourne:  his father was a tailor who brought his family to Yackandandah in 1859.

We had just enough time to visit the Yackandandah Historical Society & Museum [] which is housed in the Bank of Victoria building (1860) and the adjacent Manager’s House (1856), and to glance at Sam Cunningham’s store and carriage showroom (1850), the Post Office (1863), the Athenaeum (1878), the Yackandandah Hotel and the Yackandandah Motor Garage.

I didn’t have time to follow the Indigo Gold Trail [], or to take Greg Porter’s Karrs Reef Gold Mine Tour [], or to seek out the Cemetery (1859) [].

There’s so much history to be explored, not least in a boom-town that started up in the mid-nineteenth century, and lost its original raison d’être decades ago.

Posted by: mike on Mar 30, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightExploring Australia

Hotel Culcairn, New South Wales

Culcairn Hotel, New South Wales

When Barb Ross showed me the Holbrook Submarine Museum I thought my day out was complete, but there was more to come:  I might have found the submarine – indeed, I could hardly have missed it if I’d been driving the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne – but I’d never have stumbled on the places Barb showed me.

There’s no substitute for exploring a district with someone who’s spent decades of their lives there.

Barb pointed me towards a couple of tall grain silos, which mark the vestigial remains of Holbrook’s railway station, which opened in 1902 and closed in 1975:  When Barb and her husband Malcolm first farmed here their grain was dispatched by rail;  now it goes by road.

We followed the valley westwards, repeatedly crossing the old railway line, on which the track remains intact.  It seems that in Australia abandoned railways are literally abandoned;  in Britain the track and infrastructure were most often ripped up for scrap.

We couldn’t find the little wooden church which had been repainted specially for Barb’s friend’s daughter’s wedding.  It seems someone has removed it.

The Round Hill Hotel [] was closed:  from the 1860s there was a Cobb & Co staging post – the Australian equivalent of Wells Fargo – but the origin of the pub is lost in mists of early New South Wales history.

This was the site of the first of a series of murders by the bushranger Dan “Mad Dog” Morgan (1830-1865):  the memorial to his victim, John McLean (d 1864), is beside the road some distance from the Round Hill homestead.

We followed the branch railway all the way to the junction, Culcairn, which proved to be a historical gem.  I’d travelled along the North East railway line twice and so passed through Culcairn, which was once a significant stopping-place.  It was the junction for Holbrook and for Corowa (opened 1892), another derelict but intact line which also closed in 1975:

Culcairn railway station (1880) retains a single platform and its wooden buildings, including the stationmaster’s house (c1883) which is restored as a museum:  Across the road is the former branch of the London Bank of Australia.  Later in my tour I met a lady who was the daughter of the branch manager and grew up in Culcairn:  she recalled being kept awake at night by the noise of shunting trains, and travelling by rail to boarding school in Sydney.

The Germanic origins of the local community are apparent on Railway Parade in the substantial brick terrace of shops, Scholz’s Buildings (1908), and the Culcairn Hotel (1891, extended 1910):  We looked inside the hotel, and I marvelled at the elegant leaded-light windows which looked something between Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

None of this I would ever have found but for the privilege of being hosted by somebody who knew the place like the back of her hand.

Posted by: mike on Mar 26, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightExploring Australia

Albury Railway Station, New South Wales

There was a time when travelling between New South Wales and Victoria involved going through customs.

When the railway lines first reached the Murray River, from Melbourne to the Victoria border-town of Wodonga in 1873 and from Sydney to the New South Wales side at Albury in 1881, there was no rail bridge:  passengers had to transfer by coach.

Even when the rail bridge was completed in 1883, passengers still had to transfer across the platform because the two railways ran to different gauges:  the Victoria North Eastern Railway was built to the Irish broad gauge of 5ft 3in, while the New South Wales Great Southern Railway had the British standard gauge of 4ft 8½in.

The fine station at Albury, designed by the NSW Government Railways’ Chief Engineer, John Whitton (1820-1899), is distinguished by its 1,480-foot covered island platform which allowed inter-state passengers to transfer between the gauges – an experience which astonished Mark Twain:  “…a singular thing, the oddest thing, the strangest thing, the unaccountable marvel that Australia can show, namely the break of gauge at Albury. Think of the paralysis of intellect that gave that idea birth.”

Though the Commonwealth of Australia was constituted in 1901, oversight of transport policy remained with the individual states, and it took until 1962 to complete a standard-gauge through connection between Melbourne and Sydney.

This produced the anomaly of a twin-track railway between Melbourne and Albury operating as two single lines, one of each gauge.

The remaining broad-gauge track on this route was converted to standard gauge between 2008 and 2011.

The state boundary at Albury-Wodonga is practical, yet appeared to me invisible:  the adjacent towns are, after all, both part of the Commonwealth of Australia.  A similar conjunction on the border between Canada and the US state of Vermont is more vexatious:

Posted by: mike on Mar 20, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureManchester's Heritage

Manchester Watts' Warehouse

In the Manchester cotton trade, a warehouse was not so much a back-end storage facility as a front-end sales facility.

The Manchester merchants displayed their wares in extensive, prestigious premises, with floor after floor of merchandise available to view.

Orders were dispatched and packed through the basement and delivered by road cart, rail and canal.

One of the most endearing surviving examples is the great palazzo of Samuel & James Watts on Portland Street on Portland Street.

James Watts was the socially ambitious owner of Abney Hall, Cheshire, where he hosted Prince Albert for the opening of the 1857 Art Treasures Exhibition.  His firm’s prosperity was founded on wholesale drapery, and it was said that at one time the Warehouse had £10,000-worth of ribbons in one room.

Designed by the architectural partnership of Travis & Magnall from 1851 and eventually opened on March 16th 1858, its successive storeys are in Egyptian, Italian Renaissance, sixteenth-century Dutch, Elizabethan, French Renaissance, Flemish and Gothic styles.

Construction dates are uncertain, but it is likely that work started early in 1855 and was largely complete by the end of 1856.  It was said to have cost £100,000.

Modern visitors take some convincing that this was in fact a warehouse.

After ten years under threat of demolition, the Grade II*-listed Watts Warehouse became the opulently decorated Britannia Hotel, opened in 1982 [].  Many of its internal spaces are divided and its ceilings lowered, but the building is intact and in use.

If you pass it, take a look at the magnificent staircase, original to the building and intended to impress the clients who came to do business.

For background information on Watts and other Manchester warehouses, see

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Manchester's Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester's Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 11, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesBirmingham's Heritage

Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery [] in the middle of Brindleyplace was formerly the Oozells Street School (Martin & Chamberlain 1877), one of the forty-one designs for the Birmingham School Board produced by Martin & Chamberlain between 1873 and 1898, in this case built to three storeys to make best use of a cramped site.

From 1906 it was the Pupil Teachers’ Centre for Girls, later the Commercial College Day Department and latterly the College of Food and Domestic Arts until 1967.

After years of neglect in the blighted Broad Street area, it was redeveloped for gallery use and its saddle-back ventilation tower rebuilt by Levitt Bernstein Associates (1997).

It’s a superb conversion, for the most part using the original classroom spaces, with modern access needs, including a glass-sided lift, carefully inserted.

Its excellent Café Ikon [] is open to visitors without entering the gallery itself, and is a particularly pleasant place to sit on warm days.  It’s a good idea to beware of the teapots, though:  they’re good to look at but come adrift in the act of pouring.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Mar 4, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St George's Parish Church, Hobart

St George's Parish Church, Hobart, Tasmania

My only visit to Tasmania so far was a whistle-stop affair.  The lecture-tour itinerary I was following meant that I flew into Hobart on Sunday night, lectured there on Monday night, travelled to Launceston on Tuesday to lecture, and left for Sydney on Wednesday morning.

Van Diemen's Land was a bad place to be in the early nineteenth century.  British criminals feared it;  colonial administrators hated it, and the settlers’ activities ultimately exterminated the indigenous population.

It is a beautiful island, and a place to which I must return.

I stayed at Battery Point, on the hill above Sullivans Cove, at the comfortable Battery Point Boutique Accommodation [], and my hosts, Jill and Bill Bale, made sure I saw as much of their city as possible in a short time.

Battery Point and the harbour-front below it, Salamanca Place, reminded me strongly of Whitby, which is plausible because Hobart dates from 1804 and its oldest streets are more Georgian than Victorian.

In the limited time available I needed to check out Hobart's cathedrals for my 'Antipodean Gothic' lecture and publication. 

I’m glad that Bill, my host, insisted on pointing me towards St George’s Parish Church, a superb Greek-revival building of 1836-8, designed by the Irish-born Civil Engineer & Colonial Architect John Lee Archer (1791-1852).  The particularly elegant tower (1840s, based on the Tower of the Winds, Athens) and the imposing Doric porch (1888) were added by the convict-architect James Blackburn (1803-1854), who had been transported for forgery and who at the end of his life designed the first water-supply system for Melbourne.

St Mary’s Cathedral, seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, is Gothic, imperfectly constructed 1860-6 and re-erected 1876-81.  It has a memorial stained-glass window by John Hardman & Co and a statue of the Virgin and Child, designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin and carved by George Myers.  Three modern stained-glass windows are by the Hungarian-born designer Stephen Moor (1915-2003).  In contrast, the font – of unknown provenance – is thought to be Norman.

St David’s Cathedral, the centre of the Anglican diocese of Tasmania, is an early design of the late-Victorian English architect, George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907).  It replaced an earlier classical parish church of 1823.  St David’s Cathedral was begun in 1868 and the nave was consecrated in 1874.  It took until 1936 to complete:  the chancel, consecrated in 1894, proved unsafe and had to be reconstructed in 1908-9;  the tower, for which the foundation-stone had been laid in 1892, was eventually constructed 1931-6.

I keep finding similar stories in the origins of Australian cities – diligent, determined congregations building churches, designed either by people on the spot who’ve brought their skills across the seas, or by British architects sending out plans that they knew they’d never see built.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Feb 26, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

West Norwood Cemetery:  Sir Henry Tate mausoleum

West Norwood Cemetery:  Sir Henry Tate Mausoleum

There’s more to West Norwood Cemetery (1837) than meets the eye.  It’s one of the “Magnificent Seven” early-Victorian London cemeteries – the others are Kensal Green (1837), Highgate (1839), Abney Park (1840), Nunhead (1840), Tower Hamlets (1841) and Brompton (1842) – and it has more monuments than you can shake a stick at, 65 of them listed at Grades II and II* according to the Friends’ website:

Perhaps the only disappointment about this beautifully landscaped place is the loss of the original brick mortuary chapels by Sir William Tite, both damaged in the Blitz:  the Anglican chapel was demolished in 1955, and the Nonconformist chapel was replaced by a modern (c1960) crematorium which I thought quite decorous but which Pevsner dismisses as “indifferent”.

Beneath the site of the Anglican chapel the extensive catacombs remain, and can easily be seen at  The catacombs beneath the dissenters’ chapel were apparently not much used, and were replaced by extensive subterranean cremators from 1915 onwards.

Very early in the history of the cemetery, in 1842, the Greek Orthodox community took a separate plot, on which stands their St Stephen’s Chapel, attributed to John Oldrid Scott, surrounded by its own rich collection of mausolea.

An architectural highlight amongst the wealth of monuments is the Tate Mausoleum, built for Sir Henry Tate (1819-1899), inventor of the sugar cube and founder of the Tate Gallery, by Doulton & Co of Lambeth to the designs of Harold Peto, who enlisted all the richness and crispness that Doulton’s artists could contrive:  The restoration by R K Conservation & Design’s of the mosaic ceiling is illustrated at

Having built a monument for the Tate family, Sir Henry Doulton (1820-1897) chose to build his own terracotta mausoleum round the corner:  This is even more elaborate, probably the work of R Stark Wilkinson who built the Doulton factory on the Albert Embankment [see], with details designed by the company’s artist, Mark Marshall.

Terracotta never caught on as a material for funerary monuments.  I know of only one other, the empty Stearn Mausoleum in Nunhead Cemetery, a few miles to the east:

Norwood Cemetery fell on particularly bad times as its income fell in the twentieth century, even though the company had astutely invested in cremation.  Lambeth Council bought the place in 1965 and initially rode roughshod over the rights of the established grave-owners:  the policy of “lawn conversion” and the destruction of monuments was eventually ruled illegal in the mid-1990s, and the cemetery is now managed more decorously.

Indeed, because the crematorium is fully operational, Norwood Cemetery feels like a place people visit for its intended purpose.

And that, compared with the quieter repose of most of the other “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries, is oddly comforting.

Blog-articles about other "Magnificent Seven" cemeteries are at Catafalque burial, Equestrian geniiFour-legged mutes, Lapidary description, and Victorian values.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Feb 24, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

West Norwood Cemetery:  Charles Haddon Spurgeon tomb

Rev Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was one of the brightest stars of Nonconformist preaching in Victorian times, the “prince of preachers” and the kingpin of London Baptist ministry.

I was once told that Spurgeon said “Love God and do as you please”, and though I now know this was St Augustine of Hippo (AD354-430), the remark resonates with the impact of Spurgeon’s gigantic personality.

He began preaching at the age of twenty, four years after his conversion and baptism:  at that early age he became pastor of the largest Baptist congregation in London, New Park Street Chapel in Southwark.

His reputation, bolstered by regular publications, meant that the congregation had to move first to the 4,000-seater Exeter Hall, on the site that is now the Strand Palace Hotel, and then to the 12,000-seat cast-iron Surrey Music Hall in Kennington.

Spurgeon fell out with the proprietors of the Surrey Music Hall over the issue of Sunday concerts, and in 1861 opened the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he based his ministry until shortly before his death.

He must have been an immensely powerful figure, capable of changing thousands of lives through evangelism long before the age of broadcasting and electronic media.

Once, when asked to test the acoustics before a meeting at the Crystal Palace, he “cried in a loud voice, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’” – and a workman up in the gallery immediately put down his tools, went home and underwent a spiritual conversion, which years later he related on his death-bed.

Spurgeon came to mind as I sat on the top of a 68 bus ploughing its way round the Elephant & Castle gyratory, past the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which has been twice rebuilt after a fire in 1898 and the Blitz in 1941.  This thriving place of worship is still known as “Spurgeon’s Tabernacle”:

Oddly, my 68 bus took me to West Norwood Cemetery, which I explored for some time before finding myself standing unexpectedly before the tomb of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, embellished with a portrait relief and a Bible open at the words of 2 Timothy 4, vv 7-8:

I have fought a good fight.  I have finished my course.  I have kept the faith.

Hencefore there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Some voices resonate long after they've fallen silent.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Feb 21, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

St George's Church, Doncaster

When I last visited Doncaster Minster, formerly the parish church of St George, I was shown the monument to Rev Charles John Vaughan (1816-1897), the much-respected vicar between 1860 and 1869.

His story, hidden for many years and still incompletely recorded, is not broadcast in Doncaster.

He was headmaster of Harrow School for fifteen years from 1844, credited with turning the school round in emulation of the great Dr Arnold of Rugby, and widely tipped for a bishopric or the mastership of a university college.

In 1859 he resigned suddenly and, to universal surprise, became vicar of Doncaster, then rapidly expanding as a major railway town.

The truth was that his love-affair with a student, Alfred Pretor (1840-1908), had come to light, and Vaughan was practically blackmailed, not by Pretor’s parents but by the father of another student, John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), who himself in adult life became a poet and advocate of male love, which he termed “l'amour de l'impossible”.  John Addington Symonds Snr, a doctor, rejected the pleas of Vaughan’s wife, Catherine, and insisted that Vaughan should retire to the life of a humble pastor.

At Doncaster he did great work among the people:  he also had a splendid new church, rebuilt by George Gilbert Scott after a fire in the 1850s;   its magnificent Schultz organ was installed in 1862.

When Vaughan was offered, and accepted, the bishopric of Rochester, a telegram from Symonds Snr forced him to reverse his acceptance, to the astonishment of all who knew him.  When he was subsequently offered the see of Worcester, he again declined it.

In 1869 he left Doncaster to become Master of the Temple Church in the city of London.  Only after the death of Symonds Snr was he able to accept the Deanery of Llandaff in 1879.

His greatest work for the Church carries a powerful irony.  From his arrival in Doncaster until shortly before his death he prepared no less than 462 young men for the ministry.  These included Randall Davison, a future Archbishop of Canterbury.  His protégés were so recognisable and highly regarded that they were known as “Vaughan’s doves”.

He clearly had a flair for spotting and successfully recruiting Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates who shared his passion for serving God and ministering to the people.  Archbishop Edward Benson of Canterbury said of Vaughan, without irony, “No man laid the Church of England under a greater obligation.”

In modern times his Harrow indiscretion would have ended his career.  In the heyday of the Victorian Church of England he achieved a remarkable redemption.

Posted by: mike on Feb 18, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCountry HousesBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Shibden Hall

Shibden Hall, near Halifax, is one of those black-and-white country houses that was spruced up in the early nineteenth century:  Miss Anne Lister (1791-1840) vigorously modernised the place after she inherited it from her uncle in 1826.

Anne Lister’s remarkable diaries have been edited by Helen Whitbread.  The paperback edition of The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (1791-1840) (1988;  Virago 2002) bears the strap-line, “the Dead Sea Scrolls of lesbian history”.

Anne Lister recognised her unequivocal attraction to her own sex at an early age, and determinedly lived her life according to her inclinations, flirting, taking lovers and eventually finding a life partner.

In her voluminous journal she recorded everyday events in what she called “plainhand”;  about a sixth of the four million words are encrypted (her “crypthand”) so that she could write frankly and securely about her emotions and passions for future reflection.

After her unexpected death during a journey to Russia, the diaries remained at Shibden Hall.  Anne’s ultimate heir, John Lister, and his antiquarian friend Arthur Burrell deciphered the crypthand code towards the end of the nineteenth century.

They were so shocked by the content that Burrell proposed to burn the lot.  John Lister, who apparently had secrets of his own to conceal, simply hid them behind the panelling in the Hall.

When Halifax Corporation took over the Shibden estate in 1933, the town clerk enquired about Anne Lister’s diaries and Arthur Burrell delicately suggested “someone...should be, so to speak, armed with a knowledge of what the cipher contains”.  The most suitable person, it was decided, would be the borough librarian.

So the diaries remained under lock and key for decades.  In the 1950s, two female researchers explored the crypthand passages:  one described them as “excruciatingly tedious to the modern mind... and of no historical interest whatsoever”;  the other reticently remarked that the coded content was essential to understanding Anne and her lifestyle.

In an increasingly enlightened social climate, from the 1980s onwards, Helen Whitbread systematically researched Anne’s life and journals and brought them at last to public attention.

Here is a militantly individual landed lady, known to her intimates as “Fred” and to the unfazed locals as “Gentleman Jack”, striving with difficulty and increasing success to be true to her nature.

At one point she contracts a venereal complaint indirectly from her lover’s husband, and takes a surreptitiously acquired prescription to the local pharmacist, Mr Suter.  She enquires if he is ever asked for this particular prescription and he replies, “Yes, very frequently.”

Clearly there was a great deal of private activity in Halifax in the 1820s, as there is everywhere, all the time.  We know a good deal more about it, thanks to Anne Lister and Helen Whitbread, than several generations of Halifax’s male spinsters would have dared reveal.

Visitor information about Shibden Hall is at

Posted by: mike on Feb 4, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesBirmingham's Heritage

St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham (1977)

St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham – viewed from the old Snow Hill Station (1977)

Birmingham’s Catholic St Chad’s Cathedral was conceived in a white-heat enthusiasm following the Emancipation of Britain’s Catholics in 1829.

It was the first major work of the architect August Welby Northmore Pugin, built 1839-41 for around £20,000.

Pugin himself gave an “ancient German carved oak figure of the Blessed Virgin and Child...said to have been the first image of the Blessed Virgin exposed for public veneration in England since the Reformation”.

John, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury gave £1,000 towards the construction-costs and a fifteenth-century brass lectern from Louvain, along with an elaborate set of High Mass vestments.

It was one of the first Pugin churches in which he installed, despite opposition from Cardinal Wiseman, one of the rood screens about which he quickly became notoriously obsessive.

Pugin’s total plan was only fully complete when the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor was constructed to a design by Sebastian Pugin Powell in 1933.

St Chad’s became a cathedral on October 27th 1850.  Edward Ilsley, who had been bishop since 1879, became the first archbishop when the see was elevated in 1911.

During the Birmingham blitz, on November 22nd 1941, an incendiary bomb penetrated the south-aisle roof and burnt a radiator which extinguished it.  This remarkable incident is commemorated in the replacement roof-panel, which is marked “Deo Gratias”.

This romantic North German structure once towered above Birmingham’s Gun Quarter until 1960, when the surrounding buildings including Pugin’s Bishop’s House across Water Street was demolished to make way for a bleak stretch of the inner-ring road.

In 1967 the rood-screen was taken down and transferred to the Anglican church of Holy Trinity, Reading and in the same remodelling the lectern given by Lord Shrewsbury was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of New York for £105,000.

St Chad’s is still an awe-inspiring place, but it’s no longer seen as Pugin visualised it.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jan 21, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureHistoric York

The Principal's House, King's Manor, York

The Principal's House, King's Manor, York

When people think of the wealth of architecture and history in York, the Victorian period isn’t prominent.  Yet much of present-day York owes its appearance to the Victorians.

After all, it was in the Victorian age that York became a great railway centre and a major chocolate producer.

When I joined a Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group walk around York, the leader, Philip Wright, pointed out the Principal’s House (1900) at the King’s Manor, built when the site was occupied by the Yorkshire School for the Blind by Walter Henry Brierley (1862-1926).

Glancing at it, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was built in the seventeenth century, like some of the buildings around it – such is the subtlety and good manners of Brierley’s design.

Like John Carr of York and Francis Johnson of Bridlington, Brierley chose to practise in his home area, where he designed around four hundred buildings in the course of his career.

The reason he was labelled “the Yorkshire Lutyens” is obvious from his very last building, Goddards, completed in 1928 for Noel Goddard Terry of the chocolate dynasty.

From the summer of 2012 it’s possible to visit Goddards, now that the National Trust has moved some of its administration away from the building.  Opening times and visiting arrangements are at

The Principal’s House and the other buildings at the King’s Manor are used by the University of York and are not open to the public.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jan 16, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightExploring AustraliaCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Site of Cemetery Station No 1, Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney

Site of Cemetery Station No 1, Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney

As your train leaves Sydney Central Station, you may spot on the right-hand side an elaborate Gothic building.  When I last visited in 2011 it was shrouded in scaffolding, which is why I don’t have my own image of it.

This was the Mortuary Station, designed by the Colonial Architect, James Barnett, opened in 1869 and later named Regent Street [].  It was the terminus for funeral trains to Rookwood Cemetery (1868) at Lidcombe to the north of the city, Woronora General Cemetery (1894) at Sutherland to the south-west, and – if Wikipedia is to be believed – Sandgate Cemetery (1881) in Newcastle, a hundred miles up the coast.

Whether the name Rookwood was chosen in reference to the English Brookwood Cemetery is unclear.  Rookwood Cemetery is so vast, nearly 750 acres, that today it has its own bus service.

Originally, funeral trains terminated at the very fine Haslam’s Creek Cemetery Station, otherwise known by a variety of names including Cemetery Station No 1, also by James Barnett (1867):  [ and].

The line was further extended, to Mortuary Terminus (1897), later Cemetery Station No 3, and then to the eventual terminus at Cemetery Station No 4 (1908).  Between Nos 1 and 3, the Roman Catholic Platform, latterly Cemetery Station No 2, was opened in 1901.

The line through Rookwood Cemetery closed in 1948, though its alignment is clearly visible on Google Earth, branching south-east of Lidcombe Station.  The site of Cemetery Station No 1 is in the middle of Necropolis Circuit.

The building itself was badly vandalised and damaged by fire, and was eventually dismantled and transplanted in 1958 to Canberra, where it now serves as All Saints’ Parish Church, Ainslie

In the course of rebuilding the bell-tower was moved to the liturgical south of the building.  It is now fitted with a locomotive bell presented by the Australian Railway Historical Society.

The church has two English stained-glass windows, the War Memorial east window from St Clement’s Parish Church, Newhall, Sheffield, and another from St Margaret’s Church, Bagendon, Gloucestershire.

Posted by: mike on Jan 7, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureBirmingham's Heritage

Bell Edison Building, Birmingham

One of the finest terracotta buildings in the centre of Birmingham is this rhapsody of ornament by Frederick William Martin (1859-1917), whose partnership, Martin & Chamberlain, was one of the leaders of the local ‘terracotta school’ of architects and best-known for their board schools and other public buildings.

It was originally the Bell Edison Building (1896), Birmingham’s first telephone exchange and headquarters of the National Telephone Company.

Its decoration is a riot of beasts and foliage with turrets, Dutch gables and chimneys enlivening the skyline.

The exchange equipment was originally installed on the top floor, where up to two hundred operators could connect callers.  Female operators had their own entrance and cloakroom.

The decorative wrought-iron gates are by the Bromsgrove Guild.

It was modernised as an office block, Exchange Buildings, with an additional floor by Mark Humphries Architects in 1994.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Dec 30, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delight

Stockport Lord Street Station

Former Southport Lord Street Station (2012)

The Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway was never a good idea:  it opened from Aintree Central, formerly a terminal station, on September 1st 1884 to an impressive new station next to the Southport Winter Gardens, fronting on to Lord Street.

It was a creation of the Cheshire Lines Committee, a consortium of the Great Northern, the Midland and the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire (later Great Central) Railways which managed a collection of lines stretching into their competitors’ territory.  Less than half the Cheshire Lines lines were actually in Cheshire.

The idea behind the S&CLER was to compete with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway’s service from Liverpool Exchange, which ran directly north-west via Bootle and Formby to Southport Chapel Street station in the centre of town.

The S&CLER, however, ran from Liverpool Central Station, southwards to Hunt’s Cross, and then round the back suburbs of Liverpool through Gateacre and Aintree before crossing to a coastal approach to Southport Lord Street.

No-one in their right mind wanting to travel from the centre of Liverpool to the centre of Southport would take the Cheshire Lines route.

It may have been fairly busy at the height of the summer season, but outside the holiday period services were so unprofitable that they were closed as an economy measure between January 1917 and April 1919.

The only time the line was heavily used was a period of a few weeks in 1940, when Liverpool Exchange Station was closed by bombing.

Although British Railways extended the platforms for longer trains in the late 1940s, the Lord Street passenger service was closed on January 1st 1952, and freight services along the line followed shortly after.

The track-bed of the S&CLER between Southport and Woodvale now forms the Coastal Road, and a further section is used as the Cheshire Lines Cycle Path.

The Lord Street train-shed was adapted as a bus station for Ribble Motor Services, simply by filling the trackbeds level with the platforms.

The bus station closed in 1987, and the train-shed was demolished in 1993.  The site was subsequently redeveloped as a supermarket, but the street frontage remained unused and derelict until the iron-and-glass verandas became dangerous and had to be demolished.

The building is due to open as a Travelodge hotel in 2013:

The best illustrated account of Lord Street Station is at

Posted by: mike on Dec 25, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiences

Palacio de Valle, Cienfuegos, Cuba

When I spent Christmas in Cuba in 2001, the most eccentric building I visited was the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos on the south coast:

Built for a wealthy sugar merchant Oclico or Acisclo del Valle y Blanco as a wedding-gift from his father-in-law, it was designed by an unnamed local architect, possibly Pablo Carbonell Donato, and constructed by Alfredo Colli Fanconetti, an Italian civil engineer.  Begun in 1913, it was completed in 1917 at a cost of 1½ million pesos.

It’s an astonishing mixture of styles and materials – marble, alabaster, brass, glass and faience.  The dining room is in the Mudéjar (Andalucian) style, based on the Patio of the Lions in the Alhambra.  The music room is Louis XV.  The three rooftop turrets are respectively gothic, Indian and Moorish, respectively symbolising war, love and religion.

Del Valle died in 1920, and his widow and children left the place a couple of years later.  After passing through a succession of ownerships it was converted by Panchin Batista, brother of the dictator, to a casino in 1950.

After the Revolution it became an art school and is now a restaurant.  When I visited, some years ago, a lady whom our guide described as a “character” played a grand piano very loudly all through the meal.

There’s so much to see and enjoy in Cuba, but in the time I spent there I saw nowhere more memorably unusual than the Palacio de Valle.

Posted by: mike on Dec 23, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Shrine of St Edward the Martyr, Brookwood Cemetery

Shrine of St Edward the Martyr (former South Station), Brookwood Cemetery

South of the London-Southampton main line, just beyond Woking, lies the vast spread of Brookwood Cemetery, founded by the London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company in conjunction with the London & South Western Railway in 1852.

"Necropolis", in Greek, translates as “city of the dead”.

The idea was to provide practically limitless space to bury London’s dead away from the insanitary churchyards and the high-priced commercial cemeteries such as Kensal Green, Highgate and Brompton.

Funeral trains left the Necropolis Station at Waterloo, reversed at a specially installed siding at Brookwood, and proceeded along a ¾-mile branch through the cemetery grounds to one of two funeral stations, one Anglican and the other Nonconformist.

There were, inevitably, concerns about this innovative prelude to the last great journey.  The Bishop of London worried that “the body of some profligate spendthrift might be placed in a conveyance with the body of some respectable member of the church, which would shock the feelings of his friends”, so the company provided hearse-vans with first-, second- and third-class compartments for coffins.

Nevertheless, Brookwood funeral trains soon attracted something of a reputation, especially on the return journey.  The Builder reported in 1856 that “At the funerals by the Necropolis Company, we are told that not unusually, mourners have carried drink with them, of which on the return journey, they had partaken to such an extent, that they have been found dancing about the carriage, by the ticket-collector.”

Of the original 2,100 acres purchased from Lord Onslow, only 400 were laid out as a cemetery and much of the rest was sold for residential development.  Nearly a quarter of a million burials have so far taken place, and there is still 200 acres to spare.

After the First World War parts of the Brookwood Cemetery were given over to military cemeteries for British, American, Canadian, Turkish and Czechoslovakian combatants, and many of its more recent burials are for religious groups with specific needs and requirements – Russian Orthodox, Muslim, Zoroastrian.

By the 1930s the daily funeral trains had reduced to twice a week at most, and the service abruptly stopped in 1941 when a bomb destroyed the building at Waterloo and much of the rolling stock.

The trackbed within the cemetery is now landscaped, and the South, Anglican station belongs to the Brotherhood of St Edward, an Orthodox Christian community dedicated to maintaining the shrine and relics of the Saxon king St Edward the Martyr (c959-978/9).

The cemetery itself was purchased by Mr Ramadan Houssein Guney, Chairman of the UK Turkish Islamic Trust, in 1985.  He painstakingly reversed the cemetery’s long decline, clearing encroaching undergrowth and reinstating the lake in the Glades of Remembrance, aided by the voluntary efforts of the Brookwood Cemetery Society who have organized the restoration of significant graves.

It’s a fascinating cemetery to explore – but it does involve a lot of walking.

For information, see

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Dec 9, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTaking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Matlock County Hall

County Hall, Matlock (formerly Smedley's Hydro)

Matlock owes its importance as the county town of Derbyshire primarily to two men.

The first, John Smedley (1803-1874), was a local hosiery manufacturer who made a recovery from typhus at the age of forty-three at the newly-opened Ben Rhydding Hydro near Ilkley.  He felt he owed his life to an innovative form of water-cure, hydropathy, a system of baths, compresses and treatments in mineral-free water to expel morbid impurities from the body through “putrescent excrescences”.

He underwent a religious conversion which led him to encourage temperance through the promotion of hydropathic “cures”, which he promoted as an “entirely an original system, not the cold water cure”.

In 1853 he bought a small private medical establishment serving six patients and developed it into the huge Smedley’s Hydro on Matlock Bank.

After his death the business was incorporated as Smedley’s Hydropathic Company Limited, with capital of £25,000.  The buildings were repeatedly extended until by the Edwardian period Smedley’s had 300 bedrooms.

The opulent architecture of Smedley’s Hydro reflects the gradual relaxation of its founder’s strict temperance regime:  tobacco, cards, billiards and dancing were introduced over the years, and the iron-and-glass Winter Garden of 1900 was built with a dance-floor.

What John Smedley had intended as a therapeutic establishment open to all classes gradually became a high-class hotel for those who could afford it:  eventually there was actually a licensed bar on the premises.

The comfort and luxury of Smedley’s in the early twentieth-century was a long way from its founder’s precepts banning “books, newspapers, or tracts of an irreligious character”, visitors or receiving letters on the Sabbath.

The entire building was taken over at the start of World War II and used as the Military School of Intelligence.  Business resumed in 1947, but failed to pick up, and Smedley’s Hydro closed in 1955.

At that point the second “father” of modern Matlock stepped in – Alderman Charles White (1891 -1956), the chairman of Derbyshire County Council, who spotted the opportunity to move the council’s offices from cramped sites in the centre of Derby to a huge empty building nearer the geographical centre of the county.

Smedley’s became County Offices, and in the 1990s was aggrandised as County Hall.  There is a species of rush hour up the bank and across the moors twice a day as hosts of civil servants flit in and out of the town.

Its position as the county town is no doubt the reason why Matlock retained its rail service as a branch-line when the main line to Manchester closed in 1968.  Perhaps it’s also the reason it has a Sainsbury’s.

There’s a particularly well-constructed website of Matlock and Matlock Bath history at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Dec 4, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureExploring Australia

former Callan Park Hospital for the Insane, Sydney

One of the ladies who guided me around Sydney’s architectural heritage when I was off-duty from my commitments to Sydney Decorative & Fine Arts Society was Robin, who after showing me Vaucluse House, made an offer I couldn’t refuse:  would I like to see a fine Victorian lunatic asylum?

Callan Park Hospital for the Insane was designed by the Scots-born Colonial Architect for New South Wales, James Barnet (1827-1904), and the Inspector of the Insane, Dr Frederick Norton Manning (1839-1903), to take the overspill of patients from the Gladesville Hospital of the Insane at Bedlam Point, which had opened as the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum in 1838.

The Callan Park Hospital opened in 1885 in a grand complex of Neo-classical buildings known as the Kirkbride Block, built around an existing residence, Garry Owen House (c1840), which had been built for the Crown Solicitor and Police Magistrate, John Ryan Brenan.

Dr Manning was a leading figure in the development of enlightened care of the mentally ill.  He aimed to provide treatment, rather than operate what he described as a “'cemetery for diseased intellects”.  He encouraged visitors and battled to beat down the nineteenth-century prejudice against what was still called lunacy.

Callan Park was his first opportunity to design an institution from scratch.  Barnet’s design was based on an English model, the Chartham Down Hospital for the Insane, near Canterbury, Kent.  The complex consists of a series of pavilions and courtyards, with plenty of opportunity for fresh air and changes of environment.  The gardens were designed to have a calming influence by the Director of the Sydney Botanic Gardens, Charles Moore (1820-1905).

The hundreds of cast-iron columns which support the verandas channel rain-water into an underground reservoir, the level of which was indicated by the ball that rises and falls above the central clock tower.

Over the years, Callan Park became under-resourced and overcrowded, and eventually became notoriously outdated.

The mental-health facilities, latterly known as the Rozelle Hospital, left the site in 2008: the Kirkbride complex is leased to the Sydney College of the Arts, part of the University of Sydney, and the grounds are used as a public park.

There is a detailed account of the history of Callan Park at

Posted by: mike on Nov 25, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesHistoric Chester

Chester St John's Church

St John’s Church, Chester, which lies outside the city walls near the half-exposed Roman amphitheatre, looks to all practical purposes Victorian, though with a ruined east end that has to be older and a stump of a tower in south-west corner.

When you step inside, the fine Norman interior comes as a surprise.

It has an architectural feature unique among English churches – the nave arcades have a barely perceptible but deliberate outward lean – and there is a noteworthy wall-painting of St John the Baptist on one of the columns.

This church was from 1075 until 1102 the cathedral of the former diocese of Lichfield, and even after the see was transferred to Coventry, St John’s remained a nominal cathedral within what was known as the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield until the Reformation, when the nave became a parish church and the east end was left to ruin.

You can see in the Norman architecture exactly where the bishop’s departure interrupted the building programme:  the nave triforium and clerestory are anything up to a century newer than the arches on which they stand.

Although the Victorian architect R C Hussey had carried out a restoration in 1859-66, the mainly sixteenth-century north-west tower collapsed in 1881.  The Chester architect John Douglas rebuilt the north porch, leaving the ruins of the Norman choir and Lady Chapel and the fourteenth-century choir chapels.

Most historic buildings are a palimpsest – a document repeatedly erased and rewritten – but St John’s has suffered more alterations than most.

St John's Church is open daily for visitors and worshippers.  No admission-charge is levied, and donations are welcomed:

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic Chester tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Nov 23, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesHistoric Chester

Chester Cathedral

The present-day Chester Cathedral began as the tenth-century church of St Werburgh, was refounded as a Benedictine abbey by the Norman Hugh Lupus, first Earl of Chester, and at the Dissolution of the Monasteries became the centre of a new diocese, when the last abbot became the first Dean of Chester.  (Henry VIII had apparently first considered locating the see at Fountains, where the abbey buildings were kept intact for a brief, deliberate pause.) 

The present building was begun in 1092 and then remodelled and enlarged from the late thirteenth century onwards:  the later generations of builders kept their work in harmony with their predecessors, as did their contemporaries at Westminster Abbey and Beverley Minster.

Its exterior has been so repeatedly and heavily restored, by Thomas Harrison (1818-20), R C Hussey (from 1844), Sir George Gilbert Scott (from 1868) and Sir Arthur W Blomfield (after 1882), that it’s difficult to be sure if any of the visible fabric is earlier than the nineteenth century.

Certainly the apse at the end of the south choir aisle, with its exaggerated roof, is pure Scott.  This most notorious of the Victorian “Scrape” school of restorers, obsessively committed to tidying up and purifying the style of medieval churches, was heavily criticised for his work at Chester, yet some of his contributions, such as the choir screen and its wrought-iron gates (1876) are now highly-regarded designs in their own right.

He was not the only author of Victorian depredations:  Dean Howson, regrettably, ordered the removal of five medieval misericords, of which the subject-matter was considered to be “very improper”.

Ironically the medieval shrine of St Werburgh survived the Reformation because the base was used for the Bishop’s throne.  Sir Arthur W Blomfield restored it as best he could in the late Victorian period.

The Chapter House, described by Pevsner as “the aesthetic climax of the cathedral”, dates from the thirteenth-century, but was restored by R C Hussey in the mid-nineteenth century.  Similarly, the south side of the cloisters is a reproduction by Sir George Gilbert Scott.  The refectory, still with its monastic pulpit, has an east window by Giles Gilbert Scott, installed in 1913, and the roof is by F H Crossley, completed in 1939.

In contrast, the most modern, uncompromising yet least obtrusive addition to the Cathedral is the Addleshaw Tower, a detached bell-tower by George Pace, completed in 1972-4, after the old bell-frame in the central tower was found to be beyond safe restoration.

So Chester Cathedral looks now like it never did in the past.  This is true of most ancient buildings.  I think this complexity makes it all the more interesting, once you know what you’re looking at.

Chester Cathedral operates as a tourist attraction, charging for entry outside service-times:

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic Chester tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Nov 20, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Wingfield Station, Derbyshire (1976)

Wingfield Station, Derbyshire (1976)

The 2012 version of the Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings list headlines Wingfield Station, Derbyshire of 1840, by Francis Thompson (1808-1895), one of the very first architects to specialise in designing railway buildings:

The Transport Trust considers that “Francis Thompson's best work was on the North Midland Railway, between Derby and Leeds” [], yet all the others have disappeared, apart from one small isolated structure at Chesterfield and his Railway Village, next to the main station in Derby.

Wingfield Station appeared, transformed into a suburban villa, in a supplement to John Claudius Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture.

As long ago as 1950 Christian Barman, author of the pioneer study An Introduction to Railway Architecture, described it as “the most perfect of all station houses”.

Passenger services ceased in 1967, but trains still thunder past twenty-four hours a day:  the North Midland line remains a major trunk route between Sheffield and London, and between the North East and South West of England.

Soon after the station closed to passengers it was bought as a residence, but the passing trains must have made life intolerable.  For several decades the building has simply been left to rot, and lead thefts have led to extensive water damage.

The Victorian Society commentary unequivocally lays the blame for the dire condition of this beautiful little building on neglect by the private owner and negligence by the local planning authority, Amber Valley Council:  “The building has seen too much time go by to wait any longer. The council needs to take action urgently:  compulsory purchase looks to be the only answer.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the national publicity will lead to a burst of energy from a cash-strapped council.

Even more interesting will be the search for a practical use for an elegant station building with too many trains and no passengers.

Posted by: mike on Nov 17, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightBirmingham's Heritage

Snow Hill Station, Birmingham (1975)

Snow Hill Station, Birmingham (1975)

The absurdities of Victorian railway competition are only equalled by the profligate waste of the railway closures in the 1960s.

Birmingham’s two main stations lie at right-angles to each other, on different levels and several hundred yards apart, because three entirely separate and competing companies built the lines into Birmingham.

The Great Western Railway’s Snow Hill Station, first opened in 1852, developed into a magnificent red-brick and terracotta structure of 1911-12 behind J A Chatwin’s grand Great Western Hotel of 1875.

In 1961 a scheme was published to turn Snow Hill into “the most modern railway terminal in Europe”.

As late as 1964, during the electrification of the West Coast Main Line, it handled 130,000 trains and 7,500,000 passengers, compared with 175,000 trains and 10,000,000 passengers at New Street.

Later in the 1960s many former GWR services were closed or diverted to the redeveloped New Street, except for Stratford and Warwick local services which terminated at the suburban-relief station at Moor Street, south of the Inner Ring Road.

The Great Western Hotel was demolished in 1971.  Snow Hill Station itself remained derelict after the last train-service finished in 1972, became structurally unsafe and was eventually cleared in 1979.

However, from 1987 the Moor Street services again ran through the reopened tunnel, and a new Snow Hill Station was incorporated in the unlovely Colmore Court office-development. 

Since 2001 the Birmingham to Wolverhampton service of the West Midlands Metro has used a platform of Snow Hill station as its city-centre terminus.

So, apart from the fact that more trains run from Moor Street than Snow Hill, and the second London service runs to Marylebone rather than Paddington, there are relatively few significant differences in the availability of services now than there were in 1960.

Hindsight is a wonderful luxury, but I can’t help wondering if the planners’ plans really added up correctly in the 1960s, any more than the haphazard eccentricities of Victorian laissez-faire did 110 years previously.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Nov 15, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesBirmingham's Heritage

Great Western Arcade, Birmingham

Birmingham’s finest shopping arcade, the Great Western Arcade, was built, as its name suggests, on the girders which were installed to cover the open railway cutting leading into Snow Hill Station in 1874.

Designed by the Birmingham architect W H Ward, it lost its top storey, its dome and the original design of the entrance to Colmore Row in the Birmingham blitz.  Sympathetically refurbished by Douglas Hickman of the John Madin Design Group in 1984-5, and further restored in 2009, it remains one of the pleasantest of Birmingham’s shopping experiences.

Even if you hate shopping and shops, one of the great pleasures of central Birmingham is the Victorian Restaurant [] in the Great Western Arcade – an ideal place for breakfast, lunch or tea, preferably on the first floor, looking out on to the gallery and a glazed roof that could be Victorian, but isn’t.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Nov 2, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightSheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Victoria Station (1976)

Sheffield Victoria Station and the Royal Victoria Hotel (1976)

The Holiday Inn Royal Victoria Sheffield, is a splendid Victorian hotel, dating from 1862, but it stands in splendid isolation, high above the River Don, cut off from the city by the Inner Ring Road, and – as its website plaintively declares – half a mile from the railway station:

This is ironic, because the hotel was built to serve Sheffield Victoria Station on the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway.  When Victoria Station opened in 1851, it provided the first direct service from Sheffield to London.

The rival Midland Railway had a station nearby, Sheffield Wicker, opened in 1838 on the site that's now occupied by Tesco Extra, but that line took passengers north to Rotherham where they had to change to a London train.

Only after the Midland Railway opened their new station in 1870 did Sheffield have a choice of direct trains to London and (from 1876) to Scotland.

Victoria continued to provide the quickest service to Manchester and served the east-coast resorts that were popular among Sheffield folk – Cleethorpes, Mablethorpe and Skegness.

In 1954 the Manchester-Sheffield service was electrified, cutting the journey-time between the two cities to 56 minutes.

The 1960s Beeching rationalisation caused the transfer of almost all the passenger services from Victoria into the erstwhile Midland Station, and after some controversy the Sheffield-Manchester service was diverted to the Hope Valley route, which served more local communities and carried the cement traffic from Hope.

Until 1983, rail passengers between Sheffield and Huddersfield via Penistone had the weird experience of trundling through what remained of Sheffield Victoria and reversing to gain access to the former Sheffield Midland.

Eventually, that route was adjusted to run via Barnsley to reach Penistone, and all that now remains of Sheffield Victoria is a single track to carry trains to the steelworks at Stocksbridge.

There is a proposal to reinstate passenger services over the existing track to Stocksbridge:

Meanwhile, fast trains between Sheffield and Manchester via the Hope Valley complete their journeys in under an hour via Stockport.

The authoritative account of Sheffield Victoria Station is at

Posted by: mike on Oct 31, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightSheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Midland Station

When I book a taxi and absentmindedly ask for Sheffield’s “Midland Station” the switchboard operators generally haven’t a clue what I’m talking about.  There’s been no reason to call it that ever since Sheffield’s other station, Victoria, closed in 1970.  Yet when I listen to black-cab driver’s radios, they often refer to it as “LMS”, though it ceased to belong to the London, Midland & Scottish Railway on the last day of 1947.

Similarly, Sheffield's trams – and possibly buses – still showed 'LMS Station' as a destination until the end of the 1950s [see Going nowhere anytime soon].

For practical purposes, it’s now simply Sheffield Station.

It’s not a particularly spectacular building, though it was handsomely refurbished in 2002.  Indeed, the most impressive structure is out of sight – the culvert that takes the River Sheaf (after which Sheffield is supposedly named) underneath the platforms:

The present frontage dates from 1905, designed by Charles Trubshaw who also rebuilt the Midland Railway’s stations in Nottingham and Leicester and designed the Midland Hotel in Manchester.  Trubshaw’s first-class waiting room and the adjacent dining room are now occupied by one of Sheffield’s fine real-ale pubs, the Brewery Tap [].

The location of the station was controversial when it was built in the late 1860s as part of the “New Road” extension from Grimesthorpe to Chesterfield [see Round house on the Old Road].  The local landowner, the Duke of Norfolk, insisted on the southern approach being hidden in a tunnel (later removed) so that it was invisible from his residence, The Farm.

At the same time Sheffield Corporation, concerned that the streets to the east where Park Hill Flats now stand would be cut off from the town centre, demanded a right of way across the station footbridge.

That’s an argument that’s still running 140 years later.  The operator, East Midlands Trains, seeks to close the footbridge with ticket-barriers:

Alan Williams, in an article about Sheffield Station in Modern Railways (June 2012), suggested that the railway obsession with ticket barriers may be less connected with fare-dodging (which according to the four train operators serving Sheffield is no worse on their lines than the national average) and more with national security, because the specification for installing the barriers includes enhanced CCTV with individual personal recognition:  “What better way of ensuring that we all dutifully line up to have our picture taken than in a secure station and gating scheme?”

Posted by: mike on Oct 18, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Morecambe Winter Gardens

What is now called Morecambe Winter Gardens isn’t in fact the Winter Gardens at all.  It’s the Victoria Pavilion, built in 1897 alongside the original Winter Gardens and Empress Ballroom of 1878.

The original complex began as the People’s Palace, built for the Morecambe Bath & Winter Gardens Company to provide entertainment, baths and an aquarium, on the lines of the Scarborough People’s Palace & Aquarium (1875-7) and the Great Yarmouth Aquarium (1876).

The Victoria Pavilion was designed by the Manchester-based practice Mangnall & Littlewoods which had already designed the Morecambe West End Pier and Pavilion in 1895-6, and were then working on the Central Pier Pavilion and the Hotel Metropole at the same time as the Victoria Pavilion.

The Winter Gardens closed in 1977, and the adjacent Ballroom was demolished in 1982 on the specious grounds that the replacement development would finance restoration of the Pavilion.

In fact it didn’t:  the Friends of the Winter Gardens were formed in 1986 and its current owners are the Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust Ltd [], established in 2006 to take on the huge task of making the theatre fit to earn its own living once more.

It’s a magnificent building, inside and out, listed Grade II*, and one of the few remaining Victorian structures in a resort that has not stood the test of time.

The Theatres Trust identifies it as “a rare type, probably now unique” – a large-scale concert-party auditorium, very broad in relation to the width of the proscenium and the size of the stage.

It was used as a location for the Laurence Olivier film The Entertainer in 1959.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Lancashire's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Oct 15, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Chapel of St John the Baptist, Matlock Bath

A few weeks ago I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Friendless Churches – not something I do every year, but an opportunity to see and photograph the immaculate restoration of the Chapel of St John the Baptist, Matlock Bath, designed by Guy Dawber (1861-1938) for Mrs Louisa Sophia Harris, who lived at The Rocks, on the cliffside above Artists’ Corner in Matlock Dale.

Mrs Harris disliked the liturgical practices of the vicar of St Giles’, Matlock, and objected to his refusal to memorialise her pet dog, so she erected her own private Anglo-Catholic chapel at the end of her garden in 1897.

St John’s Chapel is a delightful architectural composition, its simplicity relieved by the oriel window and bell turret that punctuate its setting on the side of the cliff.

It’s also a gem of Arts & Crafts design, with stained glass by Louis Davis (1860-1941), plasterwork, embellished with painted vines and individually-modelled swallows, by George Bankart (1866-1929) and a painted altarpiece by John Cooke.  The rood screen, and probably the other interior fittings, were designed by Guy Dawber.

After many years of neglect and wanton vandalism, the chapel was vested in the Friends of Friendless Churches in 2002, and they have spent some £300,000 returning it to immaculate condition.

The Friends’ website is at, which is the portal for gaining access to their properties.  There is an introduction to the Friends by the Secretary, Matthew Saunders, at

The AGM took place at Masson Farm [] and included a high-quality afternoon tea with a view to match.

You know you’re at an upscale AGM when someone sends apologies for absence because they’re helping to choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Posted by: mike on Oct 10, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureBirmingham's Heritage

Victoria Law Courts, Birmingham

Victoria Law Courts, Birmingham

Birmingham is Britain’s terra-cotta city.

The material was extremely popular in late-Victorian British towns and cities, because it was theoretically washable, though the rain was rendered sulphurous by coal-fired homes, factories and trains.

Of all Birmingham’s terra-cotta buildings, there can be few more exciting than Birmingham’s Victoria Law Courts (1886).

Building this ambitious structure was in fact part of the deal by which Birmingham gained its own Assizes.

The design-competition was assessed by Alfred Waterhouse, designer of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington and house-architect to the Prudential Assurance Company, who loved the material so much that his colleagues nicknamed his style “slaughterhouse Gothic”.

What Waterhouse loved about terra-cotta was that it rendered rich detail crisp and plastic, so that sensuous curves flow across and die into the structural forms of wall surfaces and apertures.

The competition was won by Aston Webb (1849-1930) and Ingress Bell (1887-91), an ambitious pair who astutely chose as the pseudonym on their competition-entry, ‘Terra-cotta’.

The exterior is built of Ruabon brick and terracotta, but the interior is entirely in buff clay by Gibbs & Canning of Tamworth, Staffordshire.

The design is stuffed with Arts and Crafts statues and reliefs, by William Aumonier, William Silver Frith with Walter Crane, and Harry Bates.  The ornamental stained glass was designed by Walter Lonsdale, and the furnishings – many of which survive – were supplied by Chamberlain, King & Jones.

Mottos moulded into the decoration include “Truth is the highest thing that man may keep” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”.  The clear intention was to inspire wonder in visitors and awe in clients.

The Grade I listed Victoria Law Courts has become increasingly impractical for dispensing justice efficiently.  Like the terra-cotta Methodist Central Hall (Ewan Harper & James A Harper 1903-4) across the road, it will present a problem to tax both planners and conservationists.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Birmingham's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's Birmingham's Heritage lecture, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Oct 4, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

North Euston Hotel, Fleetwood

We’ve purposely located the Lancashire’s Seaside Heritage (July 10th-15th 2013) tour at the North Euston Hotel, Fleetwood [],– not only for its comfort and quietness but because it’s significant in the history of the Lancashire coast.

Its name indicates that it was once the northern terminus of the railway from London’s Euston Station, at a time when George Stephenson proclaimed that no locomotive would ever manage the climb over Shap to the Scottish border.

The town of Fleetwood was planned and named by Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood (1801-1866) as the transhipment point between the Preston & Wyre Railway, which opened in 1840, and the steamer service to Ardrossan which was connected by rail to Glasgow.

This worked fairly well until what we now call the West Coast Main Line opened over Shap in 1847.  By that time Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood had gone bankrupt, and though Fleetwood harbour in time served other purposes, its railway remained forever on a branch line from Preston.

The grandly curving hotel was designed by Decimus Burton as part of Fleetwood’s intended holiday resort.

The hotel’s first manager, a Corsican called Zenon Vantini, was responsible for the first railway-station refreshment-room, at Wolverton, and ran the Euston and Victoria Hotels in London.

Opened in 1841, it was eventually bought by the War Department a School of Musketry for Officers, and reopened in 1861 as the Euston Barracks.

Vantini took a lead, in conjunction with the first vicar of Fleetwood, Rev Canon St Vincent Beechey (son of the painter William Beechey), in founding the Northern Church of England School in 1844.

This school later took the name Rossall School [] after it leased and then bought the Rossall Hall estate from Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood.

Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood died in such poverty that his estate could not pay for his funeral.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Lancashire's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Sep 24, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney

St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

St Andrew's Cathedral (top) and St Mary's Cathedral (above), Sydney

Catholic cathedrals in most Australian cities were deliberately designed to outshine their Anglican neighbours.

In Sydney, Australia’s earliest settlement founded in 1788, the Anglicans were quicker off the mark, and after a couple of false starts completed St Andrew’s Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1868.

The architect, Edmund Thomas Blacket (1817-1883) had a difficult time adapting the existing foundations and part-construction of an earlier project, and produced a modest-sized but imposing composition, with more than a passing resemblance to York Minster.

Sadly, St Andrew’s Cathedral has been compromised more than once.  Because of the noise of Sydney’s trams passing the east end of the cathedral, the entire church was reversed, placing the entrance on the east so that communion was celebrated as far as possible from the tramlines at the west end where the choir had to fight, not the trams, but the acoustics.

When in 1999-2000 the original layout was restored, liturgical considerations required that the old altar had to go.  It was, in addition, riddled with termites.

As a result, the fine reredos designed by John Loughborough Pearson and carved by Thomas Earp was left framing a vacancy.

The seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney is the splendid St Mary’s Cathedral – also the successor to a couple of earlier structures which were successively destroyed by fire.

The foundation stone of St Mary’s was laid in 1868, the year St Andrew’s was consecrated.

The Catholics had the unforeseen advantage, however, of a spacious site on the edge of the built-up city-centre, and they chose as their architect William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899), who already had St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, well under way.

Wardell lived long enough to see St Patrick’s substantially completed, but St Mary’s took much longer.  Work on the nave began in 1913 and was completed in 1928.

Even then, Wardell’s elegant design was truncated, because there were insufficient funds to complete the twin western towers with spires.

Indeed, it seemed unlikely that such expensive luxuries would ever be justified, until an A$5,000,000 grant from the New South Wales Government prompted the ingenious solution of flying in steel frames by helicopter and cladding them in Wondabyne sandstone to match Wardell’s original design and intentions.

St Mary’s Cathedral was topped out, in the literal sense, in August 2000, completing a project that began in 1868.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Sep 17, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Kedleston Church Monument to Lord & Lady Curzon

Nestling against the cool classical pile of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire is the far older medieval parish church of the long-vanished village of Kedleston.  The north aisle of the church is an early-twentieth century Gothic memorial to a great love match.

George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquis and Earl Curzon, Viceroy of India (1859-1925), famously the “superior person” of an undergraduate ditty, like a number of his contemporaries married the daughter of an American millionaire.

Mary Victoria Leiter’s father was a co-founder of what became the Chicago-based Marshall Field department-store empire.  Her wit, charm and elegance was legendary.  The breaktaking peacock coronation gown, by Worth of Paris, which she wore as Vicereine at the Delhi Durbar in 1902 is on display within Kedleston Hall.

Perhaps the only sadness about their relationship was her inability to produce an heir, and the medical complications following a miscarriage destroyed her health.  She died in her husband’s arms on July 18th 1906.

Curzon commissioned the Gothic Revival architect George Frederick Bodley to design the memorial chapel at Kedleston, and employed the Australian sculptor Bertram Mackennal to carve her effigy in 1913.  Mackennal, by then Sir Bertram, ultimately provided an effigy of Lord Curzon which was installed in 1931.

Lord Curzon’s second wife, who has no obvious memorial at Kedleston, was Grace Elvina Duggan, a rich American widow aged 38 at the time of their marriage in 1917.  Though she had three children from her first marriage she did not provide a Curzon heir, and the marriage deteriorated into a separation.

The finest monument to Grace Curzon is not at Kedleston.  She was the subject of John Singer Sargent’s final portrait in oils, now in the Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire,_Marchioness_Curzon_of_Kedleston.jpg.

Posted by: mike on Sep 14, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureManchester's HeritageLife-enhancing experiences

Manchester John Rylands Library

Leave the traffic and bustle of Manchester’s Deansgate, and step into the studious quiet of the John Rylands Library, and you’re transported to a different world – of peace, calm and more books and manuscripts to study and admire than you could absorb in a lifetime.

It’s no longer usual to enter through the street doors into the gloom of the original entrance lobby, which in some ways is a pity.  Instead you enter through a light, white modern wing that brings you to the original Gothic library by a gradual route.

This brown stone Gothic Revival temple of learning is a monument to one of Manchester’s greatest cotton merchants and philanthropists, John Rylands (1801-1888), conceived and paid for by his third wife and widow, the Cuban-born Enriqueta Augustina Rylands (1843-1908).

She had a very strong idea of what she wanted – a free public scholarly library in the heart of the city of Manchester, for which she purchased as core collections the Althorp Library of Lord Spencer and, later, the Bibliotheca Lindesiana from the Earl of Crawford.

Initially, she intended the library to specialise in theology, and specified a Gothic building that would suggest ecclesiastical and university architecture, so she engaged Basil Champneys (1842-1935) on the strength of his work at Mansfield College, Oxford (1887-90) [see,_Oxford].

Enriqueta Rylands was so anxious to begin work on the Deansgate site that, though Champneys produced the initial design within a week of gaining the commission, she demanded to see building work begin before the detailed work had even started.

To satisfy her, he contrived a 4ft 6in concrete platform on which later rose his spatially complex, technological advanced repository of some of the most valuable books in Manchester – its interior insulated from the smoke and noise of the city by lobbies and ventilated by the best air-conditioning that was practical at the time.

The reading-room is on the first floor, to catch the limited available light, approached by a capacious, picturesque sequence of staircases, galleries and vaults that Nikolaus Pevsner described as “a cavalier throwing-away of whole large parts of the building to spatial extravagance pure and simple”.

The atmosphere of monastic calm, within yards of the busy city-centre street, is dramatic, and reflects the religious emphasis of the original book-collection, though Mrs Rylands insisted on toning down some ecclesiastical features such as the intended traceried screens to the reading-bays. 

Despite the romanticism of its aesthetic appeal the building was designed to be fireproof, with a six-inch ferro-concrete lining to the masonry vaults, and was from the beginning lit by electricity, generated in the huge basement.

Cost was not a restriction:  when it opened in 1900 the bill came to £230,000, and by 1913 Champneys was required to extend the building.  Further extensions were added in the 1960s and in 2004-7.

Since 1972 the building has been the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, though members of the public are free to join:

The building itself is open to the public [], and the entrance wing contains the excellent Café Rylands [] and a quality bookshop.

It’s worth seeking out.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Manchester's Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester's Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Sep 11, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's Heritage

Carlisle Street Schools, Sheffield (1985)

Former Carlisle Street Schools, Sheffield (1985)

I have the publisher’s word that I was the very first person to hand over money for the Victorian Society South Yorkshire group’s excellent new publication Building Schools for Sheffield, 1870-1914 – even before the Lord Mayor received his presentation copy.

When I browsed through it at the book launch, over tea and fruit-cake, I saw that one of the very few Sheffield Board Schools for which there appeared to be no satisfactory image was the Carlisle Street Schools (1891), in the heart of the east-end steelworks.

I had to confess to Valerie Bayliss, the Group Chairman, that I had a couple of images that I’d taken when the steelworks were being cleared in the mid-1980s.  I’ve now passed them on to be in good time for the second edition.

Indeed, the panorama that is included on page 48 of the book demonstrates vividly why this long-forgotten school needed a capacity, after an extension in 1894, of 1,121 pupils.

Very few people have lived in the Lower Don Valley now for decades, but when the School Board handed over its responsibility to Sheffield Corporation in 1902, it had provided places for over 12,000 pupils in the heart of the steelmaking east end of the city.

Building Schools for Sheffield, 1870-1914 is obtainable from

Posted by: mike on Aug 19, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Melbourne

As Australian cities grew up in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Anglicans in each place set about building their cathedral but were often trumped by the Catholics, who were mostly poor Irish settlers escaping the penury and famine of their native land.

Catholic cathedrals in Australia usually stand on top of a hill, and are richly ornate.  Their builders – congregations, priests and architects – went out of their way to state that only the best was good enough for God.

In Melbourne, the Anglican Cathedral, St Paul’s, [see Exporting Gothic Architecture] is particularly fine, yet the Catholic Cathedral, St Patrick’s, is magnificent.  Its spire, 344 feet high, is the highest in Australia.

The architect of St Patrick’s Cathedral was William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-1899), a London-born convert to Catholicism, trained by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin.

The cathedral was begun in 1858 and consecrated in 1897:  William Wardell was one of the few architects of Gothic cathedrals to see his design substantially completed in his lifetime, though the spires were added in 1939 by Archbishop Daniel Mannix, the politically powerful Irish-Australian who held the see from 1917 until his death at the age of 99 in 1963.

Mannix’s statue by Nigel Boonham (1997) stands outside Wardell’s cathedral, gazing across to Parliament House, symbolising the lengthy struggle to overcome the early disdain towards Irish and Catholic settlers in Australia.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 17, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesExploring Australia

Melbourne Shot Tower

Apart from eating and drinking my way round Melbourne with Gabe and Dave [Eat your way round St Kilda, Eat your way round central Melbourne and Exploring Melbourne:  Madame Brussels] I’d come to the city to work.  This was the starting point for my lecture tour with the Australian Decorative & Fine Arts Societies [ADFAS:], and as soon as I met my Melbourne host Christine Penfold I knew I was in good hands.

Christine brought to my hotel not only a fat folder of air-, train- and bus-tickets, but also a beautiful bowl of fruit to sustain me.  This told me that I was being looked after, as I had been with the New Zealand Decorative & Fine Art Societies, by warm-hearted, civilised people with imagination and a flair for enjoying life.

ADFAS put me up at the Mercure, Spring Gardens [] which meant that when I wasn’t needed for their programme I could find everything I wanted on the doorstep – food and wi-fi at the Spaghetti Tree [] and a memorable independent bookshop:

The one tourist site I fitted in within my work-schedule was the 165-feet-high Coops Shot Tower (1889) [] spectacularly enclosed in the dome of the Melbourne Central shopping-centre, built in 1991.

Built to manufacture lead shot by dropping molten lead through a copper sieve, it’s not even the tallest shot-tower in Melbourne:  the sister Clifton Hill Shot Tower of 1885, [;295] built by the same Coops family, stands 263 feet high.

I’d never paid any attention to shot towers in the UK, though I knew there was one in Derby that was demolished in 1931-2 to make way for the bus station.

There are remaining examples in Chester (1799) [], Twickenham (late 18th-/early 19th-century) [] and Bristol (1968) []. 

Posted by: mike on Aug 15, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureExploring AustraliaCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Springthorpe Monument, Booroondara Cemetery, Melbourne

Quite the most astonishing Victorian edifice that Gabe showed me on our trip round suburban Melbourne was the Springthorpe Monument in Booroondara Cemetery, in Kew not far from Villa Alba.

Dr John Springthorpe (1855-1933) erected this tomb in memory of his wife Annie, who died giving birth to their fourth child in 1897 at the age of thirty.  The power of his grief led him to commemorate her in a rich, intense, uplifting memorial.  It cost around A£10,000 – ten times what he spent on his three-storey house and surgery in Collins Street in the city-centre.

Within a massive Greek temple twenty feet square, designed by the architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear (1865-1933), lies an exquisite Carrara marble group by the sculptor Bertram Mackennal (1863-1931) showing the deceased with two angels, one placing a now-lost wreath on her head, the other playing a lyre.

Both these artists were Melbourne natives, though Bertram Mackennal gained prestige for his work in England as well as Australia:  his is the relief of King George V that appeared on British and Empire coinage, medals and postage stamps.  He was also responsible for the tomb of George and Mary Curzon at Kedleston in Derbyshire.

The crowning architectural glory – literally – of this monument is the dome of deep red Tiffany glass, which bathes the statuary in a warm light that is the opposite of funereal.

The tomb is inscribed with a plethora of quotations from the Bible, the classics and from nineteenth-century poetry.  The one omission is Annie Springthorpe’s name.  Instead there is a simple, poignant inscription:

My own true love
Pattern daughter perfect mother and ideal wife
Born on the 26th day of January 1867
Married on the 26th day of January 1887
Buried on the 26th day of January 1897

Professor Pat Jalland, an Australian academic best known in the UK for her fascinating book Death in the Victorian Family (OUP 1996), wrote about the Springthorpe monument in The Age in 2002:, and there is further detail in George Nipper’s contribution to

Further illustrations can be found at

There is a biography of Dr John Springthorpe at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 13, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureExploring Australia

Villa Alba

My Melbourne friend Gabe and I share an enjoyment of Victorian architecture and photography.  For Gabe, of course, as a Melbourne resident, the adjective “Victorian” has both a historical and a geographical sense.  So Gabe and I spent an afternoon looking at Victorian Victorian architecture.

Without him I wouldn’t have found Villa Alba in the suburb of Kew, the home of William Greenlaw, a Scottish farmer’s son who rose to be general manager of the Colonial Bank of Australasia and in 1883-4 kitted out his wife Anna Maria in opulent splendour overlooking the Yarra River.

He may have designed the structure himself, but he employed the brothers Charles Stewart Paterson (1843-1917) and James Paterson (1853-1929), also Scots, to provide elaborate painted and stencilled colour schemes throughout the house.  Each room had its own theme, with much use of trompe l’oeil including outdoor scenes of Edinburgh and Sydney, Mr & Mrs Greenlaw’s respective birthplaces, scenes from Sir Walter Scott’s novels and, in the boudoir, a tented ceiling.

The furniture by W H Rocke & Co has largely disappeared, and one satinwood cabinet is in the National Gallery of Victoria.  A satinwood overmantel, illustrating scenes from Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been returned to the house.

When William Greenlaw met the fate of over-confident bankers and was made insolvent in the early 1890s, his home was safely in his wife’s name.  Two years after his death in 1893, she sold up and let the place, and in due course it became a nurse’s home and then a college.  At some point in the 1950s, much of the Pattersons’ decoration was overpainted to “brighten the place up”.

The Villa Alba Museum Inc bought the house and garden in 2004, and is now slowly and surely recovering the lost decorative schemes.  It’s fascinating to see the place in transition, and in time to come it’ll look as glorious as it did in 1884.

For details of the restoration see  A more detailed historical description, which first appeared in Antiques & Collectables for Pleasure & Profit (Spring 2011), is at  The house is illustrated in glorious detail in Russell Winnell’s photostream:

Posted by: mike on Jul 22, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesExploring Australia

Melbourne General Cemetery:  Sir Samuel & Lady Gillett monument

Dave is one of the half-dozen brightest people I ever taught.  When I told him that he asked for it in writing.  QED.

I hadn’t seen him for ten years when we met up in Melbourne, where he’s worked for the past few years and is happily settled.

We acted out the Australian dream drinking beer in the sunshine at the Beachcomber at the St Kilda Sea Baths:, and then we hopped on a tram to sample the fleshpots of central Melbourne.

I recall, with diminishing coherence, the Palmz roof bar at the Carlton on Bourke Street [], Penny Blue (in the former Money Order Building next to the GPO) [], before eating at the Golden Monkey [] where Dave’s marital-arts experience came in useful tussling with the Japanese menu.

On a second evening out we drank at the Gin Palace [] where the gents has a set of urinals for use and another for lighting, and ate at Sarti [].

At some point I regaled Dave (who is at heart a Sheffield lad) with the story of Sir Samuel Gillott (1838-1913), a Sheffield lad who emigrated to Melbourne at the age of eighteen, trained as a lawyer and operated as a politician, became Melbourne’s first Lord Mayor and was eventually exposed for his financial dealings with a lady called Caroline Hodgson, who traded as Madame Brussels and ran brothels like banks, with branch operations scattered around the city-centre.

Without a word Dave led me into a strange rooftop bar with artificial grass instead of a carpet and waitresses in maids’ outfits with white ankle socks, where only after I’d ordered St George Ethiopian beer and turned to the menu did I discover the name of the place:

Posted by: mike on Jul 12, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

All Souls' Church, Haley Hill, Halifax

At the same time that Colonel Edward Akroyd set out his model village of Akroyden in 1855-6, he began work on his greatest gift to the locality, All Soul’s Church, Haley Hill.

He employed George Gilbert Scott, who also provided the original layout for the village, to design the grandest possible statement of High Anglican pride, a fourteenth-century Gothic church with a tower 236 feet high, one foot higher than that of his carpet-manufacturing rivals, the Crossleys’ Congregational Square Church down in the valley below.

Scott was and is generally regarded as the best architect alive at the time, and Scott himself described All Souls’ as “on the whole, my best church”.

As might be expected, the finest decorative materials were used – Minton tiles, glass by Clayton & Bell, Hardman & Co, and William Wailes, ironwork by Skidmore & Co, the font of Lizard serpentine marble standing on an Aberdeen granite base, Caen stone for the pulpit, alabaster for the reredos.

The tower houses a ring of eight bells by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and the four-manual Foster & Andrews organ of 1868 was the biggest in Halifax.

This huge church became redundant in 1979, and stood neglected until 1989 when the Churches Conservation Trust took it over.

Unfortunately, the Steetley limestone Scott chose for the structure reacted badly to atmospheric pollution, and the twin tasks of conserving the fabric and securing it against vandalism are prodigious.

Details of access and coming events at All Souls’ are at

Graham White’s fine set of photographs is at

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jul 10, 2012

Category:Victorian architecture


Salisbury Terrace and former co-operative store, Akroydon, Halifax (1992)

When Colonel Akroyd came to build his second model village in 1855 (the first was Copley), he went upscale, as the Americans say.

Influenced by the growing permanent building society movement, he planned housing for his Haley Hill Mills, overlooking the centre of Halifax, to be purchased rather than rented by his workers.  He donated the land, adjacent to his own residence, Bankfield, and arranged for the cost of building to be underwritten by the Halifax Permanent Building Society.  The community was named Akroydon and all the streets were named after Anglican dioceses.

He hired George Gilbert Scott, the greatest Gothic Revival architect of the day to design 350 houses in terraced blocks of eight to ten in the style they called domestic Gothic, “the original style of the parish of Halifax”.  Akroyd considered that “intuitively this taste of our forefathers pleases the fancy, strengthens house and home attachment, entwines the present with the memory of the past, and promises, in spite of opposition and prejudice, to become the national style of modern, as it was of old England.”

However, he found that potential freeholders are not so pliable as prospective tenants.  Being Yorkshire people, they first regarded the whole thing as a speculation, and shunned it.

Then they objected to the Gothic style:  “...although they liked the look of it, they considered it antiquated, inconvenient, wanting in light, and not adapted to modern requirements.  The dormer windows were supposed to resemble the style of almshouses, and the independent workmen who formed the building association positively refused to accept this feature of the Gothic, which to their minds was degrading.”

Scott’s former pupil, W H Crossland, later the architect of St Stephen’s Church, Copley, recast the scheme as 92 houses “clustered around a market cross in a toned-down Gothic style ‘simple, yet bold in detail’”.

These were duly built, and still remain.  The original owners, long gone to their rest, left their mark as a result of an inspired appeal to their vanity:

The occupiers find their new homes commodious in every respect, with abundance of light;  and their prejudices against the pointed style are now finally uprooted.  They are much gratified by one feature recently introduced, viz, the insertion of the owner’s monogram or device, on a stone shield, placed over the door, with the intent to give individuality and a mark of distinction to each dwelling.

These Englishmen’s homes were indeed their terraced ancestral castles.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jul 8, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

St Stephen's Church, Copley, West Yorkshire

I find it hard to imagine the sheer power of churches in nineteenth-century England.

There’s a specific reason why the magnificent parish church of St Stephen, Copley, West Yorkshire, was built on the opposite side of the River Calder from Colonel Edward Akroyd’s model village beside the mill.

The vicar of All Saints’, Dudwell, objected having a new church so near his own, so the site was moved from the main road to the woods beyond the village.

The £4,000 cost of the building was raised by public subscription, and Colonel Akroyd spent a further £5,000 of his own money on the furnishings, stained glass, and building the chancel and sacristy. 

Consecrated in 1865, it’s a complete essay in Victorian church design by the Huddersfield architect William Henry Crossland (1835-1908) – rich in stained-glass, some of it by Hardman & Co, carving, mosaic and painted decoration.

Furthermore, according to Malcolm Bull’s informative Calderdale Companion website, Colonel Akroyd contributed to the vicar’s stipend.

In 1872 Colonel Akroyd took against the practices of the vicar he’d appointed, Rev J B Sidgwick, and stopped paying his voluntary contribution.  A group of parishioners promptly made up the deficiency, while others decamped to the local Methodist church.

St Stephen’s, which is big enough to seat a third of the village, is now redundant, and is maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust:

Graham White has an admirable series of photographs of the interior at

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jul 6, 2012

Category:Victorian architecture

Copley, West Yorkshire

Tucked by the river Calder, the village of terraced houses at Copley, West Yorkshire, looks a pleasant place to live.

That was exactly the intention of its builder, Edward Akroyd – always known as Colonel Akroyd – when his family firm transferred the business and employees to their new mill at Copley in 1846.

In the political conflicts of the time, Colonel Akroyd became one of the driving forces in the movement to reconcile the interests of workers and capitalists.

To house the workforce at this unpopulated spot beside the River Calder he began a small community which eventually consisted of 136 houses, accommodating by the 1870s a population of about seven hundred.

This was anything but cheap housing, but the village provided excellent facilities, including allotments, a co-operative store, an employees’ canteen-shed seating 600 and serving dinners of meat and potatoes at three-halfpence or twopence each, boys’ and girls’ schools (1849), a burial club (1849), a lending library (1850 – free until 1863), a branch of the Yorkshire Penny Savings Bank (1862) and a clothing club (1863).

Colonel Akroyd admitted he didn’t make much money out of renting houses to his workers, but he believed his business gained “from a more attached and contented population”.

It’s tempting to think of the building-society movement as a nineteenth-century workers’ enterprise, sponsored by radical politicians, but in some cases it was the product of employers’ enlightened self-interest.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 18, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

Wainsgate Baptist Church

Visitors to Hebden Bridge often find their way to the older hilltop town of Heptonstall, but few find their way to the other hilltop settlement on the opposite side of the valley of the Hebden Water – Old Town.

Up the hill above Old Town stands the Wainsgate Baptist Church, founded by the Particular Baptists c1750.

The second minister, Rev John Fawcett (1740-1817), had packed up ready to move to a better-placed ministry in London, when the distress of his Yorkshire congregation at losing him made him change his mind and remain in Hebden Bridge for the rest of his life.  He used this experience when he wrote the great nonconformist hymn, ‘Blest be the tie that binds’.

The present church dates from 1859-60, a typically robust, elegant classical, galleried chapel, expensively embellished at the end of the nineteenth century.

It’s hard to imagine how the houses scattered along the hillside could fill the chapel and the Sunday school – and the graveyard – year in, year out, but they did.

This fine Grade II* listed building was taken over by the Historic Chapels Trust after it closed in 2001 [], and it’s now used as a venue for musical events.

To see what’s on, go to  It’s worth turning up in good time to be sure of a parking place.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 6, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

Todmorden Unitarian Church

Todmorden Unitarian Church (1864-9) is a highly unusual piece of nonconformist architecture, designed and built as a splendid recreation of a fourteenth-century Gothic church, with a spire 192 feet high and internal arrangements which – but for the absence of an altar – are largely Anglican in layout and design.

It has an elaborate font and pulpit, a William Hill organ originally powered by a water-powered air pump, and very fine stained glass by the Belgian designer, Jean-Baptiste Capronnier.  The tower contains a clock, carillon and a ring of eight bells hung for change-ringing.  The final cost amounted to £35,000, almost six times the initial estimate.

It was paid for by the Fielden brothers, Samuel, Joshua and John, as a memorial to their father, “Honest John” Fielden (1784-1849) by John Gibson, who also built Todmorden Town Hall and John Jnr’s residence, Dobroyd Castle, overlooking the town and the Unitarian Church.

John Gibson (1814–1892) is an under-rated architect, otherwise best known for his “Marble Church”, St Margaret’s, Bodelwyddan, in Denbighshire.

William Gaskell, the widower of the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and the respected minister of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester gave the address in the inaugural service.  He suggested that it was entirely proper to enlist art to serve religious observance – if it was done sincerely.

The Fieldens transferred ownership to a trust in 1882, and inevitably over the years the available income became increasingly unequal to the costs of maintaining the structure.

After a centenary refurbishment, the building became increasingly impractical, and in 1987 the diminished congregation moved down to the lodge at the bottom of the drive.  The decaying and increasingly vandalised Grade I listed church was taken over by the Historic Chapels Trust in 1994 and is now cared for by local volunteers:

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 4, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Dobroyd Castle

Dobroyd Castle (2007)

The Pennine border-town of Todmorden is founded on the acumen and discipline of the Fielden family, and particularly “Honest John” Fielden (1784-1849).  The son of a clothier, he built up the Fielden Brothers’ cotton-spinning business and pursued an energetic political career as MP for Oldham alongside William Cobbett.  As a successful millowner, he argued a powerful case for an eight-hour day, saying that shorter working days would equally benefit factory-owners and workers by restricting production and thereby increasing prices and wages.

He also founded the first Unitarian church in Todmorden, and served as its Sunday School superintendent, exerting a “severe and wholesome discipline”.

He handed on the business, first to his brother Thomas (1790-1869), and then to his three sons, Samuel (1816-1889), John (1822-1893) and Joshua Fielden (1827-1887). 

Fielden Brothers became an extremely powerful business, employing at its peak two thousand workers with, in addition to the Todmorden mills, trading offices in Manchester, Liverpool, London and New York.  In the period 1850-65 it generated net profits of around £1.2 million.  During the cotton famine of 1861-5, Fieldens paid half wages to their unemployed workers for road-building and other public works.

Of the three, Joshua was the most prominent.  He became a Conservative MP, retired from the business in 1869 and bought Nutfield Park, Surrey.  There and on his yacht, Zingara, he lived an opulent lifestyle, particularly after giving up his parliamentary seat in 1880.  He died at Cannes, and was brought back to Todmorden for burial:  despite his expensive tastes he left an estate of half a million pounds.

John Jnr lived a quite different lifestyle.  He chose as his wife a mill-girl called Ruth, for whom he built Dobroyd Castle, designed by John Gibson and completed in 1869 at a cost of £71,589.  This sombre, domineering pile on a hill high above the town remained in family ownership until 1942, when it became a Home Office approved school for boys and later an independent boarding school for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

In 1995 it was purchased for £320,000 by the New Kadampa Buddhist Tradition and opened as the Losang Dragpa Centre for meditational retreats.  The Buddhists peremptorily moved out in August 2007, and the Castle reopened as an outdoor pursuits centre, operated by Robinwood Activity Centres [], in March 2009.

Dobroyd Castle is not open to the public.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 2, 2012

Category:Victorian architecture

Todmorden Town Hall

Todmorden is essentially a border town.  The River Calder was the historic border between Yorkshire and Lancashire until 1888, since when the town has been in the West Riding and latterly West Yorkshire.

It’s not a big place, and its centre is dominated by the grandiose Town Hall financed by the three cotton-spinning Fielden brothers, Samuel, Joshua and John, and designed by their favourite architect John Gibson as a magnificent Roman temple on the lines of Birmingham Town Hall and St George’s Hall, Bradford.  It cost of £54,000.

The pediment of the south façade contains two carved female figures, the left-hand, western one symbolising cotton-spinning Lancashire, while the other represents the agriculture and engineering of Yorkshire.

The Town Hall actually straddles the River Calder which runs in a culvert underneath.  Before the boundary-change of 1888 it was possible to dance in the main hall from one county to the other and back again.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 23, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightLife-enhancing experiencesExploring New York

New York City Grand Central Terminal

The very heart of Manhattan’s 42nd Street is Grand Central Terminal, New York’s principal monument to the age of the railroad, which will celebrate its centenary next year:

Many New Yorkers have never forgiven the destruction of the other great terminus, Penn Station, McKim, Mead, and White’s triumphant pink granite temple to transportation, built in 1910 and flattened in 1963:

Grand Central was the destination of steam-hauled trains from the north, ploughing down a cutting that was covered over when electrification became practical from 1889 onwards.

Begun in 1903, the terminal was structurally completed ten years later but not fully operational until 1927.  Its concourse is 275 feet by 120 feet and 125 feet high, lit by arched windows 75 feet high.  The Guastavino roof is decorated with a painted zodiac (which is for some reason reversed) by Paul Helleu. 

It has sixty-seven tracks on the two levels, a turning loop and connections to the subway, including the 42nd Street Shuttle, which takes a minute to shunt between Grand Central and Times Square.

This was the starting point for some of the great trains of the early twentieth century, the Knickerbocker to St Louis, the Ohio State Limited to Cincinnati and the Twentieth Century Limited to Chicago to which, among its many luxuries, is attributed the original red-carpet entrance.

A major conservation campaign, led by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, saved Grand Central from demolition in the 1970s, and in 1994-8 a $197-million renovation was undertaken by LaSalle Partners and Williams Jackson Ewing, the restorers of the superb Union Station in Washington DC.

Now it looks as good as it did in 1913 – if not better.

The quintessential Grand Central experience, other than catching a train, is to eat at the Oyster Bar [], where journalists used to take advantage of the acoustics to pick up scoops.  If that's outside the budget, there's plenty to eat in the food court:,

To see images of parts of Grand Central Terminal that ordinary travellers don’t see, go to

To enjoy the best flashmob invasion of the Grand Central concourse go to

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture 'The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City', please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 20, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTaking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosLife-enhancing experiencesThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Buxton Dome

Any modern tourist resort needs a car park.  A Victorian resort needed a railway station.  In the days of coach-travel, stables were essential.

When the 5th Duke of Devonshire developed the spa at Buxton [see Buxton’s Crescent], he commissioned the architect John Carr of York also to build a commodious stable block on the hill at the back of the Crescent (1780-90).

The Stables (1785-1796) was a huge octagonal building accommodating 110 horses and sixty coaches, with a circular covered gallery around the internal courtyard for exercising.  Ostlers and grooms were accommodated above the horses, to take advantage of their body heat.

On top of the capital cost of the Crescent – £38,601 18s 4d – the Stables cost the Duke a further £40,000.

The imminent arrival of the railway in 1863 [See The shortest way, or the prettiest] indicated that the Stables would soon be redundant, and the Seventh Duke allowed two-thirds of the building to be converted by the Buxton Bath Charity “for the use of the sick poor” by the Chatsworth estate-architect Henry Currey in 1859.

Subsequently the courtyard was enclosed in 1881-2 by the superb 156ft-diameter dome – the largest in the world at the time of construction – by the Buxton architect Robert Rippon Duke (1817-1909).

Robert Rippon Duke is one of those minor Victorian architects who never made a national reputation, but stamped his identity on a particular locality.  His life is chronicled in an admirable biography by Mike Langham & Colin Wells, The Architect of Victorian Buxton:  a biography of Robert Rippon Duke, “the Duke of Buxton” (Derbyshire Library Service 1996).

The hospital was renamed the Devonshire Royal Hospital in 1934, and continued to offer hydropathic treatments until 2000.

After it closed, the University of Derby took over the site, restored and converted the building as reopened it as the Devonshire Campus in 2003.

The dome is open to the public and, because the campus houses the faculties of hospitality and what are described as culinary arts, there’s always a cup of coffee to be had at Bistro 44, and serious food at the Fine Dine Restaurant  Be sure to book.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 18, 2012

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakVictorian architectureTransports of delightTaking the Waters: the history of spas & hydrosThe Derbyshire Derwent Valley

Buxton LNWR Station

At one time, you had a choice of rail routes to travel between Buxton and Manchester.

As a result of farcical Victorian competition, there were two Buxton stations, served by two companies, running between Buxton and Manchester by completely different routes.

The London & North Western service, which survives, took a reasonably obvious way over the hills to Whaley Bridge and Hazel Grove, where it joined the main line through Stockport to Manchester.

The Midland route, which was a by-product of that company’s desperate dash to find an independent route from Derby to Manchester, dived through deep Derbyshire limestone dales and a lengthy, 1½-mile long tunnel at Dove Holes, to link with the Cheshire Lines into Manchester Central.

Though the Midland line passenger service closed in 1967, almost all of the track is still in place for use by mineral trains.  Only the approach tracks into Buxton and the Midland station have gone, replaced by the town’s inner relief road.

Present-day trains run into the North Western platforms, and though the train-shed roof has been demolished, the distinctive gable with its Crystal Palace fanlight window remains.  The adjacent Midland station was a mirror-image of this.

The shape of the window hints at the involvement of Sir Joseph Paxton, the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s head gardener and a Midland Railway director.  It seems that the Duke, as principal landowner, insisted that the two stations should sit harmoniously side-by-side, and Paxton was instructed to advise the architect, John Smith.

Indeed, when the two companies opened on May 30th 1863 it seems that the inaugural dinners were scheduled to begin an hour apart.  Presumably, Paxton turned up to both, and got two starters and only one pudding.

A full and well-illustrated account of the Buxton Midland station can be found at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture, Taking the waters:  the history of spas and hydros, please click here.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Derbyshire-based Taking the Waters:  the history of spas & hydros tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 11, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Tinsley Park Cemetery, Sheffield

I’ve known Tinsley Park Cemetery, Sheffield, all my life, because my maternal grandfather and a bevy of Salvation Army aunties and uncles lie there.  When you visit a cemetery for a funeral, or even simply to tend a grave, as my mother and grandmother did when I was little, you don’t take notice of the surroundings.

The cemetery was built by the Attercliffe Burial Board to supplement their earlier cemetery adjoining the burial ground of Christ Church parish church, a Commissioners’ church built in 1826 and demolished after it was ruined in the 1940 Blitz.

In recent years, when I’ve found my way to Tinsley Park Cemetery, I’ve been intrigued by the quality of the architecture of the funeral chapels, a typical pair – one for the Church of England, the other for the Nonconformists – with an archway, a timber loggia, a clock in the gable and twin bell-turrets.  Each of the arches of the carriageway is decorated with angel headstops carrying Biblical mottoes.

The superintendent’s house incorporated a boardroom for meetings.  It opened in 1882.

The cemetery was designed by a local practice, Holmes & Johnson.  Samuel Furness Holmes (1821-1882) was essentially a civil engineer:  he had been a highway surveyor and was Borough Surveyor from 1864 to 1873.

It’s likely therefore that the architectural work was done by his partner, C H Johnson, about whose career and work I’ve so far been able to trace nothing of any substance.

The Burial Board was taken over by the city in 1900, and Tinsley Park Cemetery remains under the care of what is now called Sheffield Bereavement Services:  The Anglican chapel is still available for funeral services, while the Nonconformist chapel is a store.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 9, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield

Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield:  Anglican Chapel

The great company cemeteries of the early Victorian period attract a great deal of attention [see Catafalque burial, Equestrian genii, Four-legged mutes, Lapidary description, Steel barons' ValhallaVictorian values and Wool barons’ Valhalla], but the major push to bring decent burial to Britain’s industrial towns and cities followed the Burial Acts of 1852-7, which recognised that most people couldn’t afford the fees of the cemeteries companies, and empowered local authorities to provide dignified burial facilities for all.

In most towns this led to the establishment of an elective Burial Board, backed by the power to levy rates and led by local figures who knew, and felt a responsibility to, their local community.

This meant that overcrowded, insanitary churchyards could be closed.  It also enabled Roman Catholics and Nonconformists to be interred by their own clergy, rather than by the local Church of England priest.

I recently visited my local Victorian municipal burial ground, Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield, which has a small but active Friends’ group:

The cemetery was opened in 1861, and extended by Sheffield Corporation when they took over from the Burial Board in 1900.  It’s still open for burials in existing graves, and the magnificent chapels by Flockton & Son are intact and listed, but in urgent need of weather-proofing and restoration.

In more prosperous times a company called Creative Outpost devised a grandiose restoration scheme but it seems to have closed down:

This leaves the Friends seeking fresh support, expertise and – most of all – funds.  They’ve digitised the cemetery records to provide an invaluable service locating graves for relatives and descendants, and they’ve begun a detailed study of some of their more celebrated “residents”:  

They open the chapels as often as possible on Sunday mornings, and they serve as a link between the local community and the council’s Bereavement Services department.

Their existence is the vital factor that keeps Burngreave Cemetery safe and civilised, and encourages its use as a place to walk, jog and enjoy the fresh air in a built-up area that is not blessed with many amenities.

Every cemetery deserves friends like the Friends of Burngreave Cemetery.  The co-ordinating body for such organisations is the National Federation of Cemetery Friends:

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 7, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Sheffield General Cemetery (1976)

Sheffield General Cemetery:  Nonconformist chapel (1976)

When I first knew the Sheffield General Cemetery in the late 1960s it was an undignified, sometimes frightening eyesore.

It was hard to believe that when it was opened in 1836 the Porter Valley was Sheffield’s classical Elysium.  On the north side of the valley stood the classical terrace The Mount (William Flockton c1830-2), the Botanical Gardens (Benjamin Broomhead Taylor & Robert Marnock 1833-6) and the Palladian Wesley College (William Flockton 1837-40, now King Edward VII School).

Opposite, the General Cemetery was laid out in terraces by the designer and curator of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens, Robert Marnock, with Greek Revival buildings, the Lion Gate, the Nonconformist chapel and the Secretary’s House, all designed by Samuel Worth, the designer, with B B Taylor, of Sheffield’s Cutler’s Hall (1832).

The original nine acres were extended by a further eight in 1850 to provide a consecrated section, dominated by William Flockton’s fine Gothic Cemetery Church.

The valley became built up in the later nineteenth century.  The turnpike road became a tram-route and Cemetery Avenue, originally built across open fields, is now one of the very few streets of terraced houses in the city with trees on either side [].

The Cemetery is now recognised as one of the finest provincial company cemeteries in England, built in response to the 1832 cholera epidemic (which in Sheffield killed 404 people, including the Master Cutler), founded as a joint-stock company by Nonconformists, with picturesque landscaping and a fondness for Egyptian detail on otherwise classical buildings.

It is the resting place of many of the great names of Victorian Sheffield – Samuel Holberry (1816-1842), the Chartist leader;  James Montgomery (1771–1854), newspaper editor and hymn-writer;  Mark Firth (1819-1880), steel magnate and philanthropist and the brothers John, Thomas, and Skelton Cole, founders of the Sheffield department store. 

Like all early-Victorian company cemeteries it fell into ruin as the income streams of plot-sales and burial fees dried up after the Second World War.

A development company bought the cemetery company, but gave up on the idea of building apartments on the site when they realised they’d have to exhume up to 77,000 corpses.

Eventually, in 1978, Sheffield City Council took it over, secured an Act of Parliament to extinguish burial rights, and perhaps ill-advisedly cleared eight hundred gravestones to create a green recreational space.

In 1989 a Friends’ group, now reconstituted as the Sheffield General Cemetery Trust [], took on a voluntary role as custodians of the place, encouraging conservation, preservation and appropriate use of a fine amenity that at one time seemed an insoluble liability.

There is still much for the Trust and the City Council to do:  the Lion Gate has been fully restored, but both chapels are empty shells awaiting a creative and sympathetic use.

In the meantime, the Trust works constantly to “encourage everyone to enjoy this historical site by walking its paths, learning its history or simply as a quiet place to sit and contemplate”.

Without their voluntary labours, the place would simply slip back into dereliction.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 4, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Knifesmithgate, Chesterfield

Knifesmithgate, Chesterfield

Chesterfield is mainly famous for the Crooked Spire of its medieval parish church.  Indeed, the borough motto is “Aspire”.

Its town-centre buildings would be unremarkable but for the work of the Borough Surveyor from c1904 to 1933, Major Vincent Smith.

He included in the Bill that became the Chesterfield Corporation Act of 1923 a provision for altering the building-lines in order to arcade the new shopping-streets.  This provided shelter for pedestrians and additional first-floor space for the buildings’ owners.

While admitting that members of Chesterfield Corporation had visited Chester, he flatly denied that his project meant to imitate Chester’s Rows.  He claimed the precedent of the eighteenth-century buildings on Chesterfield Market Place.

In fact, the closest similarity between Chesterfield’s 1920s shops and the black-and-white buildings of Chester is John Douglas’ Shoemakers’ Row of 1897.

So it is that Chesterfield visually resembles its near-namesake Chester, not because of Chester’s unique Rows, but of a link with a late-nineteenth century architect who was himself adapting the idea of the Rows to modern needs.

Posted by: mike on May 1, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureHistoric ChesterBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

1-4 Bridge Street, Chester

1-4 Bridge Street, The Cross, Chester

The city of Chester is celebrated for its black-and-white architecture, particularly the distinctive Rows, a system of split-level street frontages along the four main streets, apparently created in the thirteenth century on the remaining rubble of the Roman city of Deva.

The Rows buildings contain visible remains of medieval and older structures, making shopping a distinctive experience.  In fact much of the black-and-white architecture is Victorian or later.

As far back as the 1850s, writers in the early volumes of the Chester Archaeological Society Journal drew attention to “the rich and lively façades, the curiously carved fantastical gables, which distinguished the brief but gay rule of the Stuarts” and campaigned vigorously for their restoration.

So, when buildings such as Bishop Lloyd’s House (1615), God’s Providence House (1652) and the Leche House (late-17th century) reached the point of physical collapse, their timbers were retained and incorporated in the rebuilding.

It was ever thus.  The magnificent classical brick façade of the Booth Mansion (1700) on Watergate Street conceals considerable remains of two timber-framed medieval houses dating back to c1260-80.

A succession of local architects, beginning with Thomas Mainwaring Penson (1818-1864) and his pupil, Thomas M Lockwood (1830-1900) and dominated by John Douglas (1830-1911) and his pupils, Edward A L Ould (1852-1909) and Charles Howard Minshull (1858-1934), created modern Chester, which superficially looks like ancient Chester could have done.

The buildings which celebrated Chester on the Royal Mail 7-pence stamps for European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975 at The Cross were in fact by T M Lockwood dating from 1888 and 1892.

John Douglas in particular built much in the same style from scratch.  His Shoemakers’ Row on Northgate Street was begun in 1897.  It is beautifully detailed, with an unusually proportioned figure of Edward VII that could pass for George V.

This process of sensitive preservation continued after the Second World War, focused by Donald W Insall & Associates’ survey of 1968 and energetically monitored by the Chester Civic Trust:

Some conservation battles resulted in defeat, and Chester has its share of regrettable post-war architecture, but its ancient charm is remarkably intact, powered by an economic necessity that was obvious as far back as 1857:

But we earnestly warn our fellow-citizens, that if Chester is to maintain its far-famed celebrity as one of the “wonder cities” of England,– if the great European and Transatlantic continents are still to contribute their shoals of annual visitors to fill our hotels, and the not too plenteous coffers of our tradesmen, one course only is open to us.  We must maintain our ancient landmarks, we must preserve inviolate our city’s rare attractions,– our quaint old Rows, unique and picturesque as they certainly still are, must not be idly sacrificed at Mammon’s reckless shrine!

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic Chester tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Apr 26, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureManchester's Heritage

Victoria Baths, Chorlton-cum-Medlock, Manchester

Building projects overrun their budgets more often than not, and sometimes the reasons are heinous.  Sometimes, though, whether through blameworthy incompetence or honest accident, the results are priceless.

When the Victoria Baths at Chorlton-cum-Medlock on the south side of Manchester opened in 1906, the Lord Mayor, Mr J Herbert Thewlis, called it “a water palace of which every citizen of Manchester is proud”.

The building was designed by the Manchester City Architect, Henry Price, in exuberant red brick and yellow faience, contained three swimming pools, Turkish and Russian baths in the grandest surroundings municipal enterprise could contrive.  It's a festival of tiles, mosaic and church-quality stained glass.

However, the Manchester Guardian, while lauding the splendour of “...probably the most splendid municipal bathing institution in the country...” added, “...But the cost has been heavy...”  The amount was reported to be £54,144 – double the average cost of such facilities at the time.

To the accusations of municipal extravagance the Chairman of the Baths Committee, Alderman Rothwell, retorted –

He would recommend the Baths Committee to do nothing that he would not do on his own account and he had gone so far as to say, in answer to these criticisms, that if Manchester City Council should happen to be dissatisfied with that institution and should pass a resolution to the effect that it was on sale, the City Council had a purchaser tomorrow who would pay them every penny it had cost.

It’s no accident that the Victoria Baths stood on the border between an increasingly densely populated working-class district and the more well-to-do but declining suburbs beyond.

It was actually three separate baths – the First Class Male Bath was designed with raked gallery seating for spectators, separate slipper baths, and a direct link to the Turkish Baths, the more functional Second Class Male Bath and, lastly, the Female Bath.

Fresh water was piped to the First Class Male Bath, from which it was filtered and transferred to the Second Class Male Bath, then passed finally to the Female Bath.  Oral testimony recalls that these changes of water took place on Thursdays and Sundays, and that local users tended to avoid swimming on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The Victoria Baths operated with few alterations until 1993:  its closure caused an immediate outcry and the formation of the Friends of the Victoria Baths and the Victoria Baths Trust.  Ten years later the Baths won the BBC Restoration competition, and since then £5 million has been spent making the place weatherproof and fit for further use.

There’s still some way to go before the Baths is fully operational again.  Details of the project and of opening-days and events can be found at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Manchester's Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester's Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Apr 21, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New Zealand

Old St Paul's, Wellington, New Zealand

I explained in Gothic New Zealand:  Auckland 2 that the first and only Bishop of New Zealand, George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878), brought to the antipodes the Ecclesiological idea that a church must have pointed arches and all the architectural paraphernalia of the Middle Ages.

He was an Anglican cleric operating in a context where, until a few years before he reached New Zealand in 1841, Australia had been an archdeaconry in the diocese of Calcutta.  By the time he returned to England for the last time in 1868, New Zealand had seven Anglican bishoprics.

A visible part of Selwyn’s legacy is the New Zealand tradition of building timber churches that have the shapes of masonry construction.

The first Anglican cathedral in Wellington, now known as Old St Paul’s, was designed by an architect-turned-clergyman, Rev Frederick Thatcher (1814-1890), who was closely associated with Bishop Selwyn.

It was the pro-cathedral for the Diocese of Wellington from 1866, when it was built, until 1964, when the bishop’s throne, the cathedra, moved to the new St Paul’s Cathedral.

To save it from demolition the New Zealand Government took on Old St Paul’s as a historic site, and it remains consecrated.

Like other “Selwyn” churches, it is a warm and welcoming place, the darkness of its walls contrasting with the brilliance of its stained glass windows.

I didn’t have the opportunity to join a service in my short stay, but I sat at dinner with a lady who told me she always visits St Paul’s at Christmas, and at other times, because singing hymns and carols there is “like singing inside a violin”.

For further details, see

Posted by: mike on Apr 13, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureExploring Chicago

Chicago Rookery Building

One of the most magnificent examples of the nineteenth-century revolution in construction is the Rookery Building in Chicago’s Loop, built by Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912) and John Wellborn Root (1850-1891) during the explosion of innovation that followed the great fire of 1871.

Under pressure to rebuild the city quickly, the group of architects we now call the “Chicago School” mastered the techniques of building high buildings on a swampy site, and in doing so virtually invented the skyscraper.

The Rookery is externally conventional:  above the second storey its outside walls are entirely load-bearing masonry.  On the inside, however, the central light-court is framed by cast-iron columns, wrought-iron spandrels and steel beams.

Its spectacular atrium, lit by a glazed skylight roof and embellished by dramatic staircases to and above the mezzanine balcony, is one of the architectural wonders of Chicago.

It was modernised in 1905 by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), who encased Root’s elaborately ornamental wrought iron and terracotta with gilded, incised white marble panels that picked up the carved ornament of Burnham & Root’s exterior.

Burnham & Root – before Root’s untimely death – and, later on, Frank Lloyd Wright each based their practices in the building.

A further, clumsy refurbishment in 1931 obscured much of the quality of the original designs, and in 1992 a careful restoration by McClier Architects brought back the full impact of its 1905 appearance.

Indeed, McClier left exposed one of Root’s cast-iron columns to show the contrast between the original design and Frank Lloyd Wright’s radical make-over.

The lobby of the Rookery Building is freely accessible to visitors, on regular tours, but the light court is less often seen:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust offers tours of the Rookery Building on a regular basis – – and the Chicago Architectural Foundation includes the Rookery in their rich programme of architectural experiences:

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Windy City: the architecture of Chicago please click here.

Posted by: mike on Apr 11, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool Oriel Chambers

Oriel Chambers, Water Street, Liverpool

When I take groups around Liverpool city-centre, I pause in front of Oriel Chambers on Water Street, and invite people to guess the date of the building.  Most people get it wildly wrong, as I originally did, unless they’re sharp-eyed enough to spot the date high in the central gable.

Oriel Chambers is a tall, elegant office-block, its framework picked out in nail-headed stone mullions which frame the delicate cast-iron windows which give it its name.

It would do credit to an architect of the present generation:  in fact it was completed in 1864 by a virtually unknown architect, Peter Ellis Jnr (1804-1884), who for his pains was virtually laughed out of the profession.

Its inner courtyard (inaccessible to the public), faced with cantilevered iron cladding, even more uncompromisingly anticipates the Modern Movement.   Except for one other framed building a couple of streets away, 16 Cook Street (1866), Ellis built hardly anywhere else.

The Builder pompously dismissed it out of hand:

The plainest brick warehouse in town is infinitely superior as a building to that large agglomeration of protruding plate-glass bubbles in Water Street termed Oriel Chambers.   Did we not see this vast abortion – which would be depressing were it not ludicrous – with our own eyes, we should have doubted the possibility of its existence.  Where and in what are their beauties [sic] supposed to lie?

Ellis’ obituary in the Liverpool Daily Post (October 24th 1884) describes him as an architect and surveyor “held in high esteem by the members of his own profession” without mentioning a single building or design.

It’s possible, however, that Ellis’ genius had a distant flowering.

After the fall of Atlanta in 1864, an American planter with Liverpool business connections, Simon Root, sent his son to Liverpool for the duration of the American Civil War.  The son was John Wellborn Root (1850-1891), who returned to the USA and became one of the leaders of the Chicago School of architects, responsible for the development of iron- and steel-framed buildings in New York and Chicago and the birth of the skyscraper.

1860s Liverpool wasn’t a big place by modern expectations.  It’s unlikely that the young Root didn’t notice Ellis’ buildings, and the fireproof warehouses that Jesse Hartley and George Fosbery Lyster had built along the river front.

There’s no proof, but there’s a strong likelihood that the magnificent achievement of the Chicago School of architects may have a root in the Liverpool buildings that contemporary architects didn’t give the time of day.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Apr 7, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureExploring Australia

Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

Victorian Society study-days are an excellent way of learning about architecture and art from acknowledged experts, and I particularly enjoyed Function and Fantasy:  decorative iron and Victorian architecture at the Art Workers’ Guild on March 24th 2012.

The leader, Paul Dobraszczyk, author of the fascinating book Into the Belly of the Beast (Spire 2009), fielded a high-performance team of specialists on iron-founding, railways, the seaside, prefabricated iron buildings for export and conservation.

From the outset, Paul made it clear that in the Victorian age cast-iron was particularly exciting because it was the first completely new building-material for several hundred years.  There were structural problems involved in using cast- and wrought-iron, many of which were eventually resolved as cheap steel became available towards the end of the nineteenth century.

When we recognise the innovatory qualities of a material we now take for granted it’s easier to understand the sheer exuberance of the Victorians’ use of decorative ironwork in every kind of structure from shop-fronts to fountains, bandstands to urinals.

I was interested to hear David Mitchell, who spoke about Scottish iron-foundries, firmly knock on the head the legend that the decorative ironwork which Australians call “lace” was exported from the UK as ships’ ballast.  No-one in their right mind would use such a material simply as dead weight.

The more likely truth is that the Australians used pig-iron ballast to cast the ironwork which embellished so many of their nineteenth-century houses, pubs and public buildings.

For details of future Victorian Society events, see

Posted by: mike on Apr 4, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delight

King's Cross Station:  2012 concourse

At last the new concourse for London's King’s Cross Station has opened, elegantly spanning the space between the west wall of Cubitt’s trainshed and the gentle curve of the Great Northern Hotel.

It’s a spectacular uninterrupted space, spanned by John McAslan’s semi-circular geometrically interesting roof, easy to navigate if you’re in a hurry, with space to sit and wait above the throng.

The considerable challenge of linking and respecting the contrasting architecture of the two Victorian stations, King’s Cross and St Pancras, is met in an unequivocally twenty-first-century manner.

It used to be so different.  Not that many years ago, nobody hung around King’s Cross unless they were deeply naïve or even more deeply dodgy.

It could have been so very different, if the best-laid plans of local authorities and commercial developers had ever been fulfilled.

Henry Porter, in an article in The Observer (March 25th 2012) [], describes how a succession of financially-driven schemes came to grief in a succession of economic downturns, and how the persistence of local activists, led by the King’s Cross Railway Lands Group [], led the way towards a community-based solution.

His main message is that “the wisdom of citizens should routinely count for much more than it does in British planning, because it is always local people who understand the aspirations of their community and the way their particular public spaces work”.

The King’s Cross Railway Lands Group is monitoring what looks like a signal success:  the block across the Euston Road from King’s Cross Station is the subject of an incompletely thought-out proposal, and the Group continues to challenge the designs to replace the 1970s frontispiece of Cubitt’s station after the Olympics.

There is no final victory in the campaign to protect the environment, but there are successes.

And this is a moment to be grateful that groups such as the King’s Cross Railway Lands Group plug away for decades at a time, even when the chances of success look most slender.

Earlier blog-articles about King's Cross and St Pancras Stations are Built around beer barrels, Midland Grand, King's Cross and Midland Grand renaissance.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture on St Pancras Station and the Midland Grand Hotel please click here.

Posted by: mike on Mar 23, 2012

Category:Life-enhancing experiencesCountry HousesBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modernVictorian architecture

Petwood, Woodhall Spa

Petwood, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire

There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in Woodhall Spa – the Dower House Hotel [], the Golf Hotel [] and the Woodhall Spa Hotel (formerly the Eagle Lodge)[].

The most historically interesting of them all is the mock-Tudor Petwood [], built by the Baroness Grace Von Eckhardstein, daughter of the furniture-store owner Sir John Blundell Maple in 1905.

In 1910, she divorced her German husband and married Captain Archibald Weigall, grandson of the eleventh Earl of Westmorland, who served as land agent for the Earl of Londesborough’s nearby Blankney estate.

The following year they commissioned the London architect Frank Peck to extend Petwood, building a staff wing to the east on what the Horncastle News described as “an enormous scale”.

Peck’s carefully stylised modifications give this wholly twentieth-century house a “borrowed history”, suggesting a series of additions through the Tudor and Jacobean periods.  The main staircase, often attributed to Maples carpenters, is more likely the work of Peck’s foreman-carver James Wylie.  At an unknown later date – but probably not much later – the grandiose two-storey oriel-windowed entrance bay was added.

Also, mainly during 1913-4, Harold Peto was employed to design the ambitious gardens. 

In 1933 Petwood became a hotel, and during the Second World War this was the officers’ mess for 617 Squadron, the “Dam Busters”.

Now, it’s an exceptionally relaxing place to eat, drink or stay.  Indeed, you could spend a very satisfactory weekend staying at any one of the Dower House, the Golf, Petwood or the Woodhall Spa, and wandering off to have coffee, tea or a meal at each of the others.

And you could take home a picnic from the Bakery & Delicatessen at 14 Broadway (01526-352183):  they’re far too busy selling superb food to bother with a website.

The history of Petwood, successively as a house and a hotel, is detailed and illustrated in Edward Mayor, Petwood:  the remarkable story of a famous Lincolnshire hotel (Petwood 2000).

Posted by: mike on Mar 18, 2012

Category:Victorian architecture

Bradford Industrial Museum

I once worked for a man who was born and brought up in Bradford.  Though he’d worked among the coal of South Yorkshire and the steel of Sheffield for much of his adult life he was steeped in the traditions of his native city.

He once drew my attention to his habit of always stowing a couple of pins in the inside of his lapel.  I'm assured by a knowledgeable West Yorkshireman that "No man connected with cloth (Huddersfield perhaps rather than Bradford, but perhaps Bradford too) would feel properly dressed to go out without a couple of pins – a sort of 'just in case'."

My former boss was born at the beginning of the First World War, and he told me that he was taken by his parents to the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924-5 – a remarkable event that deserves an article of its own:

He described being taken to an auditorium where he and his parents sat in the second row seats.  The front row was reserved, and after a pause in walked the then Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

The Duke sat directly in front of my boss’s father, who gently reached across the open seat-back to make a discreet examination of the royal suit-cloth.  “Not very good wool,” he remarked to his wife and son.

Nobody knows wool like Bradford people.

Those of us who don’t share the woollen-district heritage can pick up some insight at the excellent Bradford Industrial Museum, which is based at Moorside Mills at Eccleshill (built in 1875 and since much added to).

This is one of the admirable municipal museums that soldiers on through hard times without charging admission.

Here in the textile galleries – if you turn up at the right time – you can observe machinery in operation illustrating the successive processes of combing, drawing, spinning and weaving, with informative operators to answer questions.

You can even feel the fabric at every stage from just off the sheep’s back to finished cloth.

There’s much more to see – the millowner’s residence, stables with horses at work, terraced houses furnished at different periods, a fine collection of Bradford-built Jowett cars, a Bradford trolleybus and the only surviving fully intact Bradford tram.

For details of opening times and what’s on when, see  It’s worth a couple of hours at least.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 9, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New Zealand

Old St Mary's Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand

Old St Mary's (top) and Holy Trinity Cathedral (above), Auckland, New Zealand

The city of Auckland has a special place in the history of the Anglican Church in New Zealand, because it was the base from which Bishop George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878) set up missions across the two islands as the first and only Bishop of New Zealand between 1841 and 1858.

Selwyn, who rowed in the first ever Oxford-Cambridge boat race and after whom Selwyn College is named, was a fellow of St John’s College when the Cambridge Camden Society, later known as the Ecclesiological Society, began to promote the idea that a truly Christian building should be built in the Gothic manner.

As Bishop of New Zealand he had to face the fact that masonry architecture was out of reach:  the cost and time involved in building in stone meant that the first New Zealand churches had to be timber.

But they could still be Gothic, and the Anglican community in Auckland outgrew a succession of churches until what is now called Old St Mary’s was begun in 1886 to the ambitious designs of Benjamin Mountfort (1825-1898).  Mountfort was a prolific first-generation New Zealand architect, and at St Mary’s he provided all the detail that would be found in a much larger stone-built European cathedral, with a three-sided sanctuary and lancet windows under a generous cat-slide roof.

The largest timber church in the world, it was designated as Auckland’s Anglican Cathedral in 1887 and was completed in 1898.

Its much larger successor, Holy Trinity Cathedral, was begun in 1959 to a reduced version of a twenty-year-old design by Charles Towle that had been stalled by the start of the Second World War.  The choir, transepts and crossing – reminiscent of Sir Edward Maufe’s contemporary Guildford Cathedral in Surrey – were completed in 1973.

The nave, to a much lighter design with a glazed west wall by Richard Toy, was added in 1991-5.  Now a further chapel, to the liturgical east (geographical south) is under way, due to be completed by Christmas 2014, the bicentenary of the arrival of Christianity on the North Island:

The conjunction between the two is vibrant:  it’s a very special interior space.  Next door, Old St Mary’s stands – a very different, antique interior – on a new site.  It was transported bodily across the road and turned ninety degrees in 1982.

Update:  Stewart Buckthorp has added a very useful and detailed comment to this article:  unfortunately the website design strips comments of all paragraph indents and other paraphernalia, so a reformatted version of Stewart's text is available here.

Posted by: mike on Mar 7, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New Zealand

St Stephen's Chapel, Auckland, New Zealand

St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand

St Stephen's Chapel (top) and St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral (above), Auckland, New Zealand

It’s all too easy to forget how much history is packed into the nineteenth-century outposts of the British empire.  A country like New Zealand grew to maturity within two or three generations, who brought their baggage with them and established a home-from-home in a land that belonged to others.

When I visited Auckland to lecture to the Auckland Decorative & Fine Arts Society, I wanted to see as many nineteenth-century churches as possible for a lecture I’m researching on Antipodean Gothic architecture.  My host Anne Gambrill propelled me in record time to a succession of unexpected treasures.

She took me to the tiny cruciform St Stephen’s Chapel at Judges Bay, no bigger than a modest bungalow, where the original Constitution of the Church of the Province of New Zealand was signed in 1857 – a location I’d probably not have found unassisted.

She also alerted me to St Matthew’s Church in the city-centre, unmistakably a design by the British architect John Loughborough Pearson, who was responsible for Truro Cathedral in England and St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.

In fact, the design was completed after his death in 1898 by his son Frank Loughborough Pearson.  This tall, chaste, cruciform, stone-vaulted building was completed in 1905, though without the intended spire.

As St Matthew-in-the-City, the parish has a proud record of social activism:

The mother church of the Catholic diocese of Auckland is the ornate St Patrick’s Cathedral, designed by the Auckland father-and-son practice of Edward (1824/5-1895) and Thomas Mahoney (1855-1923) and completed in 1908.  The third church on the site, St Patrick’s is revered as the base of the original Catholic mission on North Island, led by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier (1801-1871).

The nineteenth-century development of New Zealand churches – alike in the sense of congregations and buildings – was extremely fast.  An entire heritage of individual endeavour and architectural heritage evolved within the first three generations of Europeans to settle.

And each of those church-building generations, Catholic and Anglican alike, looked back to the home country for the styles and imagery of their places of worship.

The Anglican diocese of Auckland, however, ended up with a more complex and distinctive architectural legacy…

Posted by: mike on Feb 22, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureManx HeritageFun Palaces

Douglas IOM Gaiety Theatre

A couple of years ago I was invited to the Gaiety Theatre, Douglas to see the Douglas Choral Society’s production of Les Misérables, which is not my favourite piece of musical drama.  After three hours of Gallic posturing and carrying on (which theatre-folk refer to as The Glums, in tribute to the 1950s radio-programme Take It From Here), I commented to my host, my Isle of Man friend John, that though it wasn’t my favourite show I imagined we’d seen the best theatrical production on the Gaiety stage for at least ten years.

The Gaiety is a delightful theatre, one of Frank Matcham’s best survivors.  Dating from 1900, the heyday of the Manx tourist boom, it has superb fibrous plasterwork by De Jong & Co, extravagant house-tabs dripping with ropes and tassels, and the only surviving example of a Corsican trap – an essential requirement for Dionysius Lardner Boucicault’s melodrama, The Corsican Brothers (1852), which doesn’t often get an airing.

This gorgeous jewel of Victorian entertainment struggled for years to earn its keep as a cinema, and was rescued by the Isle of Man Government in 1971.  It might have been pulled down, but was restored in 1976.  It’s by far the most attractive cultural venue on the island, and it serves local communities and holiday visitors in conjunction with the adjacent Villa Marina [see Manx Mighty Wurlitzer].

Early this year John’s then-teenage son, Matthew, texted me to ask if he needed to see Miss Saigon.  Yes, I said, most definitely.  Indeed, I said, I’d get on a boat to see it if it was performed by the Douglas Choral Society.

Miss Saigon (1989) is the follow-up work to Les Misérables (1980), and was Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s second successful assault on the West End and Broadway.  It’s based on Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.  It’s a Kleenex job.  Complete with helicopter.

So I enjoyed a captivating evening in Frank Matcham’s stalls, watching the best of Manx theatrical talent pull out all the stops.  Rebecca Lawrence (Kim), Jonathan Sleight (Chris), David Artus (Engineer), Alex Toohey (John) and Kristene Sutcliffe (Ellen) gave performances which were utterly indistinguishable from the professional theatre, and they were backed up by scores of on-stage, back-stage and front-of-house workers.

What more could anyone ask of a Saturday night? – Matthew’s twentieth-birthday dinner at the excellent Coast Bar & Brasserie of the Claremont Hotel [], the best show in town in a Frank Matcham theatre, and walking home along the gently curving Loch Promenade looking out to Douglas Bay.

This is what Dr Johnson meant by “the harmless stock of human pleasure”.

The Gaiety Theatre website is at  The Douglas Choral Union is at

The Douglas-based Manx Heritage (September 9th-15th 2014) tour includes a tour of the Gaiety Theatre and a demonstration of the Villa Marina Wurlitzer next door.  For details please click here.

Posted by: mike on Feb 11, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Great Yarmouth Regent Theatre

I’m indebted to Ian Hardy, of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, for prompting me to seek out the former Regent Theatre on Regent Street, now Mecca Bingo.

Tracy Utting, the Manager, was very willing to allow my Norfolk’s Seaside Heritage tour-group to visit before the club opened, and her colleague Kerry took great trouble to show us as much as possible of the historic parts of the building.

The Regent has a sophisticated classical façade, with huge Ionic columns and a Diocletian window;  within is an impressive staircase, now altered, the former café with an extensive plaster frieze of putti and garlands, and the auditorium is decorated with rococo plasterwork, with boxes supported by cast-iron columns.

It was built in 1914 for Francis Holmes Cooper, a Wisbech estate-agent who owned a chain of theatres and cinemas across East Anglia, most if not all of them designed, like the Yarmouth Regent, by Francis Burdett Ward.  It closed as a cinema in September 1982, and ever since has operated as a bingo club.

The bingo industry has proved a magnificent custodian for so much of Britain’s entertainment heritage.  From the Blackpool Grand Theatre to the Wakefield Opera House, from the Grade I Tooting Granada Cinema in South London, still operating as a bingo club, to the magnificently restored Stockport Plaza Cinema – any or all of these might not have survived without the proceeds of bingo to keep the building going.

Kerry, as she showed us everywhere from the boxes to the basement (still containing an industrial-sized stove for the café above), remarked that very few people other than club members ever set foot in the building.

Yarmouth people may have forgotten it exists.  If and when the bingo moves on, the Regent will need a new purpose.

It’s too good to lose.

Mecca closed their operation at the Regent "at the end of 2011".  It reopens as Stars Showbar and Nightclub in April 2014:

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Norfolk's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Feb 9, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Great Yarmouth, former Royal Aquarium

The Hollywood Cinema on Great Yarmouth’s seafront commemorates a time when local businessmen hoped to make money out of people watching fish.

Yarmouth entrepreneurs hoped to build on the success of the Brighton Aquarium of 1872 by offering “aquaria exhibitions, combined with attractions of a more special and amusing nature” which meant restaurants, billiard rooms, croquet lawns and a skating rink in what a modern journalist described as “a grotesque mock Gothic cathedral of leisure”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, less than half the required £50,000 capital was forthcoming, and the London promoters of the Great Yarmouth & Eastern Counties Aquarium Company pulled out, leaving local shareholders to lower their sights and open a more modest facility which failed to attract visitors.

A contemporary commented that “wretched management was not an unimportant factor”:  the magistrates’ refusal of a drama licence was unhelpful;  apart from watching the fish which – to be fair – included sharks, giant crabs, conger eels, turtles, porpoises and octopi, with crocodiles, alligators and seals in large ponds, the entertainments on offer were the skating rink, military bands, refreshments and a reading room.  The Prince of Wales visited in 1881.  The place closed down in 1882.

The building reopened as the Royal Aquarium, extended at the cost of a further £10,000, in 1883.  The major asset of the reopened building was its new manager, an Edgware Road caterer, John William Nightingale.  He engaged such crowd-pulling celebrities as Sir Ernest Shackleton, Oscar Wilde, General William Booth and David Lloyd George.

There’s clearly limited demand for gazing at fish.  The Scarborough People’s Palace & Aquarium of 1875-7 [see Scarborough’s Rotunda] ultimately became an amusement arcade.

J W Nightingale became a power in the Great Yarmouth entertainment industry:  by the time of his death in 1911, he had purchased the Royal Aquarium, bought and replaced the old wooden Britannia Pier and also owned the Theatre Royal, the Royal Assembly Rooms and the Royal and Victoria Hotels.

In 1925 the Aquarium tanks were stripped out and a second “Little Theatre” auditorium added.

In a further refurbishment in 1970, the remaining evidence of the original Aquarium decoration briefly came to light.  In what had been the Grand Saloon, 193 feet by 60 feet, Doulton tiling depicting freshwater birds on one side and sea-birds on the other was found in situ, and a bread-oven was discovered in the basement, extending thirty feet under Euston Road.

When I ran the Norfolk’s Seaside Heritage tour in September 2011 I asked the manager, Paul Allen, if there was any possibility of seeing these remains.

Understandably he was disinclined to rip up the floorboards on a Saturday morning.

One day in the future, when this long-lived building is adapted to yet another use, vestigial remains of its original purpose will once again see daylight.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Norfolk's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jan 27, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesFun Palaces

Llandudno Marine Drive & Lighthouse

The connection between Llandudno and Alice in Wonderland is never knowingly undersold – and and – even though it’s entirely spurious.

Dean Henry Liddell, father of the real Alice, purchased an unpromising plot on the West Shore from the Mostyn Estate and built an elaborate Gothic villa which he called Penmorfa, “the end of the shore”.

The house was completed in 1862:  Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was inspired to write Alice in Wonderland by a boat-trip on the River Isis near Oxford on July 4th 1862, and completed his manuscript in February 1863;  there is no record of him visiting Llandudno during that period.

This didn’t prevent the construction of the white-marble statue of Alice, unveiled by David Lloyd George in 1933.  Strenuous attempts to protect this twee souvenir from vandalism eventually led to its removal to the middle of a lake:

There’s a much better story about Alice Liddell than anything to do with Lewis Carroll.

When the Liddells first came to Llandudno the only route around the Great Orme was a precipitous walkway called Cust’s Path, built in 1856-8.  This was so vertiginous that when he came to stay at Penmorfa W E Gladstone had to be blindfolded and led to safety by Dean Liddell and his family, including Alice.

Cust’s Path was adapted for road vehicles between 1872 and 1878 as the four-mile Marine Drive.  Building it wiped out the last remaining cave-dwelling on the Great Orme, occupied by Isaiah and Miriam Jones.  Isaiah was famous for having attempted to fly using seagull’s wings attached to his arms:  his wife nursed him to a full recovery and he lived into his eighties.

She lived to the age of 91, dying in 1910, and protested that having brought up thirteen children in a cave she disliked the more modern accommodation she was given in compensation for her eviction.  From her Welsh name, Miriam yr Ogof, “Miriam of the Cave”, her many descendants are still nicknamed ’R’ogo.

You can ride round the Marine Drive in a vintage coach [], drive round it on payment of a toll, or walk.  Half way round is the Rest-and-be-thankful Café

You can even stay at the Lighthouse, built by the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board in 1862 and now a sumptuous bed-and-breakfast guest-house:

Near the western end are the fragmentary remains of what was called Gogarth Abbey but is in fact the thirteenth-century palace of the Bishop of Bangor, Anian, his reward from King Edward I for baptising his eldest son, the first English Prince of Wales and later King Edward II.

Dean Liddell’s Penmorfa, which for years was the Gogarth Abbey Hotel, was demolished, despite protests, after a botched restoration attempt, in 2008:  see and

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jan 25, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightLife-enhancing experiencesFun Palaces

Llandudno Grand Hotel & Pier

Llandudno Pier is one of the finest unspoilt British piers, and it’s always been my favourite because it’s the one I remember, as a child, still in use for its original purposes.

Seaside piers were, after all, primarily landing stages, which quickly gained an entertainment function because they offered landlubber holidaymakers the experience of being out at sea without the inconvenience of sea-sickness.

The main section of the Llandudno Pier by the engineer James Brunlees, 1,200 feet long, opened on August 1st 1877.  The Baths, Reading Room and Billiard Hall alongside were reopened as the Baths Hotel in 1879, and a spur was added linking the Pier to the promenade in 1884.  Alongside this the Pier Pavilion, a huge glass structure 204 feet long and between 84 and 104 feet wide, was opened in September 1886.  Its basement contained a swimming pool 160 feet by 48 feet, then one of the largest in existence.

The Baths Hotel was replaced in 1900 by the existing Grand Hotel, designed by James Francis Doyle.  The Pier Pavilion, having stood derelict in the ownership of a developer who famously didn’t develop, was destroyed by fire on February 13th 1994:  [See and].

When we stayed in Llandudno in the 1950s one of the highlights was a paddle-steamer trip from Llandudno Pier to Menai Bridge and back on one or other of the Liverpool & North Wales Steamship Company steamships, St Tudno or St Seiriol [].

The trip, which we did on more than one occasion, included chugging round the enigmatically inaccessible Puffin Island, with its mysterious hill top tower, and gazing from Telford’s suspension bridge at the beached wreck of HMS Conway.

Puffin Island [Ynys Seiriol] was part of the Bulkeley family’s Baron Hill estate, of which the derelict Palladian house by Samuel Wyatt is illustrated at and

The tower forms part of the remains of one of the stations on the semaphore telegraph system that brought news of incoming ships from Holyhead to Liverpool [see Frank Large’s detailed study, Faster Than the Wind: A History of and a Guide to the Liverpool to Holyhead Telegraph (Avid 1998)].  More details of the island, and the opportunity to take a close look at it, are at

What we knew as HMS Conway was originally HMS Nile, launched in 1839 and used as a Liverpool-based training vessel until, while being towed through the Menai Strait in 1953, she grounded and broke her back.  She was eventually destroyed by fire three years later.  A detailed account is at

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company maintained a tenuous steamer service to and from Llandudno Pier, and the celebrated PS Waverley and MV Balmoral made occasional visits until the landing stage was declared unsafe in 2007.

Nevertheless, the Pier itself appears to be in good order, and it’s an essential part of the Llandudno experience to stroll to the end of the pier, watch the fishermen and have either a cup of tea or an alcoholic drink in the bar, very much as the Victorian patrons would have done 130 years ago.

Descriptions of Llandudno Pier are at and

Blog-articles about other piers are at Last resort in YorkshireStars on the streetEnd of the pier showExploring Australia 10:  St Kilda and Wasting asset.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jan 23, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Llandudno North Shore

Llandudno is a beautifully unspoilt Victorian holiday resort because the freeholds are still largely owned by the Mostyn Estate, which dictated the layout, the width of the streets and the height of the buildings, and has never allowed razzmatazz on the seafront (or anywhere else, for that matter):

In the 1830s, before anyone even thought of building a holiday resort, it could have been a replacement for Holyhead.

At the beginning of the age of steam railways, there was a problem in speeding up the Irish mails that went by horse-drawn stage-coach along Thomas Telford’s road across Anglesey because the Admiralty insisted on a high-level bridge over the Menai Strait. 

George Stephenson seriously suggested drawing railway carriages by cable across Telford’s suspension road-bridge of 1826, which couldn’t cope with the weight of even the earliest locomotives.

The St George’s Harbour & Railway Company proposed a rail-served new port, to be called St George, beside the Great Orme.  This would bring the journey-time from London to Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) in good weather to 19½ hours, and avoid the need for a high-level railway bridge to cross the Menai Straits.

A rival scheme to avoid Anglesey was proposed between London, Worcester, Bala, Ffestiniog, Tremadog and Pwllheli to a port at Porthdinllaen, the only safe haven on the north-west coast of the Lleyn peninsula.  The Porthdinllaen Harbour Company, originally established in 1804-8, apparently still exists:  its premises on what would have been the harbour-front now belong to the National Trust:

Neither scheme gained much favour:  the Railway Magazine of October 1838 argued that if Irish ferries had to pass Holyhead they might as well also pass Ormes Bay and sail directly into Liverpool.

Both schemes were rejected by a Treasury Commission in 1839-40, which accepted the Admiralty’s uncompromising view that Ormes Bay and Porthdinllaen were alike “mere roadsteads”.

So instead, the Mostyn estate developed the flat land between the Great and Little Orme promontories from 1849 onwards as a holiday resort which became known, after the church of St Tudno on the headland, as Llandudno.

It’s perhaps as well:  the idea of carrying the Irish mails through Wales via a harbour named after the English patron saint was, at the very least, tactless.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jan 20, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool Stanley Dock

Stanley Dock, in Liverpool’s north docks, comes as a surprise to those who only know the celebrated tourist honey-pot of Albert Dock.

Built soon after Albert by the same engineer, Jesse Hartley, and opened in 1848, Stanley is the only one of the Liverpool docks to lie inland from the dock road.  This is because it forms the link between the dock system and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

Only in recent years has this link been extended through what remains of the north docks, across Pier Head in a cutting and into the Albert Dock complex.  Now you can sail your narrow boat all the way into the heart of the rejuvenated city centre:

Stanley Dock itself has hardly been touched since the Second World War.  Its austere brick warehouses, with iron columns and semicircular crane-arches, are very similar to the buildings at Albert and Wapping Docks.  Adjacent are entertaining Hartley buildings such as the battlemented gatepiers and the Hydraulic Power Centre (1854).

The southern half of the dock was filled in at the end of the nineteenth century to accommodate Anthony George Lyster’s gigantic Tobacco Warehouse (1900).  Probably the largest warehouse in the world, this impressive structure held raw tobacco in bond.  Alongside is the King’s Pipe, in which scrap tobacco was burnt to avoid paying duty.

The Tobacco Warehouse is gigantic, thirteen storeys (125 feet) high and forty-two bays wide with a floor-area of 36 acres.  Joseph Sharples, in his Pevsner Architectural Guide Liverpool (2004) points out that its great depth and low ceilings (only 7 feet 2 inches because the tobacco was stored in short stacks to prevent damage) have been an obstacle to redevelopment since it came out of use in 1980.

Now at last it looks as if Stanley Dock and the Tobacco Warehouse are ready, after years of planning,  for redevelopment:  see and

This enormous project will require the disruption of one Liverpool’s Sunday-morning amusements, the Heritage Market:   

There is a superb series of images of the Tobacco Warehouse in its current state at

The photographer, an urban explorer who goes by the name ‘rookinella’, says, “Stanley Dock has made for a fine night’s sleep the few times that we’ve been to Liverpool.  Picturesque views, period features and private en-suite bathrooms for everyone...”  What can they mean?

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jan 7, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageSacred places

Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Bodmin Street, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Some buildings stick in the memory for entirely sentimental reasons.  I passed the Wesleyan Reform Chapel, Bodmin Street, Attercliffe, Sheffield every morning in my first five years of schooling.

My Auntie Nellie lived literally next door.  It formed the background to my earliest memories of backyard Bonfire Nights when Uncle Charlie was in charge of the box of matches:  in Coronation year the biggest bang of all came when Auntie Nellie’s new pressure-cooker, inexpertly screwed down, exploded and spattered mushy peas all over the kitchen ceiling.

My latest memory of this thriving temple of Methodism is of my cousin Cathryn singing at a chapel anniversary in the early 1960s.

It’s an austerely attractive, utterly unremarkable building, unlisted, invisible in the Sheffield Local Studies Library index.

Built in 1890, its foundation stones were laid by a star-studded cast of Sheffield’s most important Methodists, such as Jethro and Samson Chambers, Robert Hadfield and Sir Frederick Mappin.

Its registration for marriages was cancelled because it was no longer used for worship in 1966.

I have a 1977 image of the building, with the brickwork still encrusted with industrial grime and most of the windows smashed.

No-one would have given tuppence for its chances of survival.

Nowadays it sparkles:  it’s well-maintained;  its windows are renewed and its brickwork is beautifully cleaned.  It serves as the Jamia Mosque.

So historic buildings which are not worth listing can survive if someone finds an appropriate use for them that will justify their upkeep.

There is a website to test the strength of support for saving St Hilda’s Church, Wincobank, Sheffield [see Losing a landmark, Church going and Praised with faint damns]:  If you feel able to sign the petition, please indicate whether or not you’re a local resident, and why you wish to see it kept.

The 'Save St Hilda's' group also has a Facebook page at

Posted by: mike on Jan 3, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesManchester's Heritage

Monastery of St Francis, Gorton

In November 1861 four Franciscan friars arrived in Manchester to set up the Monastery of St Francis, Gorton, serving the working-class community that grew up round the nearby railway works.

Their buildings were designed by Edward Welby Pugin (1834-75), who possessed much of the vigour and little of the subtlety of his father, A W N Pugin, and were constructed largely by the physical labour of the brothers and their parishioners.

The first stone was laid on May 24th 1862, and the three wings of the original monastery were complete by 1867.  To raise funds for the Infant School in 1867 Father Francis hired the Free Trade Hall for a bazaar which raised £1,000.

E W Pugin’s magnificent church, 184ft long, 98ft wide and 100ft high, dominates the streets of Gorton and is clearly visible from central Manchester.

By 1900 the Catholic population of Gorton had increased from 300 to over 6,000.  The fathers saw the parish change from a poor village community, initially dependent on cotton (and badly hit by the effects of the American Civil War), into an industrial inner-city suburb.

For almost a century they provided spiritual and pastoral support to the people of Gorton, and – because many of those people were drawn from Wexford, Waterford and Cork – Gaelic classes, lantern lectures on Irish history and St Patrick’s Day celebrations.  They also exported missionaries to China, Peru and elsewhere. 

The surrounding nineteenth-century housing was cleared in the early 1970s, and the Monastery became unsustainable.  Eventually, the Franciscans sold the site for £75,000 to a developer who planned to divide the church into a seven-storey apartment-block but instead went bankrupt. 

The abandoned buildings were quickly and badly vandalised.  Lead and slates were removed, and there were repeated arson attacks.  Virtually all the decorative features of interest or value were removed or smashed.

In 1997 the Monastery of St Francis and Gorton Trust bought the Monastery for £1 and began the formidable task of bringing the place back into use.  Cornering funds was not the least of their labours:  the Architectural Heritage Fund, English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, New East Manchester (NEM) and the North West Development Agency (NWDA) between them chipped in millions.

Fixtures that had disappeared in the dark days of dereliction have returned.  A complete set of twelve statues, stolen from the lofty nave arcades, famously appeared as garden ornaments at Sotheby’s:  Manchester City Council bought them for £25,000 and stored them until September 2011 when they returned to the site for restoration.

The art-dealer Patricia Wengraft [] secured the return of the huge crucifix:  The chains to support it had been handed in mysteriously some time before.

I remember the first public opening in September 2005:  people queued down the street, showing immediately how much St Francis’ Monastery meant to local people who’d grown up, been baptised or married here, and had been uprooted.

The Monastery reopened fully as a community, conference and events centre in 2007.  It’s open to the public most Sundays:  see what’s on offer at

I’d like to see something similar happen to St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield, which I’ve written about in Losing a landmark and Church going.

Just because a place of worship is no longer needed for worship doesn’t prevent it having enormous value to people.

But making the transition requires enormous energy, imagination, devotion, acumen – and the creative support of people in power.

Shiregreen waits...

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Manchester's Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester's Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Dec 31, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesExploring New Zealand

Pah Homestead

When I visited the Auckland Decorative & Fine Arts Society to give a lecture, my hostess Anne Gambrill picked me up at the airport and swept me off for lunch to the Pah Homestead, which is – as the old V&A advert might have said – a very fine café with an art gallery attached [].

The homestead was built for a businessman, James Williamson, in 1877-9, to designs by the father-and-son team Edward (c1824-1895) and Thomas (1855–1923) Mahoney, who also built St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Auckland [See Gothic New Zealand:  Auckland 1].

It ceased to be a home as early as 1888, after Williamson’s death, and has been successively used by the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches.  Fortunately, although not a stick of furniture remains, the building itself is remarkably intact and rich in plasterwork, joinery, parquet flooring and marble fireplaces.

Auckland City Council purchased it in 2002 to develop it and the surrounding park as an amenity.  As the TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, the Pah Homestead opened to the public in August 2010.

It is now the home of the James Wallace Art Trust, which collects and displays contemporary New Zealand art.  Sir James Wallace, who has been collecting since the early 1960s, admitted, “I learned enough trying to paint to know that I was no good at it.”  Instead, he invested massively in young artists:  the result is a “diary collection”, from which nothing has been sold.  There is an entertaining attempt to interview Sir James at

Of all that was on offer when I visited the Pah, I most enjoyed Matthew 12/12 by Gregor Kregar (b 1972) – seventy-two ceramic sheep, all in woolly jumpers, crowded into one corner of the room by a ceramic sheepdog:  You could say it’s a fresh interpretation of New Zealand lamb.

In addition to live sheep [, and] Gregor Kregar, who is based in Auckland, also does ceramic pigs [] and mongrels [].  Perhaps live pigs and mongrels are less biddable than sheep.
You can take a virtual tour of the current exhibition at the Pah Homestead at  Indeed, you can change the colour of the walls if you like.

Posted by: mike on Dec 22, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiencesCountry HousesBlack-and-white architecture ancient and modern

Edgwarebury Hotel

Branching off Station Road, in the middle of the North London suburb of Edgware, is Edgwarebury Lane, lined with elegant thirties houses.

It crosses the busy A41 Edgware Way, otherwise the Watford by-pass, where pedestrians are provided with a very grand footbridge.

North of the A41 the houses eventually give way to tennis courts and a cemetery, and the road diminishes into a bridleway, though the bridge over the M1 motorway is built to main-road dimensions.

Edgwarebury Lane then climbs steeply past the Dower House, and eventually reaches what is now the Edgwarebury Hotel.

The name, and the persistence of the route against the grain of the modern road-system, suggest that Edgwarebury must have been at least as important as the once-rural village of Edgware.

This is, of course, not a sensible or practical way of reaching the Edgwarebury Hotel.  It’s reached via Barnet Lane and the last few hundred yards of the old lane.

The hotel was originally Edgwarebury House, the residence of Sir Trevor Dawson (1866-1931), managing director of the armaments company Vickers Ltd.

As an essay in Victorian or Edwardian black-and-white revival, it has one attractive show front, looking south across a gently-sloping garden surrounded by trees and looking across to distant views of London.

Within, the major rooms are embellished with antique carved timber and stained glass.  It has all the hallmarks of a late nineteenth-century interest in collecting architectural antiques.

It served as a location for the Hammer horror film The Devil Rides Out (1968), the rather more cheerful Stardust (1974) and much else.

It’s my favourite place to stay in the London area, whenever its special deals are cheaper than Premier Inn.

I like to walk down Barnet Lane, where the local motorists often drive at absurd speeds, to the crossroads and eat at the Eastern Brasserie [0208-207-6212], which serves the sort of Indian meals where you savour every mouthful, from the popadoms at the start to the slices of orange at the finish.

It’s my favourite start-of-the-weekend-in-London experience.

The Times, March 30th 2012, reported that Corus has sold the Edgwarebury Hotel to the Laura Ashley group as a "brand showcase":

Posted by: mike on Dec 2, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureLife-enhancing experiences

Hebden Bridge

The steep downhill walk from Heptonstall [see Poets and coiners] into the Calder valley gives spectacular views of the town of Hebden Bridge which stands at the confluence of the River Calder and the Hebden Water.   Glaciers formed these valleys, so they have hanging tributaries which maximise the head of water available to mill engineers.

As the textile industry became mechanised from the late eighteenth century onwards, the old domestic industry of gave way to the first generation of water mills.  Then, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, steam-powered mills, no longer dependent on a rapid flow of water, moved out into the flatter land of the valley-floor.

Transport became industrialised too.   The packhorse system was replaced by turnpikes from 1771-2, the Rochdale Canal, built 1794-8, and the railway (1840-1).

Often known as “Trouser Town”, Hebden Bridge prospered until the post-war period, and then its economy crashed.

Between 1955 and 1965 thirty-three mills closed around Hebden Bridge, and 60% of the local shops went out of business.  The Hebden Bridge Co-operative Society went bankrupt when one of its officials defaulted with its reserves.  Cottages changed hands for as little as a penny, and the local planning authorities initially despaired of attracting new industry to the district.

Within a few years, however, the cheap housing, attractive surroundings and easy rail links to Manchester and Leeds brought a variety of incomers – dormitory commuters, home-workers such as writers and artists and a well-assimilated lesbian community [see]. 

Houses that couldn’t be given away in the early sixties traded for £300 in 1975 and twenty-five years later were worth £65,000.  Even in the current static market, you can’t find two-bedroomed accommodation in the town for much less than £120,000.

Hebden Bridge now boasts nearly two hundred retailers, including a wide range of antique-dealers, booksellers and music-stores.  It’s also a minor capital of culture.

From the early 1970s it was the one of the homes of the Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes (1930-1998), who was born down the valley at Mytholmroyd.  His house at Lumb Bank is now one of the writing centres of the Arvon Foundation [], founded by two of Hughes’ friends, John Fairfax and John Moat.   

The Blackburn-born sculptor Edward Cronshaw (born 1959), best known for his statue ‘The Great Escape’, a popular Liverpool meeting-place often referred to as “The Horse’s Balls” [], lived in Hebden Bridge until he moved up the valley to Todmorden.

And Margaret Thatcher’s famed press secretary, Bernard Ingham, began his career on the Hebden Bridge Times.

Take a look at what’s on in Hebden Bridge –  it’s a hive of activity.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Nov 25, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureExploring New York

New York City:  Woolworth Building

Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building (1913) in downtown New York, not far from Wall Street, is an unusual creation – a Gothic Revival skyscraper.

This cathedral of commerce was financed entirely by the proceeds of the original five-and-dime stores, its entire cost, $13 million, paid for in cash.

Frank W Woolworth’s design brief was for something like the Houses of Parliament but higher than the Metropolitan Life Tower, which is exactly what Cass Gilbert provided.

It reaches sixty storeys, 793 feet, and remained the world’s tallest building until the completion of the Chrysler Building in 1930.

It epitomises the technological advances of its period – curtain-wall construction on a load-bearing steel frame and an inevitable reliance on elevators for circulation.  Its three-storey lobby, of gold marble and glass mosaic, is breathtaking, and tinged with an endearing humour:  among the carvings can be found Cass Gilbert holding a model of the building and Frank Woolworth counting out the nickels and dimes that paid for it.

It was sold in 1998 for $126 million to the Witkoff Group:  its tenant is the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

There is a rich collection of illustrations and a brief description of the Woolworth Building at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture 'The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City', please click here.

Posted by: mike on Nov 23, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New York

Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York City

The Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York City, is a game of two halves.  It was begun to the Romanesque/Byzantine style designs of Heins & LaFarge, in 1892, and grew so slowly that the rumour circulated it was being built by an old man and his son.  In fact it was nineteen years before the choir and crossing could be consecrated.

The problem of roofing the vault until the central tower could be built was resolved by inserting a Guastavino tile dome (similar to the Registry Building at Ellis Island and the concourse of Grand Central Terminal) at a cost of $8,500:  this temporary expedient, completed in only fifteen weeks, is still in place.  The Guastavino family were also responsible for the vaulting of the whole church, and of the crypt which supports the nave, crossing and choir floors.

Oddly, the Heins & LaFarge design was summarily abandoned in 1909 in favour of a longer French Gothic plan by Ralph Adams Cram, so that the nave and west front are being continued to the designs of his firm, Cram & Ferguson.  The junction between the two is abrupt, and can never be wholly successful.

By the autumn of 1941 the entire length of the nave was complete.  Construction was stopped when the United States entered World War II, and by the time work resumed in 1982 it proved necessary to import stonemasons from England to apprentice unemployed Harlem youths in the traditional skills.

When it’s finally completed, the Cathedral of St John the Divine, centre of the Episcopal archdiocese of New York, will be the largest (but not the longest) Gothic church in the world – 601 feet long, 320 feet wide across the transepts, with a nave vault 124 feet high.

But it can never be an entirely Gothic church without destroying and rebuilding the whole of the east end.

The Cathedral of St John the Divine website is at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture 'The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City', please click here.

Posted by: mike on Nov 7, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageFun Palaces

Britannia Music Hall, Sheffield (1984)

Britannia Music Hall, Sheffield (1984)

The surviving mid-nineteenth century music halls in the UK can almost be counted on one hand – Wilton's [see The handsomest hall in town and Theatrical roots] and the Hoxton Hall in London, the Old Malt Cross and the Talbot (now Yates's Wine Lodge) in Nottingham, the City Varieties in Leeds and the Britannia in Glasgow.  Sheffield had a couple of surviving examples until the 1990s, and one of them at least was worth saving.

In the second half of the nineteenth century West Bar, which runs along the valley floor below the hill on which the town centre had grown, was what the journalist Steve McClarence described as "the Shaftesbury Avenue of the Sheffield working man".  Here stood the Surrey Music Hall, which burnt down spectacularly in 1865, the Bijou (which survived as a tacky cinema into the 1930s), the London Apprentice (demolished in the 1970s) and the Gaiety, of which fragments survived until it was demolished c2000 to clear space for the Inner Ring Road.

The Gaiety in its heyday was owned by Louis Metzger, a pork-butcher.  He kept a musical pig called Lucy who, if plied with beer, would sing – as indeed a pig owned by a pork-butcher might.

The Britannia Music Hall on West Bar stood literally next door to the former police- and fire-station that is now the South Yorkshire Fire Police Museum[].  Built on the back-land behind the older Tankard Tavern, it dated from around the mid-1850s, and was superseded by bigger, better and more central variety theatres in the 1890s.

Incredibly, it survived as a bathroom showroom, intact but altered with a floor built across the proscenium and a lift-shaft at the back of the auditorium, and was described in detail by historian Andrew Woodfield in 1978.  When I first encountered it in 1984 it was Pink Champagne, providing wedding goods and, it appeared, a venue for wedding receptions.

In February 1988, by which time it was operating as Harmony Wedding World, Ian McMillan and the late Martyn Wiley broadcast their BBC Radio Sheffield Saturday-morning show from the Britannia and an actor called Stuart Howson (whose great-grandfather had managed the Regent Theatre in the east end of Sheffield) gave the final performance, a couple of verses of a Victorian ballad, 'The best of the bunch'.

Later the building became Door World and then, just as Sheffield City Council prepared to put a preservation order on it in 1992, it went up in flames and was quickly demolished.

There was much hand-wringing by the Council, the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society, the Theatres Trust and the site-owners, West Bar Partnership who (in The Stage, April 4th 1992) "expressed regret".  The fact remains that conservationists have to win every battle, while the developer only has to win one.

The space where the Britannia stood is now used for car sales.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

Posted by: mike on Nov 5, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Wilton's Music Hall 2

Wilton's Music Hall, exterior (1985)

Wilton's Music Hall, described in the previous article [see The handsomest hall in town], stands in a corner of London that you'd never imagine is steeped in theatrical history.

Beside the railway viaduct from Fenchurch Street Station is the site of the very first London Theatre, built in 1577 and twenty years later surreptitiously dismantled by William Shakespeare's company to be re-erected as the Globe Theatre on the Southwark side of the river.

In Leman Street stood Goodman's Fields Theatre, opened in 1729 and closed in 1742, where David Garrick (1717-1779) made his London debut as Richard III in 1740.  In Wellclose Square, the actor John Palmer (c1742-1798) ill-advisedly built the Royalty Theatre (1787) without a licence:  it became the East London Theatre before it burnt down in 1826.

Nearby in Ensign Street there are a series of innocuous-looking Grade II listed bollards inscribed with the monogram RBT.  This commemorates the Royal Brunswick Theatre which collapsed in February 1828, shortly after the opening night.  Charles Dickens' account of this disaster can be found at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

Posted by: mike on Nov 3, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Wilton's Music Hall

At the gym I sit on the exercise-bike, retarding the ageing process and idly watching the music-video channel on the flat-screen TV.  Much of the footage is pretentious twaddle, but it's entertaining to spot the locations used.  Recently I noticed some dramatically lit, high-powered dancing going on around barley-sugar columns that could only be Wilton's Music Hall, in Grace's Alley, Tower Hamlets, built in 1858 behind an earlier pub called the Prince of Denmark, otherwise known as the Old Mahogany Bar.

Like many music halls, Wilton's auditorium was built on back-land behind an existing pub.  Invisible from the street, it was, and is, entered through the pub frontage in a terrace of five houses.  John Wilton intended his spacious hall to be used purely for variety entertainment:  the proscenium is set high above the auditorium floor and there is no wing-space to speak of.

The helical twist 'barley-sugar' columns support the balcony of one of the few surviving pub music-halls of the mid-nineteenth century.  Its bombé-fronted balcony is decorated with papier-mâché gilded leaves and flowers.  The original flat floor was gently raked after a serious fire in 1877, yet it was clearly originally intended for patrons to sit at tables to drink, rather than in seated rows to watch.

Like most such halls it closed shortly after the passing of the Metropolis Management Act of 1878, which tightened the licensing requirements for auditoria, and it became a Wesleyan Mission Hall from 1888 to 1956 and then a rag-warehouse.

It was rescued by the Greater London Council ten years later, and a series of restoration schemes gradually brought it back to life.  Richard Attenborough used it as a location in Chaplin (1992) in a scene where Geraldine Chaplin plays her grandmother, Hannah.

Now it is in the care of the Wilton's Music Hall Trust, with a varied diet of entertainments and a full diary of private bookings, including music-video shoots.  Their website includes full details of what's on and an excellent virtual tour.

Update:  The Ancient Monuments Society Newsletter (Autumn 2012) reports that Wilton's Music Hall has been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £1,641,800.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

Posted by: mike on Oct 31, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford

The best view of Bradford, sitting in its valley bottom, is from Undercliffe Cemetery, which from 1851 was the resting place of many of the great and the good of the booming wool town.

At the vantage point stands a prominent thirty-foot obelisk, commemorating Joseph Smith, the original land agent for the Cemetery Company.

Swithin Anderton, a wealthy wool-stapler, lies beneath a version of the Scott Monument which Ken Powell aptly describes as “scaled down” rather than miniature.

Less luminous but no less interesting characters buried at Undercliffe include Charles R Whittle, the author of ‘Let’s all go down the Strand’, Charles Rice, “comedian...for many years lessee and manager of the Theatre Royal, Bradford”, and David Brearley, an official of the United Ancient Order of Druids whose inscription is distinguished by at least five spelling mistakes.

Undercliffe Cemetery was used as a location in the film Billy Liar (1963).

Stranded by the tide of changing economic conditions and funeral fashions since the last war, the Bradford Cemetery Company went into liquidation in 1976 and the site was purchased for £5 by a developer who went on record saying, “I was very concerned to see the cemetery had fallen into disrepair and I thought it was terrible to see the place being neglected.”

The local newspaper later alleged that inscribed kerbstones were sold for scrap stone, and Bradford City Council, spurred by the small but energetic group of the Friends of Undercliffe Cemetery, took it on in 1984, by which time the chapels and lodges had all been demolished.

Now the Cemetery is well cared for by Bradford City Council in partnership with the Undercliffe Cemetery Charity [].  A replacement lodge was transplanted from Bowling Cemetery, Bradford in 1987.  All it needs is for someone to donate two matching Gothic funerary chapels in need of a good home.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Oct 9, 2011

Category:Waterways & Railways between Thames and SevernVictorian architectureTransports of delight

STEAM – the Museum of the Great Western Railway

If you must drive, don’t go to Swindon.  Just don’t go there.  Get someone who already lives there to come out and fetch you.

The place is a nightmare of bad signage and confusing road layouts.  It’s the location of the notorious Magic Roundabout, designed by Frank Blackmore, claimed to be safer than any alternative because drivers are so terrified they go slowly:

The sensible way to reach Swindon is, of course, by train.

Walk from the station to the surviving Railway Village, built in the early years of the Great Western Railway as a company town, New Swindon, alongside the line and the works, away from the original market town, Old Swindon.

The rows of terraced houses, with gardens, are now carefully looked after, unlike the desperately neglected, historically important Mechanics’ Institute (1855;  extended 1892) [, and].

Walking through the subway under the railway tracks into the area that was the great railway works is a poignant experience.  Sturdy stone buildings from the days of Gooch, Dean and Churchward stand alongside modern structures with names such as ‘Heritage Plaza’.  Some of the site is occupied by those great wealth-generators, English Heritage and the National Trust.  Walk through the door of one building and you’re immediately in the midst of John Lewis’ furniture department:  this is the Swindon Designer Outlet [], which has the GWR locomotive 7918 Hinton Manor as a backdrop to the food court.

Across the way, STEAM – the Museum of the Great Western Railway [] is superb, capturing the noise and busy-ness of the great works in a restricted space, and telling its story with breadth and wit.  It’s a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, with plenty to occupy children and big kids.  I worked the signals and points to let the Royal Train past, because there was too much of a queue to drive an engine.

That said, there’s nothing much to eat inside the Museum, though there is a National Trust café, more department-store than country-house, in Heelis, their headquarters across the way which is named after the author Beatrix Potter, Mrs William Heelis [].

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Waterways and Railways between Thames and Severn tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Oct 8, 2011

Category:Victorian architecture

Manningham Mills, Bradford

Bradford, like Halifax and Sheffield, sits in a spectacular bowl of hills.  When you gaze across Bradford from Undercliffe Cemetery or Peel Park, the structure which dominates the entire cityscape is not the Town Hall or the Cathedral, but the Italianate bulk of Samuel Cunliffe Lister’s Manningham Mills (1873).

Lister, the son of a mill-owner, prospered by three successive inventions – the Lister Comb (1843), which mechanised the last remaining hand-process in the production of woollen cloth and condemned a substantial class of local independent craftsmen to penury, the silk comb (1857-65) which nearly bankrupted him in development but enabled him to turn waste silk into fabric for fashion-wear, and the self-acting dressing-frame, which gave him domination of the velvet trade.

The existing mills designed by Andrews & Pepper were built on the site of an earlier mill which burnt down in 1871.  The Italianate chimney is 225ft high and is said to weigh 8,000 tons.  This vast complex, comprising 16 acres of working floors, employed 11,000 people at its peak, but closed entirely in 1992.

For a decade the building stood empty and vandalised.  The late Jonathan Silver’s proposal to house the Victoria & Albert Museum’s South Asia collection in part of the mill complex fell through. 

Eventually, the great rescuer of great buildings in distress, Urban Splash, began to bring Lister’s Mill back to life in 2004.

The initial phase, providing 95 flats and 36 duplex apartments in the Silk Warehouse, sited around a full-height atrium to provide light and circulation-space, is designed by Latham Architects.

The second phase, Velvet Mill, by David Morley replaced the existing roof with glass and steel pods containing two-storey apartments.

The huge grass space to the west of the mill complex was once filled with dense terraced housing.  Two of the streets were named, with blunt Yorkshire gratitude, Patent Street and Silk Street.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Sep 30, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Old Town Hall

George Eliot remarked, in Middlemarch (chapter 20), that “…the quickest of us walk about well wadded in stupidity”.  It’s astonishing how much we miss while going about our daily business.

When Valerie Bayliss led an intriguing Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group walk around just three streets in the centre of Sheffield earlier this summer, she ended at the Old Town Hall on the corner of Castle Street and Waingate.

This huge building, dating back to 1807-8, was repeatedly extended through the nineteenth century.  After the E W Mountford “new” Town Hall opened in 1897, it became law courts, with a tunnel connection to the Police Offices across the road in Castle Green.  The Old Town Hall, as it’s long been known, ceased to be used as law courts in 1997 and has been practically abandoned ever since.

I – and thousands of other Sheffielders – go past it daily without giving it a second glance.  It has no street presence.  Even the tower clock doesn’t work.

A 2001 plan to turn it into a nightclub and offices came to nothing, and it seems as if the owner has simply walked away from it.

Valerie and her group have kept an eye on it and campaigned to arrest its decay for years now [see]. 

It featured in the Victorian Society’s national list of endangered buildings in 2007:

Anyone can see, thanks to an urban explorer who is also an inspired photographer [], the extent of the building, its architectural merit and the degree of decay that follows from the leaking roof and utter lack of maintenance.  Further urban-explorer images are at and

Now is not a good time to pump money into a dying building.  Yet it’s barely credible that such a huge and important public building has no use, and has had no maintenance for fourteen years.

For the Victorian Society’s 2011 campaign to highlight endangered buildings see

Future meetings of the Victorian Society South Yorkshire group are advertised at  Guests are welcome.  The biscuits are excellent.

Posted by: mike on Sep 16, 2011

Category:Victorian architecture

Scarborough:  Rotunda Museum

On a plot of land below where the Crescent [see Scarborough’s Crescent] was later built the Rotunda Museum, designed for the Scarborough Philosophical Society by Richard Hey Sharp in collaboration with the geologist William Smith “the father of English geology”, was opened in 1829.  It was one of the first purpose-built museums in the country, and its shape specifically assisted the display of geological specimens in chronological order.  Sharp’s design provided for lateral wings which were built in the 1860s and extended in 1881.

Other planned but unbuilt embellishments to the Sharps’ scheme included a columned and pedimented Bazaar and Saloon alongside the Rotunda and a monumental column in the middle of the Crescent Gardens.

In 2008 the Rotunda was ambitiously restored and modernised, and now provides a better-than-ever introduction to the geology and local history of the area.  In a relatively small space there is a surprising amount to read and examine.  It’s an excellent place to pass the time when the weather’s unpleasant.

Across the road, you can leave your car at the scene of a particularly crass piece of 1960s municipal vandalism.

Eugenius Birch, the pier-designer, constructed the People’s Palace and Aquarium, which extended underneath Ramshill Road, providing three acres of underground entertainment facilities at a cost of £100,000 in 1875-7.  Conceived by the director of the Brighton Aquarium, it was taken over by Scarborough Corporation in 1921:  it became a wonderful and elaborate amusement arcade, latterly known as Gala Land, and was eventually demolished in 1968.

The site became an underground car-park – and a missed opportunity.  Scarborough is not well-blessed with under-cover entertainment facilities.  Hindsight is easy, but so is myopia.  The Sixties preoccupation with accommodating the private car led to the destruction of an indoor entertainment facility in a prime location, in favour of a car park that could have been cheaply located elsewhere.

Details of opening arrangements and activities at the Rotunda Museum are at

Posted by: mike on Sep 14, 2011

Category:Victorian architecture

Scarborough:  Crescent

Before the railway came in 1845, Scarborough was entirely an elegant, exclusive resort for visitors who could afford to stay for a substantial season and would require appropriate housing.  The Crescent was begun in 1833, designed by Richard Hey Sharp and Samuel Sharp of York.

This ambitious residential scheme proceeded slowly:  the smaller Belvoir Terrace was complete by 1837, but only four more houses had been built by 1850, and construction was not fully completed until 1857, by which time the arrival of the railway had permanently changed Scarborough’s character.

The Sharps originally envisaged seven villas overlooking the South Cliff:  eventually four were built – Wood End (1835, extended c1902, latterly the Museum of Natural History), Crescent House 1835-6, enlarged 1845-6, later Broxholme, now the Art Gallery), Warwick Villa (1837, later Londesborough Lodge after purchase by the first Lord Londesborough) and East Villa (1830s, later Belvoir House and eventually the White House).  These residences brought style to the locality:  Sir Osbert Sitwell, whose family occupied Wood End from 1862 until 1925, tells of his grandfather, the 1st Earl of Londesborough, taking his visitors from Londesborough Lodge across the bridge to the Spa on foot along nearly a mile of red carpet.

When I’m in Scarborough I like to call at the Art Gallery to revisit the atmospheric moonlight paintings that Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) painted while living at the Castle-by-the-Sea in the late 1870s.  The Gallery has a strong tradition of interesting visiting exhibitions, and excellent coffee, which you serve yourself and then settle up with the welcoming and informative reception staff.  Even if there weren’t many other reasons to visit Scarborough, the Art Gallery would be worth a detour.

For details of the opening-times at Scarborough Art Gallery, see

Posted by: mike on Sep 5, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureExploring Chicago

Chicago Fine Art Building

Just as Chester's central library [see Westminster Coach & Motor Car Works] incorporates a fine example of early automobile architecture, so Chicago's Fine Art Building is based on the Studebaker Carriage Works of 1884-5.

The five Studebaker brothers started out in the 1850s building wagons for the military, for the California gold rush and for those pioneers' covered wagon-trains that figured in a landmark 1960s television series.

Gradually they extended their repertoire to more genteel passenger carriages.  Their works was at South Bend, Indiana, and in 1884 they opened their showroom, designed by Solon Spencer Beman, at 410 South Michigan Avenue in central Chicago.  It was designed to receive carriages in kit-form, which were lifted to the upper storeys in small pieces and then assembled floor by floor until they reached the ground-floor showroom where they could be sold and immediately trundled out on to the street.

Chicago's birth as a cultural centre grew from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, celebrating the quatercentenary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World.  In the afterglow of the World's Fair, as it's more commonly known, the Studebaker building, which stands in the same block as the Auditorium Building of 1889-90 [see The Auditorium], was adapted in 1898 as a centre for artists of all kinds, and it continues today as a venue for painters, musicians, dancers and designers –

The adaption included two auditoria, the Studebaker Theater and the smaller Playhouse Theater, both of which were earmarked for restoration some years ago:

During the 1898 renovation a series of murals by Martha Baker, Charles Francis Browne, Frederic Clay-Bartlett, Oliver Dennett Grover, Frank X Leyendecker and Bertha Menzler-Peyton were installed on the tenth floor.  Take the ancient lift, and enjoy the sounds of the resident musicians going about their daily work.

The Fine Art Building provides regular events for the public:  see

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture 'Windy City:  the architecture of Chicago' please click here.

Posted by: mike on Sep 3, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightSheffield's Heritage

Sheffield Cavendish Buildings

It’s remarkable how much built history is literally invisible.

Among John Minnis’ slides when he talked to the Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group about 'Early Automobile Architecture' [see Westminster Coach & Motor Car Works] was one image of my native Sheffield that made me double-take.

John knows Sheffield because he co-authored the Pevsner Architectural Guide on the city.

He pointed out Cavendish Buildings on West Street as an example of an early purpose-built motor-sales and repair shop.  I thought it was a wine-bar, until I remembered that it used to belong to the Kenning Motor Group.  In fact, I once hired a car there.

Cavendish Buildings has a very fine, imposing terra-cotta façade, obviously designed in one piece but actually, by the date-stones on the semi-circular pediments, built in three stages, 1907, 1910 and 1919.

It was built for the Sheffield Motor Company Ltd with, according to Ruth Harman and John Minnis’ guide, showrooms at street level and, on the upper stories, one of those repositories of misspent youth, a billiard hall.

Contributors to the history forum relate that during the Second World War part of the upper level was occupied by the apparently lively Central Labour Working Men's Club, and later the space was used by the Cavendish Dance Studio.

Until at least the 1970s there was a car hoist within the building, presumably serving repair shops on the first floor.  To passers-by, of course, its original use had long been forgotten.

Now you can eat and drink at the Cavendish: – even if you don’t qualify for student ID.

And you can see it in 3D at


Future meetings of the Victorian Society South Yorkshire group are advertised at  Guests are welcome.  The biscuits are excellent.

Posted by: mike on Sep 1, 2011

Category:Historic ChesterVictorian architecture

Chester Westminster Car Works

Just before Easter I listened to John Minnis give a talk on 'Early Automobile Architecture' to the Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group.  John is already known to the Group because some years ago he was the joint author, with Group member Ruth Harman, of the Pevsner City Guide Sheffield.

Now he's working on an English Heritage project surveying the architecture of the motor trade from its inception in 1896 – garages to repair cars, garages to store them, salesrooms to sell them and accommodation for the chauffeurs.  Like the contemporary development of the cinema, architects responded to a new technology with astonishing speed, which is why it's a suitable subject for a Victorian Society event, even though the Society's remit ends in 1914.

Motor cars were, of course, originally thought of and designed as horseless carriages, and John's illustrations showed how ways of marketing and stabling the new vehicles grew directly from the existing practices of horse-drawn transport.  There were significant distinctions, however:  cars do not produce tons of manure, and their fuel is even more inflammable than hay.

(The famous requirement that London taxis should carry a bale of hay in the boot was only repealed in 1976.)

The Group Chairman, Valerie Bayliss, suggested in her vote of thanks that all the components of the motor trade – including dodgy second-hand dealers – were in existence by the 1820s, apart from the internal combustion engine.

One of the best known and most distinctive examples of early motor architecture is the Westminster Coach & Motor Car Works on Northgate in Chester, very near to the Town Hall. This elaborate terracotta façade is dated 1914, but appears to be based on an earlier building for the carriage-builders J A Lawton & Co that was burnt down on July 1st 1910.  Their building was two storeys high, but otherwise apparently similar to the existing design.

Cars were sold on the site until the 1970s, and a new library was built behind the façade to an award-winning design by the Cheshire County Council Department of Architecture in 1981-4. The library itself will move on soon, apparently, and the Car Works site will become a market.

Future meetings of the Victorian Society South Yorkshire group are advertised at  Guests are welcome.  The biscuits are excellent.

The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic Chester tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 27, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightFun Palaces

Blackpool tram 147

When I last stayed in Blackpool for a birthday celebration we took a walk along the North Pier at dusk.  On the way back to the promenade I ended up in conversation with two siblings, Richard, who was twelve but looked sixteen and had lost a tooth in a rugby match, and Natalie, eighteen, who was about to read medieval history at a university of her choice.

Natalie, who’s grown up down south and whose immediate family usually holidays abroad, was fascinated by the unfamiliarity of being in the great working-class resort of the north-west.  I pointed out that the Tower is a vertical pier – sturdy engineering topped with a fairy-tale structure five hundred feet above the sea.  When it opened in 1894 anybody with a few pence in their pocket could stand nearly five hundred feet in the air, an experience otherwise only accessible by balloon.

When we returned to the promenade a tram glided past, one of those huge double-deckers gleaming with light.  I mentioned that Blackpool had one of the first electric street tramways in the world, dating back to 1885.  At least as important, in historical terms, is the fact that the Corporation tramway department pioneered the development of Blackpool’s greatest stroke of municipal acumen.

To mark a royal visit in 1912, the tramway electricians were asked to festoon the promenade with coloured lamps, which drew so many extra visitors that from 1913 onwards, interrupted only by two wars and the General Strike, the Illuminations, as they were called, extended the Blackpool season by anything up to two months, adding to the prosperity of landladies, hoteliers and shopkeepers, enhancing the profits of the railway companies and subsidising the municipal rates from the increased profits of the trams themselves.

It made practical sense, during the busy summer season, for tram engineers to work on the Illuminations, while all their vehicles were needed on the road, and the autumn visitors kept the trams busy to the end of October.  Eventually, a separate Corporation department was established to run the Illuminations, and until the establishment of the National Grid, Blackpool had to buy additional power from Preston Corporation, because their own generating works couldn’t cope with the extra load.

As I pointed out to Natalie, when people go to see the Blackpool Illuminations, they’re doing something essentially Victorian – admiring electricity.

Details of this year’s Illuminations are at

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Lancashire's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 22, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New Zealand

Christchurch Cathedral (February 16th 2011)

Christchurch Cathedral, New Zealand:  Wednesday February 16th 2011

On Tuesday February 22nd 2011 I left Christchurch airport on the 1100 flight to Auckland.  Less than two hours later the most destructive of a succession of earthquakes hit the city.  I was tremendously lucky.  Apart from avoiding the danger, the trauma and the disruption, I had the good fortune to experience Christchurch, which had already endured two major tremors almost without casualties, immediately before it was wrecked.

New Zealanders kept reminding me that Christchurch is their most English city, and asking if I agreed.  Up to a point, I said:  its nineteenth-century architecture grew directly from Victorian architecture in England.  The gridiron street-pattern, however, reminded me inevitably of America – and of Adelaide.

In the days before February 22nd, local people told me how lucky they’d been that the previous, more powerful earthquake, on September 4th 2010 at 4.35 am, had caused so few casualties, but that they were unsettled by the succession of aftershocks and the continuing disruption caused by damage to buildings.

The February 22nd disaster was altogether more destructive of life and property.  New Zealand has a population of a little under 4½ million, a quarter of whom live in the South Island, where Christchurch is the biggest city (pre-earthquake population just over 390,000).  Consequently, every New Zealander was affected by the tragedy, either directly, through acquaintances or by association with the city.

Most of the 181 fatalities on February 22nd occurred in buildings designed in the 1960s and 1970s, but many of the city’s heritage buildings will not survive.  Traditionally-built masonry structures with load-bearing walls react badly to being violently shaken.

Astonishingly, no-one was taking a tower tour at the moment when the Christchurch Cathedral tower collapsed.  The spire had been damaged in three previous earthquakes, 1881, 1888 and 1901, after which the tip was replaced by a hardwood structure covered in copper.  This time the entire spire and the belfry came down.

Further damage in subsequent aftershocks, including the collapse of the west rose window, has led to speculation that the entire cathedral will have to be demolished and reconstructed, possibly on another safer site.  If so, it is unlikely to be a slavish reproduction of George Gilbert Scott’s 1864 design.

According to a recent press report,, the decision hinges on the wider question of whether the entire city-centre needs to be shifted.

It’s almost impossible to imagine, in general or in detail, what the inhabitants of Christchurch have to put up with as the slow process of recovery gathers momentum.  The journalist Pam Vickers has contributed a series of dispatches to the BBC News website:  see,, and  BBC news provided a nine-month update at

Christchurch will never be the same.  A huge debate about its future is under way among the citizens of Christchurch and with the national government:  well-wishers from outside can only hope that the resurgent city gains new beauty to replace what is lost.

Update:  Despite some popular outcry, it seems inevitable that the ruins of Scott's Cathedral must be demolished.  Its planned temporary substitute, on a nearby site, is innovative:

Further update:  The new cardboard Christchurch Cathedral opened in August 2013:

Posted by: mike on Aug 19, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Brodsworth Hall

Brodsworth Hall, South Yorkshire, is remarkable because the entire house and garden were built and furnished within a short period, 1861-70, and have hardly been changed since.  It was designed by an Italian architect, the Chevalier Casentini, who appears never to have visited the site.

The money to build it came from the proceeds of the Thellusson will of 1797, which distributed the bulk of a £700,000 fortune in trust to the surviving descendants after three generations (or, in the absence of such survivors, to pay off the National Debt).  The protracted litigation that arose among Thellusson’s descendants is recognisably portrayed in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1852-3).

When the last descendant of the original builder gave Brodsworth Hall to English Heritage in 1990, the decision was taken to restore the house as found, in “arrested decline”, rather than return its decoration and contents to their appearance when new.  This is not a “house that time forgot”, like Erddig or Calke Abbey or Mr Straw’s House at Worksop;  it retains evidence of each of its occupiers from the date of building to the late twentieth century, and chronicles the increasing difficulty of maintaining a home on the scale that was common among prosperous landed families before the First World War.

Walking through the front door, crossing the hall and glancing up the impressively grand staircase gives a very powerful feeling of stepping into the 1970s on some errand to meet Mrs Grant-Dalton.  The light, the colours, the patina of the furniture and walls look exactly as if the place has been untouched for decades.

On the route through the principal rooms it’s easy – apart from the apparently new carpets – to imagine oneself into almost any decade since the house was built.

But further into the tour, upstairs, bleak bedrooms with folded bed-linen on bare mattresses, presumably unoccupied since early last century, are interspersed with spruced-up facilities for visitors, complete with interactive computers belting out canned historic voices.

And there are several rooms simply displaying found objects, like a lugubrious version of a trip to Ikea.

Here English Heritage is playing to the crowd, as perhaps it must in economically straitened times, where visitor footfall is the name of the game.

That said, Brodsworth is worth exploring:  the long-neglected gardens are well on their way to recovery, and the café deserves more than one visit per visit.

Details of opening arrangements at Brodsworth Hall are at

Brodsworth Hall is one of the sites visited on the tour Country Houses of South Yorkshire (June 5th-9th 2014), based at Wortley Hall near Sheffield.  For details please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 13, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureManx HeritageFun Palaces

Queen's Pier, Ramsey, Isle of Man

The Isle of Man used to have a thriving holiday industry.  Well into the twentieth century the island was regarded as more exclusive than the Lancashire resorts of Blackpool and Morecambe, not least because it cost more to reach it.

The Manx holiday economy disappeared astonishingly quickly at the end of the 1960s, and the island economy has since been reinvented.  Tourism survives, up to a point, and many visitors to the island bring their motor-bikes.

It's a pity that one of the grandest mementos of the Manx seaside, the Queen's Pier at Ramsey, has been steadily neglected for twenty years.

Designed by Sir John Coode and constructed by Head, Wrightson & Co of Stockton-on-Tees between 1881 and 1886 at a cost of £40,752, it extended 2,241 feet out into the bay.

A new landing-stage was added in 1899, and before the First World War the pier brought around 35,000 visitors a year from what Manx people call "across".

It ranks highly as a historic and engineering monument among the surviving seaside piers of the British Isles, particularly for its unusual cruciform steel piles [].  There is a collection of images of the pier at

The contractors' three-foot gauge tramway was kept for a hand-propelled baggage van to load and unload passenger steamers.  In 1937 a small petrol locomotive was introduced, and in 1950 this was supplemented by a passenger railcar.

The steamer service stopped in 1970 and though the tramway continued until 1981, after repeated vandalism the pier closed completely in 1991.

In 1994 Tynwald, the Manx Government, decided to mothball the pier, and in the same year the Friends of Ramsey Queen's Pier was formed to safeguard and promote the pier as an asset and a national monument.

It's no accident that on the Friends' website [], three quarters of the chronological history is given over to the post-1994 controversies over whether to restore the pier or demolish it.

Now, as an indication of positive intent, Tynwald has voted £1,800,000 for minimal maintenance to safeguard the structure for future restoration.

It's a start...

The most romantic evocations of this wasting asset come from the photographer Ray Collister:

The Manx Heritage (September 9th-15th 2014) tour includes visit to Ramsey with time to see the Queen's Pier.  For details please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 5, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring New York

St Patrick's Cathedral, New York City

When building began on the site of St Patrick's Cathedral in 1858, New York City's Catholics complained about how far out of town it was.  The cathedral fills the block between 50th and 51st Streets, Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.

In mid-Victorian times the area was barely populated;  now it's in the midst of "the most expensive street in the world", directly opposite the Rockefeller Center, from where it's possible to gaze down on the 333-feet-high spires of James Renwick Jnr's very conventional English and French Gothic Revival church.

The church, built of brick faced with white marble, was dedicated in 1879, and the towers added in 1888;  Charles T Mathews designed the Lady Chapel addition which was finished in 1906.  It was eventually consecrated, having being declared free from debt, on October 5th 1911:  it had cost, up to that time, around $4 million.

The impact of twentieth-century development on its surroundings is stunning.  Yet, inside its dark portal, the seductive darkness of soaring Gothic arches provides a dramatic sense of entering a different world with different priorities to the world outside.

Over the years it has been the centre of solemn events not only for New York's Catholics but for its wider population:  here in June 1968 Edward Kennedy eulogised his dead brother Robert, the New York Senator;  here also were ceremonies to remember the victims and heroes of 9/11.

Somehow, the thick walls and dark glass shut out the noise of Manhattan.  Here is a haunting, dignified, echoing space in which to rest and be thankful.

I've visited New York City repeatedly, and even if I'm only there for a day or two I always try to visit St Patrick's.

The St Patrick's Cathedral website is at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture 'The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City', please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 21, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Grand Hotel, Scarborough

The Grand Hotel, Scarborough dominates the resort’s South Bay.  Its eggcup domes provide an unmistakable skyline, and the wedge-shaped plan, built into the cliff-side, enables it to overlook both the South Bay and the Valley.

Designed by Cuthbert Brodrick, the architect of Leeds Town Hall and the Leeds Corn Exchange, it belongs to the first generation of British hotels on the American pattern of public rooms combined with suites and bedrooms.

Brodrick provided an elaborate top-lit central hall and staircase, and the coffee-room and drawing room each measured 110ft × 80ft with bow windows facing South Cliff and the Spa.

Nikolaus Pevsner characterised its style as “Mixed Renaissance...[with a] touch of Quattrocento...a High Victorian gesture of assertion and confidence, of denial of frivolity and insistence on substance”.  It cost £66,000 to build and opened in 1867.

Legend has it that Brodrick contrived the design to include four towers to represent the seasons, twelve floors for the months, 52 chimneys for the weeks and 365 bedrooms for the days of the year.  If so, it’s a measure of the opulence of the place that the modern configuration, with en-suite facilities, provides 382 bedrooms.

Nowadays the Grand is “grand” in the Yorkshire sense.  After years as a Butlin’s hotel it now belongs to the Britannia chain which owns, among others, the Liverpool Adelphi [see Adelphi adventures].  As such it offers budget accommodation in palatial surroundings, with sometimes interesting dissonances.  The last time I walked in the PA system was playing Gene Pitney’s 1964 hit ‘Twenty-four hours from Tulsa’.

In recent years the Grand Hotel has had some unfortunate publicity.  The building now wears a vast hairnet because, apparently, the mating cries of the seagulls disturbed the guests.  In other places, the reverse might have been the case.

The Wikipedia entry is interesting, but its neutrality is disputed:  For the moment, the entry carries a health warning.  As well it might.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 19, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Midland Grand Hotel, St Pancras Station (1977)

Midland Grand Hotel, St Pancras Station:  grand staircase (1977)

 St Pancras Renaissance Hotel (2011)

 St Pancras Renaissance Hotel:  grand staircase (2011)

How very satisfying to see the former Midland Grand Hotel [see Midland Grand] finally restored and fully operational as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, which opened in May 2011.

And what a pleasure to be shown round by the Hotel Historian, Royden Stock.  Royden has been associated with the building throughout its recent restoration, and has an unrivalled archaeological knowledge of the building.

I learnt from him, for instance, that English Heritage insistence that the grand staircase should be restored to its 1901 decoration, red with gold fleur-de-lis, obscures the much lighter original scheme, cream with a dado rail and scroll decoration to echo Skidmore’s ironwork.

He also reports that what were thought to be iron spandrels underneath the stair-treads are in fact fibrous plaster, which makes me wonder whether George Gilbert Scott would ever sanction such deceit, or whether they too date from 1901.

There is, oddly, no photograph of the staircase dating before 1901.

The original stair carpet was, unsurprisingly, unusable and a sample length woven to the original colours proved wildly garish because it was designed for the original cream colour-scheme, so the fitted carpet that stretches three floors up and down the staircase and reappears elsewhere in the building is newly woven to the faded colours of the original.

There’s an inevitable tension in taking a historic tour of a working hotel.  Royden Stock is adept at circumnavigating ongoing events to show visitors on any particular day as much of the building as possible.  He can’t, of course, provide access to the private apartments on the Euston Road wing of the building.  The smart advice, from a man who ought to know, is that tours booked at the weekend are likely to be more comprehensive than those in the middle of the week.

The refreshments at the end of the tour were worth waiting for, though the service was several stars short of the Renaissance aspiration, perhaps because the hotel was extremely busy on the day I visited.  Some members of my group were put out by this, but I considered Royden’s guiding alone was worth £20, and to me the pot of tea and an empty croissant was incidental – welcome, but not serious hospitality.

I hope Royden writes a book about St Pancras.  His knowledge will add greatly to the existing literature on the station and the hotel.

Tours of St Pancras can be booked at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture on St Pancras Station and the Midland Grand Hotel please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 13, 2011

Category:Victorian architecture

Clay Cross Mechanics' Institute

Recently I joined a Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group walking tour of Clay Cross, the company town in mid-Derbyshire founded by George Stephenson & Co following the discovery of coal and iron seams during the digging of the Clay Cross tunnel on the North Midland Railway.

I was curious, having driven many times through Clay Cross without stopping, what there was to see of historic and architectural interest.  The honest answer is – not a great deal.  There’s a very fine parish church by the Derby architect Henry Isaac Stevens (1851/1857), and a well-kept municipal cemetery with a miniature brick chapel and a monument to the 45 men and boys who died in the Parkhouse Colliery disaster of 1882.  Neither building was open when we visited.

At the end of our walk we came upon the remaining educational centre of the town – two of the three company schools built between 1854 and 1884, alongside the later Mechanics’ Institute, another school and the original Victorian police station.

As we surveyed this concentration of sturdy public buildings, a local man asked us what we were doing, and suggested that we look while we can “because it’s all coming down”.

The schools were replaced by new premises in 2009, and have no obvious further purpose.

It seems that Derbyshire County Council plan to replace this complex with something called a “care village”, and that North East Derbyshire District Council, which has the power unilaterally to declare it a conservation area, has no conservation officer or spare funds to block the demolition of the biggest and best concentration of historic buildings in a town which has no history to speak of older than 1837 and deserves to conserve as much of its character as possible.

Understanding and appreciating Clay Cross requires patience.  There is an excellent historic trail of Clay Cross at and a further guide at

Posted by: mike on Jul 2, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageFun Palaces

Pavilion Cinema, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1982)

Another building that the Victorian Society South Yorkshire group couldn't visit during their Attercliffe walk in 2010 was the Pavilion Cinema, opened in 1915 and eventually demolished in 1982.

Though the original plans show that a classical interior was intended, in fact the auditorium was mock-Tudor, with black-and-white timbering, strapwork and lanterns as house-lights.  The auditorium was distinguished by side boxes, as in a theatre, very popular with couples:  the cinema management had an interesting strategy of pricing these box seats at 3/- for five people.

The Pavilion was converted to bingo briefly in 1970 and then became an Asian cinema:  at some point the owners repainted the entire auditorium in raspberry pink and two shades of blue.

When demolition began, in the innocent days before security fencing, I explored and photographed the entire building, primarily because it was one of the two Attercliffe cinemas that my parents patronised regularly on Saturday nights.  (My dad, who wasn't nicknamed "Scottie" for nothing, declared around 1954 that we wouldn't buy a television because they'd soon be making colour ones.)

I alerted the Victorian Society to the imminent demise of this unusual building, to be told that no-one had any idea how unusual it was, because no survey of Sheffield cinemas had been attempted.

So I tramped around the city checking out the survivors and was briefly the greatest living expert on the subject until Richard Ward produced his book In Memory of Sheffield Cinemas (Sheffield City Libraries 1988).  (I happen to know that Richard wanted the book to be titled A Memory... but made the common error of dictating his intention over the phone.)

I'll always have a soft spot for the Pavilion, not so much because it was part of my childhood as because it kick-started my interest in the architecture of the entertainment industry, and led me to run continuing-education courses and study tours about pubs, theatres, cinemas and the seaside under the umbrella title 'Fun Palaces'.

And that has proved to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of all my history work.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jun 30, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's Heritage

Huntsman's Gardens Schools, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1980)

Huntsman's Gardens Schools, Attercliffe, Sheffield:  central hall during demolition (1980)

When the Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group visited the historic buildings of Attercliffe in 2010, one of the buildings they couldn't see – being a quarter of a century too late – was my early alma mater, Huntsman's Gardens Schools, demolished as part of the Sheffield Development Corporation's wholesale clearance of parts of the valley in preparation for the World Student Games event in 1981.

The name Huntsman's Gardens commemorates the schools' location alongside the Attercliffe works (established 1770) of the inventor of crucible steel, Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776).  Round the corner on Worksop Road, the Britannia Inn still carries on its gable the date 1772 in numerals reputedly cast by Huntsman.

The huge school complex was one of the magnificent series of Sheffield School Board structures designed by Charles J Innocent and Thomas Brown from 1871 onwards.  Huntsman's Gardens dated from 1884, and was an impressive example of the so-called Prussian model of building classrooms with glass partitions around a central hall so that the headteacher could supervise teaching and learning across the whole school without patrolling corridors in crepe soles.

Huntsman's Gardens, like many of the surviving Innocent & Brown schools across Sheffield, was characterised by solid walls, faced in stone, and huge, high windows to make the most of the light in a polluted industrial environment.  My memories of school in the 1950s include whole days when the lights remained on in classrooms because the sun couldn't penetrate the smog.

Most memorable of all, however, especially for a seven-year-old, was the enormous height of the school hall.  I don't ever remember feeling cold, but I've no idea how such an enormous space was heated.

In 1980 the building was razed without much comment.  If it had somehow survived a couple more decades, it would have presented an interesting challenge for redevelopment – bigger than the Leeds Corn Exchange (now a shopping centre), far more dramatic than any other surviving Victorian school for miles around.

The Victorian Society South Yorkshire group's publication Building Schools for Sheffield, 1870-1914 is obtainable from

Posted by: mike on Jun 23, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

St Martin-on-the-Hill Church, Scarborough

St Martin-on-the-Hill Parish Church (1861-2) on the South Cliff at Scarborough is celebrated for its rich collection of pre-Raphaelite art.

It was financed by Miss Mary Craven as a memorial to her father, a wealthy Hull industrialist.  She provided £7,600 of the initial £8,000 cost of this remarkable building, and in the period up to the time of her death in 1889 contributed a further £2,000.

Naturally, this meant that she largely got her own way in determining what the church would be like, and how it would be run.  Her architect was the young George Frederick Bodley, whose father was a Hull physician, and he introduced his friend William Morris and his associates Edward Burne Jones, Daniel Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb.  Between them, they provided brilliant stained glass, wall decoration, carving and furniture.

Mary Craven’s role as sponsor also allowed her to choose the first vicar, Rev Robert Henning Parr, previously the young and enthusiastic curate of Holy Trinity, Hull.  It seems that the establishment of this beautiful church was a remarkably harmonious project:  Mary Craven, G F Bodley, William Morris and Robert Henning Parr all appear to have got on well with each other.

This is just as well, because the High Church tendencies of the new parish upset many Anglicans in Scarborough, and for a time Archbishop Thomson refused to consecrate it because Rev Parr declined to charge pew rents.  Even then, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s exquisite painted pulpit had to be curtained over to avoid offending the archbishop.

Ironically, one pew was reserved, and still carries its brass plate – “Miss Mary Craven’s seat”.

Furious arguments about the Anglo-Catholic goings on at St Martin’s were tempered for a long time by Archbishop Thomson’s friendship with Archdeacon Blunt of Scarborough, with whom he regularly spent seaside holidays.

So often, the history of Victorian parishes reads like a Trollope novel.  Here at least the vicar didn’t end up in jail [see Liverpool 8 Churches (1)].

And Scarborough has, to this day, the finest collection of pre-Raphaelite art in the north of England.

For a detailed history of St Martin-on-the-Hill Church see

Posted by: mike on Jun 2, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool Everton Our Lady Immaculate RC Church

Roman Catholic Parish Church of Our Lady Immaculate, Everton, Liverpool (1990)

Almost as soon as Liverpool became the centre of a re-established Catholic diocese in 1850, the first bishop, Alexander Goss, commissioned Edward Welby Pugin to design a magnificent Gothic cathedral which was to stand on Everton Brow.

There is an image of E W Pugin's perspective view of the planned St Edward's Cathedral at  The complete building would have been a dignified cruciform structure with a tall tower and spire, providing a fine landmark overlooking the Mersey.

From a vessel in the river, you can pinpoint its location behind and slightly to the north of the existing St George's Parish Church

Building began in 1853, and stopped again three years later because of the pressure to provide churches, schools and welfare for the huge population of Irish and other immigrants that flooded into mid-nineteenth century Liverpool.  There simply wasn't the money to spare for grand building projects.

All that was ever built of Pugin's great cathedral was the Lady Chapel and its two side chapels, and these were converted into an odd-looking parish church, Our Lady Immaculate, which stood on St Domingo Road until it was demolished in the early 1990s.

It was said at that time to be unsafe, though I felt – and still feel – that it was a pity that this relic of the early Victorian growth of Catholic Liverpool wasn't somehow preserved.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 21, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Grand Hotel, Mundesley

Former Grand Hotel, Mundesley

As you drive along the tortuous coast road through the Poppyland area of north Norfolk, after passing through Overstrand, Sidestrand and Trimingham you may notice on the horizon two large Victorian hotels looming incongruously over the landscape.

This is Mundesley, a former fishing village that was aggrandised into a resort in the mid-1890s as the railway at last penetrated to this remote corner.  The station opened as the terminus of a line from North Walsham in 1898.  In 1908 it was extended through to Cromer Beach.  Its three platforms, each six hundred feet long, were never remotely necessary.  It closed in 1964 and is now virtually obliterated.

The East Coast Estates Company was established in the 1890s by an architect with the unfortunate name of Mr Silley.  Streets were laid out on the West Cliff and given the name Cliftonville.  Two brickworks opened.  The Clarence Hotel (1891), which is now a care home, and the Grand Hotel (1897), which is apparently being converted to apartments, stare out to sea, grandiose statements of opulence and unfulfilled ambition.  The Manor Hotel, built around an earlier dwelling to a design by Bullard & Sons of Norwich in 1900, remains in business –

Indeed, the most successful enterprise in Mundesley was the Sanatorium, opened in 1899 with an initial capacity of twelve patients, a fine timber prefabricated building by the Norwich architects Boulton & Paul.  This became the Diana Princess of Wales Treatment Centre for Drug and Alcohol Problems in 1997 and closed in 2009:  see, which links to

One of its early patients was the golfer Harry Vardon (1870-1937), who laid out the Mundesley Golf Club [] in 1901.  He was treated for tuberculosis in the Mundesley Sanatorium in 1903-4, during which time he achieved the only hole-in-one in his entire career.

Of the holiday towns along the Norfolk coast, Mundesley really is the last resort.  Though the population of this quiet place has continued to grow through the twentieth century, the visitors were always thin on the ground.  That's its unique selling point.  It has a beautiful beach, beach huts, a quiet village atmosphere.  It's the ideal place for an away-from-it-all British seaside holiday.  No tat.  No razzamatazz.  The real thing.  Enjoy!

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Norfolk's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 19, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Cliftonville Hotel, Cromer

I've stayed twice at the Cliftonville Hotel, Cromer [], so I've observed the architecture at close quarters over a full English breakfast.

The dining room is an impressive example of the exuberance of the Norwich architect, George Skipper, but the archaeology of the building is odd.

According to the material I surfed in the local-studies section of Cromer Library, a local retailer, William Churchyard, built a residence designed by A F Scott in 1894 on the site of Skipper's later extension.  This was a dignified Victorian villa which looks on the only photograph I could find quite different to the existing hotel.

Within a couple of years Churchyard had the elaborate corner building constructed by an unknown architect, and then appears to have demolished the house and replaced it by Skipper's elaborate wing of 1898, which includes a grand staircase, a ballroom and an elegant dining room with a minstrel's gallery.  Why would someone knock down a four-year-old house to extend a hotel over the site?

I could find no clear indication of a domestic structure lurking within the shell of Skipper's 1898 work.  The rooms and floor-levels are entirely logical for a hotel, and I couldn't discern any odd changes of level or oddly positioned doors and windows.

The spaces are impressive and the surroundings – marble fireplaces, dark woodwork and stained glass – add to the enjoyment of staying there.  And the owners have taken care to preserve the electric-bell boards and the instructions for operating the original lift.

I'm still wondering if the history of the building is even more interesting than it looks.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Norfolk's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on May 7, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool St George's Hall

St George's Hall, Liverpool (1979)

A couple of years ago I showed a group of gifted and talented Wirral school students nineteenth-, twentieth- and twenty-first century buildings in Liverpool city-centre as part of a NADFAS North-West Area Young Arts educational event.

I pointed out to these bright teenagers that some of Liverpool's most remarkable buildings were designed by young architects no more than ten years older than them.

One such was Harvey Lonsdale Elmes (1813-1847).  In 1839, aged twenty-five, he won anonymously a competition to design two concert halls, respectively seating 3,000 and 1,000, within one building at an estimated cost of £35,000.

The following year Liverpool Corporation set up a second competition for the design of assize courts on an adjacent site, which Elmes duly entered anonymously and – extraordinarily – won.

He then revised his two designs, combining concert-hall and courts into one building.  The result was St George's Hall, 490 feet long, with two law-courts at opposite ends of a large rectangular hall, and a circular smaller hall above the public entrance at the apsidal north end.

The Great Hall, 169 feet long and 74 feet wide, is based on the ancient Roman baths at Caracalla, which Elmes could only have known from publications.  Its sides are punctuated by red granite Corinthian columns with bronze-effect plaster capitals, supporting the 600-ton tunnel-vault, constructed to the design of the engineer Robert (later Sir Robert) Rawlinson.

The heating and ventilation system was designed by the same Dr Boswell Reid who drove Sir Charles Barry to distraction in the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster:  manually operated by squads of workmen, it represented the first approach to air-conditioning of a major public building in Britain.

Elmes' design, described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as "the best example of Neo-Classical architecture in Europe", absorbed much of what remained of his short life.  His health, never strong, gave way when the Hall was partially completed.  He left to winter in Jamaica in 1847 and died there aged 34, leaving the completion of the design with Rawlinson, who finished the Great Hall vault in 1849.

In 1851 the Corporation appointed Charles Robert Cockerell, to supervise the decoration of the Great Hall and its superb encaustic-tile floor – still to this day in mint condition – by Minton, Hollins & Co.  He also designed the circular Concert Room with its balcony supported by graceful caryatids of hollow plaster.  This magical early-Victorian interior uses the most modern materials of its time – cast iron for the balcony trelliswork, papier mâché for the frieze and pilasters that surround the detached grained deal panelling, plate glass mirrors behind the elaborate Corinthian columns at the back of the stage and a gas-lit cut-glass chandelier, recently restored, by F & C Osler of Birmingham.

Elmes specifically asked that "there will be no organ at the end of the Hall, so that you can stand on the Judge's Platform in one court, your eye glancing along the ranges of ruddy columns at either side,...[until it] finally rests upon the further Judge's Throne."  Instead, in the fashion of the day, Cockerell designed a gigantic case for the vast 'Father' Willis organ, which was completed in 1855, the year after the Hall opened.

St George's Hall is a gem of world architecture – by an architect who if he was alive today would be recently out of college.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Apr 13, 2011

Category:Victorian architecture

Saltaire (1982)

I've just finished reading a recently published architectural survey of Sir Titus Salt's mill town, Saltaire, at Shipley, west of Bradford.

The story is well-known:  Mr Salt, as he then was, chose to remove the family woollen mill from the grossly polluted centre of Bradford to a green-field site in the Aire valley, with ample supplies of clean water, canal and rail connections and space to construct a model village.  The Bradford architects, Henry William Lockwood and William Mawson, built the mill, which opened in 1853, and constructed the village in seven phases up to 1875, the year before Salt's death.

Believing firmly in temperance, though not himself a teetotaller, Salt declined to provide a public house, saying he saw no reason to spend money on something which would damage his trade.  In Victorian times, other Shipley folk supposedly looked upon Saltaire residents as the sort of people who had pianos in their front parlours.

Saltaire is one of three major British industrial settlements that are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the other two being the Derbyshire Derwent Valley Mills [see Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site] and New Lanark.  Up to the early 1970s all three were unregarded, and piecemeal demolitions threatened their integrity.  At Saltaire the magnificent Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and the Congregational Sunday School came down:  their sites are now occupied, respectively, by an undistinguished modern replacement and a public car park.

The refurbishment of Salt's Mill after its closure in 1986 was the work of Jonathan Silver (1950-97), who had built up a fortune in retail clothing and successfully invested in a 50% share of Sir Ernest Hall's landmark redevelopment of the Dean Clough Mill in Halifax.  His offer to develop Bradford's Manningham Mill as a home for the Victoria & Albert Museum's South Asia textiles collection was turned down by the City Council:  [see Manningham Mills]. The huge Saltaire mill building is now home to high-tech industry, high-quality shopping and a diner, a café and the 1853 Gallery, showcasing the work of the Bradford-born artist, David Hockney.

Saltaire makes an excellent day out.  Salt's Mill [] is the obvious starting place:  admission is free.  The Victoria Hall & Institute [] is home to Pam and Phil Fluke's Reed Organ & Harmonium Museum and what claims to be "Yorkshire's finest Wurlitzer Cinema Organ".  Across the river is the Shipley Glen Tramway (though its website still shows 2009 opening times).

On the edge of Salt's village is The Old Tramshed restaurant []:  as the name implies this is a sumptuous conversion of the front end of a former Bradford Corporation tram and, latterly, trolleybus depot, with huge glass windows where the vehicles entered, and the most implausible tramlines in the world outside where the smokers indulge their addiction.

That fills a long day, and probably the evening too.

The new study of Saltaire is Neil Jackson, Jo Lintonbon & Bryony Staples, Saltaire:  the making of a modern town (Spire 2010) [].

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 21, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool Ullet Road Unitarian Church

Ullet Road Unitarian Church, Liverpool:  Library

Alongside the three Horsfall churches I mentioned in Liverpool 8 Churches (1), the Toxteth area is studded with fine Victorian places of worship.  Almost next door to St Margaret's, Princes Road (1868) is the Old Hebrew Congregation Synagogue (1871), and across the road the Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas (1870).  Round the corner, as Princes Road widens into a leafy dual carriageway where the trams once ran on a reservation, stands the Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute (1886-7) which had an octagonal chapel so that the whole congregation could see the minister's signing, and further down on the opposite side is the desperately sad wreck of the Welsh Presbyterian Church (1868), apparently the richest and finest of them all, now a largely roofless shell.

Of all the Christian places of worship in Liverpool 8, perhaps the most surprising is the Ullet Road Unitarian Church, designed by Thomas Worthington and his son Percy in two stages, 1896-9 and 1900-1.  Unitarianism is a very individualistic creed, centred on the belief in the single personality of God, which regards Jesus Christ as a prophet rather than a divine person of the Holy Trinity.  It comes as a surprise to the non-Unitarian visitor, then, that the Worthington's church has virtually all the features of an Anglican parish church, pews, pulpit, lectern, choir-stalls and reredos, all in the finest Gothic Revival style using the very best materials.

The place is an opulent essay in Gothic and Art Nouveau, with reliefs and wall paintings by George Moira and Morris & Co stained glass mostly designed by Edward Burne-Jones.  The electroliers that light the nave are original, and tucked away behind the chancel arch are original 1890s electric lamps.

This was a congregation that wielded heavy political clout in nineteenth-century Liverpool:  the previous church in Renshaw Street included among its members the poet and anti-slavery campaigner William Roscoe, William Rathbone V, who was Mayor of Liverpool in 1837-8, his son William Rathbone VI, who was MP for Liverpool from 1868 to 1880 and helped found University College Liverpool and the University College of North Wales, and Robert Durning Holt, the last Mayor and first Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1892-3.

The generation that moved their church out of the city-centre to Sefton Park could command serious money.  Robert Durning Holt's mother, Mrs George Holt, didn't like the idea of an interior in bright red Ruabon brick, and paid for it to be faced in dignified Runcorn sandstone.  The cloister and meeting hall were funded by Sir John Brunner, whose chemical company later formed the basis for ICI, and Sir Henry Tate, whose name lives on in the sugar company and the gallery that he gave to the nation.  Sir John Brunner appears in one of Moira's wall-paintings as the philosopher Aristotle.

To see all these places of worship around Sefton Park would take two days minimum.  Even to see a couple is a forcible reminder that this was a city of huge mercantile wealth a century ago, a place where adherents of every faith sought to assert their presence with the finest architecture of their day.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 19, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesLiverpool's Heritage

Liverpool St Agnes' Church, Ullet Road

St Agnes' Church, Ullet Road, Liverpool

A couple of years ago I spent a fascinating four days researching and photographing places of worship in suburban Liverpool, south of the city, to add to my 'Liverpool's Heritage' lecture and study-day for NADFAS [the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies].

I found a whole collection of fabulous Victorian buildings, and met some particularly interesting people in the process.

One group of Anglican churches is the series founded by the Horsfall family over two generations.  Robert Horsfall commissioned the great Gothic Revival architect, George Edmund Street, to build St Margaret's, Princes Road, in 1868, at least partly because the diocese was vehemently low church, and he wished to promote elaborate, Anglo-Catholic worship.  This magnificent building, sumptuously embellished with wall paintings and stained glass, much of it designed by Maddox & Pearce and Clayton & Bell, is much loved by the local community, but desperately short of funds.

Robert Horsfall may well have been provoked by the statement of his low-church younger brother George's project to build Christ Church, Linnet Lane (1867-71), not far away.  This church, by William Culshaw and Henry Sumners, has an elaborately sculpted exterior and a much plainer, though costly interior.  Its peculiar gabled aisles are particularly difficult to keep watertight, and the parish apparently struggles financially.

Robert Horsfall's son, Howard Douglas Horsfall (1856-1936), was responsible for St Agnes', Ullet Road, opposite Sefton Park.  Designed by the architect of Truro Cathedral, John Loughborough Pearson, this large but outwardly modest brick church has a dramatic interior, like a miniature cathedral, rich in carvings, stained glass and alabaster.  Pearson's aim, in his own words, was to design "what will bring people soonest to their knees".

The controversies of the Victorian Church of England are difficult to grasp in an age when Anglicans fall out about female and gay priests and bishops.  The second vicar of St Margaret's went to jail for contempt of court over a liturgical dispute with the first Bishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle.  There were serious fears that the consecration of St Agnes' would be interrupted by "some disturbance" following "heated newspaper agitation".  Within weeks of the opening, the first vicar of St Agnes was in disagreement with Bishop Ryle over "the illegal use of Eucharistic Lights, Wafer-Bread, the Mixed Chalice, the Agnus Dei and the hymn sung during Holy Communion" and waited twelve years before the bishop backed down.

All three of these superb buildings still house congregations, though the days of packed pews and arguments over ritual are long gone.  Rev Robert Gallagher, the current vicar of St Margaret's, wryly observes, "the capital used for St Margaret's beginnings came largely from Liverpool merchants' involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade and down through grandparents' bank irony not lost on a parish that is now the heart of Liverpool's black community."

The Ship of Fools' mystery worshipper describes the "pious gaiety" of St Agnes' at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 13, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Great Yarmouth Winter Garden

Winter Garden, Great Yarmouth

Sometimes a man of talent is so attracted to a locality that he invests energy in one place that would otherwise have propelled him to wider fame.  John William Cockrill (1849-1924) left his mark, quite literally, on the neighbouring resorts of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston.  Indeed, Kathryn Ferry's study of his work is entitled 'The maker of modern Yarmouth...'.

Borough Surveyor for forty years from 1882, he gained the nickname 'Concrete' Cockrill, and seems to have enjoyed being identified with this practical and versatile material:  "The reason for so much concrete work in Yarmouth was, of course, its extraordinary durability and cheapness since sand and shingle were provided free of all cost on the beach in such abundant quantities that thousands of tons have been sent to other towns."

He laid out promenades at Yarmouth Marine Parade and in Gorleston, and designed the Gorleston Pavilion (1900), together with Yarmouth's Wellington Gardens, which included an extensive shelter, seating up to seven hundred, and a domed bandstand built of Doulton columns and tiles.

He was responsible for the innovative Wellington Pier Pavilion (1903), using Art Nouveau motifs in a way that prefigured the stripped modernism of inter-war architecture.  It was built around a steel frame, clad in a patented fireproof material called Uralite, a brand-name which Punch thought hilarious.

He also arranged to purchase the Winter Garden from the borough of Torquay, where it had made little profit since its construction in 1878-81, and to re-erect it – without breaking a single pane of glass – in 1904 beside the entrance to the Wellington Pier.

His son, Ralph Scott Cockrill, designed the Yarmouth Hippodrome (1903) and Fastolff House, Regent Street (1908).

When J W Cockrill retired, the Yarmouth Mercury commented,–

If he had set his sails towards other spheres he could have commanded a much more remunerative position but he elected to stay in the place of his birth, because he loved the old town, which he helped to bring up-to-date, and abreast with many seaside resorts.

Cockrill's unbuilt schemes to turn the wooden jetty into Yarmouth's third pier show flair and ambition to make even more of the resort:  private enterprise might have made more of his talent, but he chose to remain a public servant in his home town.  Cockrill may not have gained fame or fortune, but he deserves credit in Yarmouth for being the genius of the place.

Kathryn Ferry's study of J W Cockrill forms a chapter in her collection Powerhouses of provincial architecture, 1837-1914 (Victorian Society 2009), obtainable from

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Norfolk's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 11, 2011

Category:Victorian architecture

Overstrand Methodist Church

Overstrand Methodist Church, designed by Edwin Lutyens (1898)

The writer Clement Scott (1841-1904) first visited Overstrand by accident in 1883, staying with the local miller because there were no vacancies in Cromer.  He was so attracted to the quiet North Norfolk coast that he described it in a series of romanticised articles in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere.  He called it "Poppyland".

Five years later, when land for development came on the market, Overstrand rapidly attracted some of the richest people in Britain – a small colony of bankers and lawyers, most of them Liberal in politics, cultured and socially extremely well connected.  Part of its appeal was that it was not Cromer, by then regarded as popular, if not exactly vulgar.

At one time there were six millionaires in the village – among them Cyril Flower, Liberal MP and later Lord Battersea, Lord Hillingdon, one of the few Tories in the village, and the financier Sir Edgar Speyer who became chairman of the original London Underground.  Their holiday neighbours included Sir Frederick MacMillan, son of the founder of the publishing empire, Edward Lyttleton, headmaster of Eton, and the classicist Gilbert Murray.

Though these incomers lacked the landed status of earlier generations of Cromer-based bankers, Barings, Gurneys and Hoares, they knew how to spend money and they had taste.  The rising young architect Edwin Lutyens received two domestic commissions in Overstrand, The Pleasaunce (1888) for Cyril Flowers and Overstrand Hall (1898-1900) for Lord Hillingdon.  Cyril Flowers, as Lord Battersea, provided Lutyens with his only opportunity to build a Methodist chapel (1898).

Celebrated visitors flocked to stay with such opulent hosts.  Queen Alexandra visited the Hillingdons.  Lady Randolph Churchill, often with her sons Winston and Jack, stayed repeatedly with either the Speyers or with the powerful lawyer Sir George Lewis, who lived in the Danish Pavilion, which he'd transported direct from the 1900 Paris International Exhibition.  Sidney and Beatrice Webb stayed with Lord and Lady Battersea, whom they disliked, on a working break with their fellow Fabians, George Bernard Shaw and Graham Wallas.

The heyday of Poppyland was all over so quickly, killed – as much as anything – by the effect of the First World War.  After 1919 the millionaires moved away and died off, and by the mid-1930s all the major houses had been converted to hotels, nursing homes or apartments.  By that time the only major modern hotel in the village, the Overstrand Hotel, was at risk of sliding over the fast-eroding cliffs:  it eventually burnt down in 1947.

Overstrand remains an attractive and interesting place to visit.  It carries the implicit message that you can't take it with you.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Norfolk's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 9, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Cromer Hotel de Paris

Hotel de Paris, Cromer

Until 1877 Cromer was regarded as a "fashionable watering place".  Its attractions, for those who could afford to stay there, were the cliff scenery, the activities of the fishing trade, and the opportunity to bathe, either in the actual sea using bathing machines, or in bath houses.  Through much of the nineteenth century Cromer remained a very small settlement, and much of the surrounding land remained part of the Cromer Hall estate.

The East Norfolk Railway, first promoted in 1864, opened to North Walsham in 1874, to Gunton two years later, and eventually reached Cromer High Station, a mile away from the town-centre, in 1877.  Ten years later the Eastern & Midlands Railway completed its branch from Melton Constable to the more accessible Cromer Beach Station in 1887.

This provoked a carefully managed expansion of the little town, seeking affluent visitors in small numbers.  A major contributor to this development was the ebullient Norwich architect, George Skipper.  With his brother Frederick, he built the Town Hall (1890), followed by the restrained Grand Hotel (1890-1) on part of the Cromer Hall estate as the flagship development for the western extension of the town.  It was demolished after a fire in April 1969.

A different syndicate employed George Skipper to build the Hotel Metropole (1893-4, demolished 1970s), a more flamboyant design than the Grand, with oriel windows and Skipper's favourite Flemish gables to enliven the roofline.

Though the Grand and the Metropole have now both gone, Skipper's Hotel de Paris, built in 1894 for the proprietor, Alex Jarvis, remains in business.  A virtual rebuilding of a more reticent Georgian building that had been a private residence before it became a hotel in 1830, the Hotel de Paris is the prestigious embodiment of its proud name, with an asymmetrically placed entrance surmounted by a landmark domed tower.  Enlivened by Skipper's favourite material, terra-cotta, it is the most prominent and endearing building in Cromer.

George Skipper's final work in Cromer was the extension of the Cliftonville Hotel in 1898, providing a grand staircase and an elegant dining room that also remains in hotel use [See Breakfast in style].

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Norfolk's Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 6, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Crossness Pumping Station

Crossness Pumping Station

I received some very strange looks on a train recently, reading Paul Dobraszczyk's Into the Belly of the Beast:  exploring London's Victorian Sewers (Spire 2009).  It's a perfectly sensible subject, with an entirely respectable cover, but maybe the title is a little over-wrought.

(The last time I got funny looks on a train was years ago when I first read Sue Townsend's delightful The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ [1982]:  I was rolling around the carriage at the Christmas lunch scene where Adrian is lusting after his aunt's prison officer girlfriend, and ends up eating the wing of the turkey because he's too embarrassed to ask for any other part of its anatomy.)

Paul Dobraszczyk's book is a very interesting addition to the somewhat limited literature about what the Victorians called the "sanitary question", the great environmental issue of the nineteenth century – how to provide the rapidly growing urban areas with clean drinking water, sewage disposal and a dignified, hygienic way of disposing of the dead.

Dr Dobraszczyk analyses how Sir Joseph Bazalgette's Metropolitan Main Drainage system, constructed at huge expense and upheaval, initially between 1859 and 1868, is represented by the illustrative material left behind – maps and drawings, photographs and press coverage.

Among the insights he uncovers is the fact that before Bazalgette could begin to lay down a coherent drainage system for London he needed the area to be surveyed systematically.  All the previous maps had stopped at some arbitrary district boundary, and they were all at different scales or levels of detail.

Another revelation is the identity of the architect of the great steam pumping stations which are the glory of London's industrial archaeology – Crossness (1862-65), Abbey Mills (1865-68) and the less flamboyant sites at Deptford (1859-62) and Pimlico (1870-74).  This was Charles Driver (1832-1900), who also worked for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, provided architectural detail for the seaside piers at Llandudno (1878) and Southend-on-Sea (1887-90), and collaborated on the Mercado Central [Central Market], Santiago, Chile (1868-70) and the Estação da Luz [Station of Light], São Paulo, Brazil (1897-1900).

I was concerned that I'd never encountered Driver's name before, and began to feel I needed to keep up, until I read a review of Dr Dobraszczyk's book in the Victorian Society's magazine, The Victorian, which admits "this reviewer had never heard of Charles Driver".  The reviewer was Stephen Halliday, whose book The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis (Sutton 1999) I greatly admire.  If the name is news to Stephen Halliday, then Charles Driver is a real discovery.

Abbey Mills Pumping Station is a working installation operated by Thames Water and is very rarely accessible to the public.  Crossness Pumping Station is cared for by the Crossness Engines Trust, but is currently closed for building work.  Details of its reopening will be posted at in due course.

The pumping stations at Abbey Mills and Crossness feature in Mike Higginbottom's lecture Temples of Sanitation (aka Victorian Sewerage).  For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Feb 24, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Ossington Coffee Palace, Newark

The temperance movement is one of the aspects of Victorian social history that has strong resonances in the twenty-first century:  powerful moral interests raged against the perils of the demon drink, while much of the population cheerfully imbibed without actually coming to much harm, in much the same way that current political hysteria about illegal substances conflicts with a widespread and partly respectable black market in drugs, some of which appear to be less risky than legal commodities like alcohol and tobacco.

I've been reading some research by Andrew Davison into the history of the temperance movement and the buildings that arose from it.  In many British towns the temperance hall was the most comfortable – and often the only – public meeting-place available for hire other than the upstairs room of a pub.  Temperance billiard halls were common:  Rochdale had six in 1916.

The most startling, to modern eyes, were the coffee palaces, the temperance answer to gin palaces, designed to offer the working man everything he'd find in a pub, but without the temptations of alcohol.

One of the most visible of these is the Ossington Coffee Palace in Newark, Nottinghamshire, designed by Ernest George & Peto and opened in 1882, boasted a ground-floor coffee room instead of a bar, a first-floor assembly room with a reading-room, a library and a club-room and, on the second floor, a billiard room and sleeping accommodation.  There was a tea garden, an American bowling alley and stables for fifty horses.

It is now the Newark branch of the Zizzi restaurant chain and – so they say – haunted:

Its original name is a reminder that it was built, at the considerable cost of over £20,000, as a memorial to John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington (1800-1873), Speaker of the House of Commons from 1857 to 1872, by his widow, Charlotte (1805-1889).

She was the third daughter of the 4th 'Farmer' Duke of Portland, and sister of the eccentric 5th 'Burrowing' Duke [see More country-house railways and Having a ball at Welbeck Abbey] and his political brothers, Lord George and Lord Henry Bentinck.  Another sister married Lord Howard de Walden.

Denison's forbears were Leeds wool merchants, but he inherited the Ossington Hall estate, near Newark, in 1820:  he was educated at Eton and Oxford and served as an MP from the age of 23.  His brothers were respectively Archdeacon of Taunton, Bishop of Salisbury and Governor successively of Tasmania, New South Wales and Madras.

John Evelyn Denison was not thought sufficiently grand to court Charlotte.  Her father resisted an engagement until she seriously threatened to elope.  (The story is related in a chapter of Charles J Archard, The Portland Peerage Romance (1907) which can be found at  They married in 1827, but had no children.

Charlotte, Viscountess Ossington's bequest to the town of Newark appears not to have been a commercial success.  Which is a pity, because some police officers will tell you that they don't spend their Saturday nights arresting out-of-control cannabis takers – or coffee drinkers.

Andrew Davison's essay, '"Worthy of the cause": the buildings of the temperance movement' appears in Geoff Brandwood (ed), Living, Leisure and the Law:  eight building types in England, 1800-1914 (Spire Books/Victorian Society 2010):  see  It supplements Mark Girouard's account in the first part of chapter 8 of Victorian Pubs (Yale University Press 1984), which is out of print.

Posted by: mike on Feb 14, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureManchester's Heritage

Manchester London Road Fire Station

It was heartening to read, in the 'Casework news' section of the Victorian Society's magazine The Victorian (November 2010), that a practical proposal has at last been determined to find a new use for London Road Fire Station, Manchester (1901-6).

This was in fact much more than a fire station.  It was originally conceived as a combined fire station, ambulance station, police station, gas-meter testing station, public library and gymnasium, though the last two were omitted to make room for a coroner's court and a bank.  The Wikipedia entry on the building has a very clear block-diagram showing how these facilities were arranged:,_Manchester.

Living accommodation was provided for 32 firemen with families and six single firemen;  other facilities included a laundry, billiard-room, gymnasium and a play area for the resident children.  For speedy response, poles were provided and the street doors were electrically powered.  The stables were fitted with rapid harnessing equipment, and there was a forced ventilation-system to prevent the smell of the horses reaching the living quarters.

All this practicality was housed in an elaborately decorated building built in Accrington brick embellished with beige and brown terracotta.  Like its exact contemporary, the Victoria Baths, Chorlton-cum-Medlock (1906), the use of terracotta provided the opportunity for an elaborate celebration of municipal pride, specially cast by Burmantofts of Leeds, with moulded reliefs depicting fire and water and allegorical figures of Courage, Vigilance, Justice and Truth.

The architects were Woodhouse, Willoughby & Potts, though the design shows the influence of the then newly-appointed City Architect, Henry Price, who designed the Victoria Baths, and it's no surprise to discover that the adjudicator of the architectural competition was Alfred Waterhouse, the leading proponent of terracotta as a building material for grimy industrial cities and also the architect of Manchester Town Hall.

The ambulance service relocated in 1948 and the police left in 1979.  It remained an operational fire station until 1989.  Finally the coroner's court left the building in 1998.

Since then it has been an increasingly neglected eyesore and planning problem, included in the English Heritage Buildings at Risk list since 2002. Successive proposals to turn it into a hotel have come and gone and its owners, Britannia Hotels (who restored the superb Watts' Warehouse on Portland Street nearby as long ago as 1982) have used it for storage.  Manchester City Council has, understandably, become increasingly impatient that rail travellers' first view of the city as they leave Piccadilly Station is a huge derelict building with greenery sprouting from its roofline.

At last, according to the Victorian Society, a scheme to convert it to a four-star hotel is within reach of approval.  Not before time.

For a quick look inside, go to

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Manchester's Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester's Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Feb 11, 2011

Category:Victorian architecture


A short distance outside Ilkley town-centre is Heathcote, a dignified, over-scaled villa designed by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) and constructed 1905-7, which is hugely significant as Lutyens' first design in the classical style he called "Wrenaissance", which led directly to such great works as New Delhi and the unbuilt Liverpool Catholic Cathedral.

Lutyens was appalled by the location:  " ultra suburban locality over which villas of dreadful kind and many colours wantonly distribute themselves – a pot pourri of Yorkeological details" and he was privately dismissive of his client, a wool merchant called John Thomas Hemmingway.  Lutyens declared that his client hadn't an 'h' to his name, and said that he "could not spend his money – until he met me".  He was scathing about Mrs Hemmingway – "...does nothing all day and takes turns with the cook to go out...", the daughter – "...photographs [of her] posing as a professional beauty, but when you see her she is shrimpish – about 4 foot high, full of self-confidence – adored by her admiring parents and her charm takes the form of giggles", and the son:  "...overnosed and very young and shy...No initiative.  He works hard but...spends no money..."

Quite how Hemmingway came across Lutyens and chose to commission him is unclear.  Lutyens, then an ambitious young architect with a reputation for charm, showed his inner steel by his choice of style and materials:  he later told his colleague, Herbert Baker, "To get domination I had to get a scale greater than the height of my rooms allowed, so unconsciously the San Michele invention repeated itself.  That time-worn Doric order – a lovely thing – I have the cheek to adopt.  You can't copy it.  To be right you have to take it and design it..."

The result is a massive building of dour Guiseley stone – "a stone without a soul to call its own, as sober as a teetotaller" – with grey Morley stone dressings, lightened by the adventurous use of red pantiles rather than Yorkshire slate on the hipped roofs.  The entrance vestibule is a magnificent space, paved in white marble which is inset – as a nod to the local vernacular – with herringbone brick waxed till it shone.

Heathcote cost J T Hemmingway £17,500, and he didn't get what he wanted.  Certainly, a demand for storage space gave him exquisite china cupboards with arched glazed doors and teardrop glazing bars;  similarly, in the morning room the built-in bookshelves either side of the fireplace incorporate drop-plan writing desks.

However, one of Lutyens' assistants, John Brandon Jones, told how on a site-visit Lutyens and Hemingway viewed the space intended for the black marble staircase.  Hemmingway said, "I don't want a black marble staircase.  I want an oak staircase", to which Lutyens replied, "What a pity."  On a later visit, when Hemmingway was shown the completed black marble staircase, he complained, "I told you I didn't want a black marble staircase."  "I know," the architect replied, "and I said 'What a pity', didn't I?"

Christopher Hussey, Lutyens' official biographer, commented that this was "the outstanding example of a client thus getting the exact opposite of what he originally wanted, down to the smallest detail, and becoming immensely proud of it".

Heathcote is currently for sale:  The guide-price is £2,950,000.

Posted by: mike on Jan 24, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureLiverpool's HeritageLife-enhancing experiences

Liverpool University Victoria Gallery & Museum

The expression "red-brick university" stems from the great Victorian Liverpool-born Quaker architect, Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905), and his love for terra-cotta, glazed moulded brick, with which it is possible to contrive elaborate effects without the great expense of masons and masonry.

The term was actually coined by Liverpool University's Professor of Hispanic Studies, Edgar Allison Peers (1891-1952) in his polemic, Red Brick University, published under the pseudonym Bruce Truscot in 1943.

Waterhouse is responsible for, among much else, Manchester Town Hall, the Refuge Assurance Building in Manchester that is now the Palace Hotel, the Natural History Museum, South Kensington and a series of unmistakable office-buildings for the Prudential Assurance Company. His predilection for terra-cotta led his architectural contemporaries sarcastically to label his work "slaughterhouse Gothic".

His influence on the competition for the Victoria Law Courts, Birmingham, which were eventually built by Aston Webb & Ingress Bell, undoubtedly encouraged Birmingham to become "terracotta city" in the Edwardian period.

In his native Liverpool, Waterhouse built (in stone) the former North Western Hotel in front of Lime Street Station, and the iconic Victoria Building of Liverpool University (1892). This was conceived as part of an 1880s federation of University College, Liverpool, Owens College in Manchester and the Yorkshire College in Leeds, which split up when first Liverpool and then Leeds gained independent university status in 1903 and 1904.

Many of the architectural interesting parts of the Victoria Building are now open to the public as the Victoria Gallery & Museum, and the interior is an eye-opening. Rather than the lavatorial reds that one might expect, Waterhouse used an interesting palette of buff and pale green faience. Staircases weave through the building, supplemented by an ingeniously inserted modern lift. The Tate Hall, formerly the library funded by the great sugar baron, has a spectacular timber roof.

It's well worth a visit. Admission is free. The displays feature aspects of the University's work since its foundation in 1887. And it's a welcome addition to Liverpool's superb range of places to have morning coffee or afternoon tea. See

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jan 9, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureExploring Australia

Rippon Lea Mansion fernery

Rippon Lea Mansion, Melbourne, Australia:  fernery

Because I was in Melbourne on my own, I chose to avoid the obvious tourist sites that I might visit with other people, and sought out the quirky places where I wouldn't dream of taking folk who don't share my interests.

I spent half an hour photographing the late nineteenth-century housing around Albert Park, with characteristic filigree cast-iron lace verandas manufactured, so I'm told, from the ballast and scrap of ships that ended their days in Melbourne harbour.  (Another authority told me they were cast in England and brought out as ballast.)

I spent an hour in the Melbourne General Cemetery, a hot and unshady place, where the Necropolis Company has clearly done a roaring trade in narrowing the paths, so that ranks of ostentatious Italian black-marble family tombs stand in front of older, more English monuments, and there is, near the modern funeral chapel, an astonishing grotto in memory of Elvis Presley, inaugurated barely three months after the singer's death in August 1977.

Most enjoyable of all, and prompted by Gabriel, the Victorian aficionado I met on The Ghan, I visited a Victorian Victorian mansion, Rippon Lea, in the southern suburbs [].  (It's disconcerting to English ears that in this part of the world Victorian means located in the state of Victoria.)  If I'd remembered to take my UK National Trust card I could have saved A$12 [about £7.50], but I could hardly begrudge such a delightful Australian National Trust experience, complete with a pot of properly-made tea at the end of the afternoon.

Rippon Lea was the creation of a Melbourne clothing and drapery merchant, Frederick Thomas Sargood, inspired by his English parents' retirement villa in Croydon, South London.  Designed by the Melbourne architect Joseph Reed, who favoured polychrome brickwork, Rippon Lea was begun in 1868 and repeatedly extended as Sargood's family grew.  In style it veers between French and Italian, and is graced with ironwork verandas, including a particularly fine porte-cochère.

The glory of the place is the garden, landscaped, irrigated and drained from unpromising sandy wasteland, with sewage disposal integrated into the provision of fertiliser:  the Australian National Trust aim to restore it to full water-supply self-sufficiency.  The most beguiling feature is the gigantic iron-framed fernery, built to protect and conserve specimens gathered world-wide.

After Sargood's death in 1903, the property was bought by the appropriately named Sir Thomas Bent, described by another Prime Minster of Victoria as "the most brazen, untrustworthy intriguer" ever to sit in the Victorian Parliament.  Bent proceeded to parcel up the Rippon Lea estate for housing development, and used the house only as a venue for political gatherings.

Bent died in 1910, before his syndicate could sell off the entire property, and Rippon Lea was then bought and lived in by a furniture dealer, Benjamin Nathan.  When his daughter Louisa inherited in 1935, she chose to cheer the place up, overpainting the gold-embossed wallpaper and marble columns and fireplaces, adding mirrors to gain light and demolishing Sargood's iron-framed ballroom.  She created a new ballroom which opens on to a Hollywood-style swimming pool and terrace in 1938-9.  After a considerable controversy over an intended government-backed compulsory purchase, it became a National Trust property on Louisa's death in 1972.

As displayed, the house is a palimpsest, based on English models, adapted to the sunny Melbourne climate, designed and built to the highest standards of its day, and then forcefully modernised for a 1930s lifestyle.  Pam, our guide, discussed at length how much is still being discovered about the house and its contents.  Australian history is, as the taxi-driver told me on the way to Alice Springs airport, short but "busy".

Posted by: mike on Dec 14, 2010

Category:Victorian architecture

Singapore St Andrew's Cathedral

St Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore

There's something reassuring for a Brit about landing in a former British colony like Singapore.  Somehow, the footprint remains almost half a century after the Union Flag came down.

Not only are there evocatively British street names (Clive, Kitchener, Mountbatten), but the traffic drives on the left, the car-registration plates are distinctly British in shape and dimensions (mostly with the white characters on a black background that died out in the UK in the 1970s) and – most useful and endearing of all – the power-sockets are British square-pin standard, so there's no need to fiddle about with adaptors.

It's fascinating to discover, patched in between the mainly undistinguished post-war buildings, vestiges of the colonial past.

St Andrew's Cathedral, for example, is an immediately recognisable, rather blocky Commissioner's-Gothic Anglican church with a squat English-cathedral spire, painted in brilliant white, designed by Colonel Ronald MacPherson, a military engineer who could clearly turn his hand to any constructional task, and built by Indian convict labourers.  Opened in 1862, it became a cathedral in 1870.  Its aisles are dotted with generous memorials to men, women and children who spent their lives in this sticky, remote and dangerous place:  some died here;  others died back in Britain but were memorialised by the colonial community.

Rather more surprising is the Armenian Apostolic Church of St Gregory the Illuminator, a compact cruciform classical design of 1835, its original onion dome replaced by a gothic spire that sits incongruously on top of a pediment.  Its churchyard is littered with modern statuary, and the church itself is a compact circular space, with doorways open to breezes on three sides.

Elsewhere, British eyes lock on to the 1930s central fire-station which would look entirely at home in Birmingham and a Masonic hall, bristling with compass-and-square symbols.  A half-day city tour showed me that there's much more to see than can fit into a jet-lagged weekend – every possible kind of place of worship, a carefully conserved Chinatown and a thriving Little India, all reflecting the polyglot energy of the place.

Singapore is a very comfortable place to be, if you can cope with the climate.  The only delinquency I saw was economic – touts trying to lure people into shops.  The policemen smile and greet visitors:  the only time I saw a policeman act aggressively was when a woman tried to cross the road instead of using an underpass.  The police apparently hand out tickets for good driving, with rewards a bit like air miles.

Posters exhort Singapore citizens to promote "graciousness", and there are notices at the top of escalators reminding people to use the escalator "correctly".  The Straits Times has the language and attitudes of a 1960s grammar-school magazine.

When I walked into the headquarters of the Singapore Cricket Club at eight o'clock on Sunday morning and asked, as is my habit, for a restroom, I was treated promptly and courteously – and it was an exceptionally fine restroom.  I wonder if I'd get away with that at Lord's or the Oval.  I hope so.

Singaporeans are notoriously picky about litter:  in the hotel, a magnificent lady reception greeter in a split skirt and full make-up picked up specks from the carpet and fetched a cloth to wipe smears from the marble floor;  I even saw two men in a small boat sweeping the harbour.

And, they disapprove of tipping.

Posted by: mike on Oct 29, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureFun Palaces

Brighton West Pier

Brighton West Pier (1980)

Two individuals have been arrested on a charge of arson in connection with the fire at Hastings Pier on October 5th 2010.  Of course, they're innocent until proved guilty, but even if these two were uninvolved, arson is the likely cause of the fire.  Derelict seaside piers are not prone to spontaneous combustion.

The most spectacular example of such destruction is Brighton West Pier (1863-6), built – like Hastings –by the great Victorian pier engineer Eugenius Birch.  This most splendid of British piers, Grade I listed, was a location in Richard Attenborough's film, Oh! What a Lovely War (1969).  It was partly closed the year after the film came out, and completely closed to the public in 1975.

Battles between owners who wanted to demolish it and Brighton residents who wanted to take it over and restore it continued until the Brighton West Pier Trust bought it for £10 in 1984.  Storm damage in 1987-8 isolated the concert hall and pavilion:  a temporary connection was eventually built in 1996 on the strength of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of just under a million pounds, which was followed two years later by the promise of over ten million pounds of funding for a full restoration.

Two successive devastating storms on December 29th 2002 and January 20th 2003 caused the central section of the pier and the concert hall to collapse.

On March 28th 2003 the isolated pavilion was destroyed by a fire.  On May 11th the same year what was left of the concert hall caught fire.  The following day that fire reignited.  On June 23rd 2004 the remaining shell of the central section blew down in a gale.

The West Pier Trust was eventually compelled to give up hope of restoring what was left of the pier, and turned their attention to building a 150-metre observation tower, I360, on the site.  The current intention is to complete this structure by the summer of 2015:

The sad vestige of the pavilion has an elegance of its own, and Flickr is awash with superb photographs of its outline against the sea and the sky [].  There is also a poignant documentary of 2003 by Hannah James:

Pure magic.

A further stage in the inevitable disappearance of the remains of the West Pier is chronicled at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all:  the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside:  the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire's Seaside Heritage, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Oct 25, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delight

King's Cross Station (1977)

King's Cross Station (1977)

King's Cross Station (opened 1850) has long been overshadowed by its neighbour St Pancras (opened 1867).  That was precisely the intention of the directors of the Midland Railway, the designer of the St Pancras train-shed, William Henry Barlow, and the architect George Gilbert Scott, whose Midland Grand Hotel was intended, until the railway directors insisted on cutting it down to size, to be two storeys higher than the existing building.

King's Cross is actually well worth a look.  Built for the Great Northern Railway by Lewis Cubitt, it originally had only two platforms.  As traffic built up, its operation became notoriously chaotic, right into the 1930s when the signalling was sorted out just as the entire station threatened to seize up.

The original train-shed was built by the Wiebeking System of laminated timber construction, a pioneering effort to cover a wide space that eventually had to be replaced by iron girders.

Lewis Cubitt's elegant, understated façade has for long been obscured:  it was revealed once more in 2013.

What King's Cross lacks in visual impact it gains in its stories.

Queen Boudicea is reputed to be buried somewhere under platforms 8, 9 and 10.  Indeed, the area was known as Battle Bridge, commemorating the formidable queen's last stand, until a much-derided monument to George IV briefly occupied the site.

The station featured with St Pancras in the 1955 film The Ladykillers, and the Hogwarts Express famously departed from Platform 9¾ in the Harry Potter books and films.

King's Cross Station was the scene of a wonderful encounter between Ann Widdecombe and an Irishman who flung his arms round her in the middle of the concourse:  "He wanted to thank me for the peace process in Northern Ireland," she remarked.

It's also the pretext for a little-known story about the Abdication.

In late 1936 Mrs Wallis Simpson apparently took a taxi from her London residence to catch her train for a weekend up north.  "King's Cross," she said to the driver.

"I'm sorry to hear that, madam," he replied.

Posted by: mike on Oct 22, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delight

Midland Grand Hotel, St Pancras Station (1977)

Midland Grand Hotel, St Pancras:  grand staircase (1977)

George Gilbert Scott's Midland Grand Hotel was once the finest place to stay in London but from 1935, when it was converted to railway offices, it stood neglected and increasingly dirty, and in the 1960s it narrowly escaped demolition.

I first knew it well in the 1970s when I brought adult-education groups from the north Midlands to visit sites in London by rail.  I had a deal with a British Rail group-travel organiser I won't name (even though he's deceased), whereby if I took the group round the back of the old hotel and presented the man who answered the door with a brown envelope we more or less had the run of the building.

At that time the lower floors were offices for the British Rail catering division, Travellers' Fare, and the upper storeys had only recently been vacated by restaurant-car crews who had used them as sleeping accommodation on overnight turns.

We would climb to the top of the building in the ancient lift and tramp on to the roof above Euston Road, noticing that each chimney-stack was numbered to assist the chimney sweeps.  We went inside the clock tower to admire the clock.

And we enjoyed the astonishing three-storey main staircase under its Gothic vault painted with stars.  The first time we went the original fitted carpet was still in position, with the faded patch where the German band positioned their harmonium until they abruptly departed in 1914.

In the reception area we wondered at the bracket clock, still being wound weekly by a clockmaker whose contract had not been cancelled in 1935.

The offices closed in 1988 when British Rail was refused renewal of the fire certificate.  Although the exterior was cleaned and restored in the 1990s, finding a use for an obstinately sturdy Grade I listed building took time, and was eventually kick-started by the decision to adapt the under-used station for Eurostar.

At last the building has come back to life.  The upper storeys of the original hotel are converted into luxury apartments by the Manhattan Loft Corporation, and the remainder, with a new, sympathetically designed extension on Midland Road, is a Marriott Renaissance Hotel which opened in 2011.

Posted by: mike on Oct 19, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delight

St Pancras Station (1977)

St Pancras Station (1977)

My Isle of Man friend John asks interesting questions.

When he disembarked at King's Cross Station (after pausing to photograph his late-teenage son Matthew in front of Platform 9¾) he crossed the road to St Pancras and texted me "Why are the trains at St Pancras upstairs?".

The answer is the Regent's Canal.

When the first railway into London, the London & Birmingham, was built in 1837 the engineer Robert Stephenson tunnelled under the canal to reach the site of Euston terminus.  The fact that this created a stiff incline out of the station wasn't an immediate concern, because trains were initially cable-hauled to Camden Town where locomotives were attached.  Subsequently, steam locomotives always had to work hard on the climb out of Euston.

In the late 1840s the competing Great Northern Railway was built into King's Cross Station.  Its engineers, Sir William and Joseph Cubitt, also tunnelled under the Regent's Canal, creating a challenging 1 in 107 gradient for steam locomotives and a constricted exit from the station, the "Throat", through Copenhagen and Gas Works tunnels.

William Henry Barlow, the engineer of the Midland Railway, chose the alternative when his company's London Extension approached the site of St Pancras station in the mid-1860s.  He bridged the canal, so that the terminus platforms are fifteen feet higher than the street level.  His magnificent train shed, with its uninterrupted arch 240 feet wide and 100 feet high, is engineering elegance in every sense:  not only does it look superb, but the ties beneath the platforms mean that a heavy locomotive could safely sit at any point without overloading the floor.

Pedestrians and taxis have always approached the platforms by ramps and stairs, and travellers used not to be aware of the vast undercroft below the platforms.  This – now revealed as The Arcade and the Eurostar booking area – was intended to store Burton beer, brought down the line and lowered by a hydraulic lift from track level.  Indeed the entire station is built to a module of 14 feet 8 inches, the dimensions of the Victorian beer barrel.

It's no coincidence that one of the Midland Railway directors was Michael Thomas Bass Jnr, and that in the years after excise duty was removed from beer glasses in 1845, the dark London porter traditionally served in pewter tankards gradually gave way to the lighter ales brewed in Burton.

In the days before Eurostar, the undercroft was the rumoured location of the apocryphal "St Pancras Hoard", silverware hidden when the Midland Grand Hotel closed in 1935.

Now at last, thanks to the redesign of the station in 2003, it's possible walk off the street and reach the trains by lift or escalator.  As you walk into the former undercroft and gaze up at the train shed above, your spirits will be lifted by the colour of the arches – "English Heritage Barlow Blue".

The ironwork was originally brown, until in 1877 the general manager of the Midland Railway, James Allport, remarked, "Why cannot the train shed be the colour of the sky?"  In the age of steam it didn't stay sky-coloured for long;  now W H Barlow's wonderful space, reglazed to its original pattern, has become one of the most exciting sights in the capital.

Mike Higginbottom offers a one-hour lecture, St Pancras Station, including images taken from the mid-1970s onwards.  For further details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Sep 24, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureSacred places

St Mary's Church, West Tofts

St Mary's Church, West Tofts, Norfolk:  reredos

Last summer I was privileged to visit, with the Victorian Society during their AGM weekend in Norwich, the church of St Mary, West Tofts, in the midst of the Ministry of Defence's Stanford Battle Area.

The 30,000-acre training site was cleared of its population in 1942, to provide a battle-training area in preparation for Operation Overlord, the Battle of Normandy which followed D-Day in 1944.  Six villages – Buckenham Tofts, Langford, Stanford, Sturston, Tottington and West Tofts – were emptied within four weeks.  Four of these settlements, Langford, Stanford, Tottington and West Tofts, had functioning parish churches at the time.

At the end of hostilities the villagers' expectations of being allowed to return were denied, and still the area is sealed and in regular military use.  Indeed, a replica Afghan village, staffed – if that is the word – by ex-Ghurka soldiers and amputee veterans, was constructed in 2009 at a cost of £14 million to assist in the current conflict.  The site was also used as a location for outdoor sequences of the TV series Dad's Army, which was set in nearby Thetford [see].

Access to West Tofts Church is necessarily limited, and its isolation gives it an odd atmosphere.  West Tofts was of particular interest to the Victorian Society because it was restored in the late 1840s by the great Gothic Revival architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, who rebuilt the chancel and added the quirky vestry and organ loft on the north side of the chancel, prompted by the wealthy parson, Rev Augustus Sutton (1825-1885), younger son of a Nottinghamshire baronet.

The transept contains an elaborate memorial to Sutton's wife, Mary Elizabeth;  his more modest tomb lies in an external recess under the chancel wall.  The organ was transferred in the 1950s to the church of All Saints', South Pickenham:  it has a spectacular organ-case, with leaves that open out in the manner of a triptych.

The likelihood of the battle area becoming safely accessible to the general public is virtually zero:  the military necessity remains and there is an accumulation of live ammunition.

There is a beautifully written and illustrated account of West Tofts and the other battle-area churches at  Detailed accounts of the requisitioning of the Stanford Battle Area are in the excellent BBC WW2 People's War series at, and

The BBC website has an audio-slideshow of another deserted village, Imber on Salisbury Plain:  [Further background on Imber is at with a cross-reference to the entry on Tyneham, Dorset, at]

The Ministry of Defence discourages requests for access to West Toft Church and other sites in the Stanford Battle Area, and priority is given to those with a personal or family connection.

Posted by: mike on Sep 6, 2010

Category:Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire PeakVictorian architectureLife-enhancing experiences

Derby Brunswick Inn

The other rite-of-passage at the age of sixty, after the bus pass, is the Senior Railcard.  It has to be after the bus pass because there is a cost and it's not worth having until the first time you use it:  if you buy it the first day you need it, you have more days to use it at the other end (assuming you live that long).

We chose to launch my mate Richard's railcard by taking the train from Sheffield to Derby, a mere forty minutes, to visit the Brunswick Inn in the Railway Village, three minutes' walk from the station:

Take a close look at the Railway Village houses and it's obvious that this is polite architecture, not speculative artisan housing – actually by Francis Thompson, company architect of the North Midland Railway – built very early in the railway age, 1840-2.

The pub, occupying the apex of the triangular street-pattern, is distinctly elegant:  apparently it was originally the Brunswick Railway & Commercial Inn – catering for commercial travellers by offering storage for sample-cases, telegram facilities and generous opening hours.

The houses and the pub were scheduled for demolition in 1970, and were rescued by the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust.  The Brunswick reopened in 1987, and a microbrewery was added in 1991:  the place collects awards, including UK Beer Pub of the Year, 2001.

From the Brunswick, we walked round to London Road, where there is a superlative Indian restaurant called Anoki [].  Anoki's chief claims to fame are its superb food – £30 buys a multi-course banquet that leaves you full but not bursting – and its assiduously attentive staff.  The male waiters, who are in a majority, wear the sort of elaborate uniforms I associate with Indian border guards – hats with fans and shoes with curly toes.  The place is high camp:  the immaculate gents is liberally provided with fluffy white towels, the floor scattered with rose-petals.

Its historical claim to fame is that the building is the former Cosy Cinema, built in 1913, and later renamed the Forum (1939) and finally the Cameo (1950).  As the Cameo it featured an adventurous and unsuccessful line in French avant garde films;  better business was done by placing an advertisement at the exit to Derby Midland Station to attract long-distance passing trade.  Occasionally, when the house-lights went up, patrons would be found wearing dressing-gowns and pyjamas, refugees from the Infirmary across the road.

After the cinema closed in 1959 it became a furniture showroom:  installing display windows wrecked the ornate baroque façade.  The restaurant occupies the balcony level, built across to the former proscenium.  The barrel ceiling and caryatides are beautifully decorated and, where the original screen would have been, an endless loop of Bollywood clips is projected.

The place has impeccable style.

Posted by: mike on Jul 26, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Harlaxton Manor

Harlaxton Manor is an exciting place to visit, yet most travellers only glimpse it as an astonishing vista to the south of the A607 Grantham-Melton Mowbray road.

Harlaxton is an exceptionally exciting building, designed between 1831 and 1837 by Anthony Salvin and William Burn for the eccentric bachelor Gregory Gregory (1786-1854), whose name is commemorated in Nottingham's Gregory Boulevard, developed on one of his six landed estates.

Gregory Gregory's intention in building such a huge house seems to have been first, to house his extensive art collection, and second to spite his heir, a distant cousin.  The result is a fascinating mixture of dramatic baroque interiors such as the Great Hall and Cedar Staircase and Victorian ingenuity – hidden doors so that the servants literally appeared out of the woodwork and an indoor railway viaduct to deliver coal by gravity to each floor.

In the spirit of the baroque theme, illusions abound.  The Cedar Staircase is nowhere near as high as it looks, and materials are not what they seem – wood turns out to be plaster, and what looks like solid plaster actually moves.  Room stewards will be available on Open House Day to explain the history of this strange building.

I've taken numerous groups to Harlaxton over the past twenty-three years, including one group of jaded teachers on a Friday-night near-the-end-of-term mystery tour.  As the coach trundled across the park in the summer evening, it seemed as if every window of the Manor glowed.  One lady (not a historian) thought she was at Disneyland.

Harlaxton Manor is well cared for by the University of Evansville, Indiana, who use it as their British campus.  The college website is at

Harlaxton Manor features in Mike Higginbottom's lecture English Country Houses – not quite what they seem.  For further details, please click here.

The 40-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 tour Country Houses of Lincolnshire, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. It contains chapters on Boothby Pagnell Manor House, Ellys Manor House, Belton House, Grimsthorpe Castle, Fulbeck Hall, Fulbeck Manor, Leadenham House, Harlaxton Manor and Stoke Rochford Hall.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jul 13, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Peckforton Castle

John, 1st Baron Tollemache (1805-1890) was not a figure to argue with.  Robust, traditional, solid character, full of vigour and strength, he lived life according to his own principles and died at the age of 85 from the effects of driving his trap through wintry weather.

He commissioned Anthony Salvin, one of the most versatile of Victorian architects, to build Peckforton Castle on his 26,000-acre Cheshire estate in the form of a fully equipped Edwardian castle (Edward I, that is,) complete with drawbridge and battlements, on top of a steep hill looking across to the genuinely medieval ruin of Beeston Castle on the adjacent hill.

If any Victorian architect could design a full-size thirteenth-century castle to be habitable by large-as-life nineteenth-century occupants, Salvin could.  Tough, gloomy, irredeemably masculine, the brand-new house had every modern convenience of its day, though some of them were in unlikely places.  All the spaces a Victorian aristocrat would expect in his house were provided, such as a billiard room, a library and a drawing room.  The main staircase is pentagonal.  The floor of the octagonal dining room sits on the central pillar of the annular wine cellar below.  There is also a long gallery, which is technically neither a medieval nor a Victorian feature.

Why did Lord Tollemache insist that his residence should be defensible against a thirteenth-century army?  Its dates are significant – 1845-50.  It seems that the baron, characteristically generous to his own tenants, feared an invasion of the Cheshire plain from the starving workers of the Lancashire cotton towns.  An Edwardian castle, quite as sturdy as Caernarfon or Conwy, could protect not only his family and his household, but also his tenants and, if necessary, their livestock.

The threat was virtually over by the time the place was finished.  But that didn't make it any less real at the time it was started.

It seems unlikely that anyone other Lord Tollemache himself could have lived in the Castle with enthusiasm.  Descriptions of the house in the twentieth century suggest a plaintive attempt to soften and warm the interiors.  The Tollemache family never returned after the Second World War, and the entire contents were auctioned in 1953.

For years the place struggled to find a use:  it was invaluable as a film set;  at one point it was a venue for live-action role-playing games.  Since the early 1990s it has operated as a hotel.  It's a particularly spectacular place to get married.

The Peckforton Castle website is at  Beeston Castle is in the care of English Heritage [].  It's a particularly steep climb to the top of the motte.  There is a charge for car parking.

Posted by: mike on Jul 1, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureSacred placesExploring Australia

St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne

St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia

If asked to make a list of what the British Empire exported to the colonies – tangible and intangible items – it's unlikely that most people would, unprompted, include churches with pointed arches, towers and spires.

Wander around any city in a former British colony and it's more than likely you'll encounter a Gothic cathedral.  On my travels I've found examples in Hong Kong, Singapore and every Australian city I visited.  In fact, each of the major Australian cities – Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Hobart – has not one but two Gothic cathedrals, one each for Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

Stepping inside these churches, even in tropical heat, immediately evokes Englishness, whether the denomination is Anglican or Roman Catholic.  The moment you set foot in the particularly splendid Anglican St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne [], its stripey polychrome stonework is immediately recognisable as the work of William Butterfield, an English architect who never actually saw the place.

I'm intrigued by the way English ideas of architecture and worship were exported virtually intact to the other side of the world.  Several major Victorian architects had a hand in Australian cathedrals:  William Butterfield provided plans for the Anglican cathedrals in Adelaide and Melbourne, and fell out with the sponsors of both;  George Frederick Bodley designed St David's Cathedral, Hobart;  at the end of his life, John Loughborough Pearson, builder of Truro Cathedral, designed the Anglican cathedral in Brisbane, though actual construction was overseen by his son, Frank.

Most other Australian cathedrals were designed by English immigrants:  Edmund Blacket (St Andrew's Cathedral, Perth) was born in Southwark;  Benjamin Backhouse (who built St Stephen's, Brisbane alongside a chapel by A W N Pugin) was born in Ipswich.  William Wardell, designer of two magnificent Roman Catholic cathedrals (Melbourne and Sydney) was British, a friend of A W N Pugin.

I want to know more about the men and women who envisioned, conceived, constructed and paid for these resolutely European places of worship in places that had hardly seen masonry until their lifetimes.

Mike Higginbottom's lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.

For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jun 13, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Welbeck Abbey underground ballroom

Welbeck Abbey, underground ballroom (1986)

The eccentricities of the "burrowing" fifth Duke of Portland seem endless, and by no means all of the stories are true.  He was distinctive among his contemporaries for providing the very latest conveniences for his guests, even though he rarely entertained, and notoriously kept out of his guests' way.  One of his most grandiose improvements to Welbeck Abbey was the vast ballroom 154 feet by 64 feet, entirely sunk below ground and top-lit by bull's-eye domes, well-lit, centrally heated and not at all damp.  On arrival for a ball at Welbeck, guests were conveyed down to the ballroom, still in their carriages, by hydraulic lift to a gently-graded inclined tunnel leading them to the dance-floor.  However, the fifth Duke never gave a ball, and the gas-lit splendour only came into its own when the sixth Duke, a distant cousin who never met his predecessor, inherited in 1870.

Nina Slingsby-Smith's memoir of her father, George: Memoirs of a Gentleman's Gentleman (Cape 1984 – out of print but available second-hand on Amazon), wonderfully captures the atmosphere of life above and below stairs at Welbeck in the sixth Duke's time.  It includes a memorable story of an incident at dinner, when a luckless footman's humanitarian dilemma nearly lost him his job, until King Edward VII saw the funny side:  the tale is far too good to spoil – seek it out on page 70 onwards.

Welbeck Abbey is not open to the general public.

Welbeck Abbey is one of the houses featured in Mike Higginbottom's lecture English Country Houses – not quite what they seem.  For further details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jun 11, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Welbeck Abbey basement railway

Welbeck Abbey, basement railway

The two railways at Harlaxton Manor and Stoke Rochford Hall are by no means the only examples of large country houses using rail transport to shift fuel, food, luggage and laundry around the capacious service wings.  Belton House [], on the other side of Grantham from Harlaxton and Stoke Rochford (and not included in my 2010 tour), has a hand-propelled railway, installed in the 1930s, connecting the kitchen in the courtyard with the basement of the main house.

Haddon Hall [], near Bakewell in Derbyshire, was made habitable from 1912 onwards by the then Marquis of Granby, later the 9th Duke of Rutland.  Bringing the fully-fitted seventeenth-century kitchen into any kind of modern use was impractical, so a new kitchen was constructed in outbuildings a couple of hundred yards away.  This is now the tearoom for visitors to Haddon:  one end of the cable-operated railway can be seen inside the tearoom entrance;  the other is customarily hidden behind a dresser opposite the entrance to the medieval kitchen which forms part of the house tour.  The tunnel itself is blocked as a fire-precaution, but interested visitors are invited to ask a room-steward to show the remains of the railway within the medieval kitchen.

Most celebrated of all, but least seen, is the 5th Duke of Portland's rail system in the cellars of Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire.  The "burrowing" Duke went to enormous lengths to live his later life out of sight of his servants, visitors and the world at large.  The railway, with hand-propelled carts, one of which was heated and served as a grand Victorian predecessor of the 1950s hostess trolley, operated in combination with the technologically up-to-the-minute hydraulic lifts, to streamline domestic freight in the Abbey, and to enable His Grace to order food fast.  When in residence he had a standing order for chicken to be roasting twenty-four hours a day, and to avoid speaking to his servants he customarily sent his orders – "I shall only want rice pudding at one" – by means of twin letterboxes on the door of his suite in the west wing.

Welbeck Abbey is not open to the general public.

Welbeck Abbey and Harlaxton Manor feature in Mike Higginbottom's lecture English Country Houses – not quite what they seem.  For further details, please click here.

The 40-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 tour Country Houses of Lincolnshire, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  It contains chapters on Boothby Pagnell Manor House, Ellys Manor House, Belton House, Grimsthorpe Castle, Fulbeck Hall, Fulbeck Manor, Leadenham House, Harlaxton Manor and Stoke Rochford Hall.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Jun 9, 2010

Category:Victorian architectureCountry Houses

Stoke Rochford Hall coal tunnel

Stoke Rochford Hall, coal tunnel

When I first got interested in local history, at the age of sixteen, I and my mates had an obsession with what we believed to be secret tunnels, often attached to Georgian houses in mid-Derbyshire where we lived, only to discover in our maturity that they were in fact land-drains.  Now I've found a tunnel under a country house that really has been a secret and is really a tunnel.

I'm particularly glad that Country Houses of Lincolnshire (August 6th-9th 2010) is based in the magnificent surroundings of Harlaxton Manor (Anthony Salvin & William Burn, 1830-7), and whenever I've taken groups to Harlaxton I've always tried to include Stoke Rochford Hall (William Burn, 1841-5), a fascinating scaled-down version of Harlaxton for an owner who wanted a splendid but manageable Jacobethan house with what were later called all modern conveniences.

Stoke Rochford is even more interesting since the disastrous 2005 fire because English Heritage insisted that almost all of the destroyed Victorian craftsmanship should be meticulously replaced, and the owners, the National Union of Teachers, now have a conference-centre full of brand-new "Victorian" craftsmanship.

When I went to reconnoitre for the 2010 tour Suzi, my guide, casually mentioned a "coal tunnel", and showed me a virtually intact brick tunnel, complete with iron railway-rails and turntables, to convey coal into the house.

The staff at Harlaxton, now the American campus of the University of Evansville, Indiana, are very proud of their railway-viaduct, with wooden rails, that brought coal and other goods into the attics of the house, and had no idea that the neighbours at Stoke Rochford had in their cellar a similar facility which, it has to be said, is more modest in size but perhaps better preserved.

The 40-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 tour Country Houses of Lincolnshire, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  It contains chapters on Boothby Pagnell Manor House, Ellys Manor House, Belton House, Grimsthorpe Castle, Fulbeck Hall, Fulbeck Manor, Leadenham House, Harlaxton Manor and Stoke Rochford Hall.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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