Category Archives: Victorian Architecture

The Pumping Station

Former Cropston Pumping Station, Leicestershire

For most of the nineteenth century, demand for water supply in the borough of Leicester and its surrounding area left the waterworks company – and its successor Leicester Corporation – constantly chasing demand by increasing capacity.

The Leicester Waterworks Company was founded in 1846 and the following year secured an Act of Parliament to build a reservoir and treatment works at Thornton, to the west of the town.

The company struggled to attract capital until the Corporation promised to invest £17,000 of the required £80,000 in return for guarantees of a dividend of 4% per annum until 1883 and all the company’s net profits over 4½% for ever.

Thornton Reservoir began supplying up to 1.6 million gallons in 1853, but within ten years Leicester suffered two serious water shortages, in 1863 and 1864, and Leicester Corporation took shares in the company to finance the reservoir and pumping station at Cropston which opened in 1871.

When the Waterworks Company proposed to increase its capital further in 1874, the Corporation decided to purchase the company outright by means of an enabling Act in 1877.

The water level of Cropston Reservoir was raised to increase capacity in 1887, and in 1890 parliamentary powers were sought to establish another reservoir at Swithland. 

A further severe water shortage in 1893 was relieved only by taking an emergency supply from Ellistown Colliery which customarily supplied Coalville, and construction of the new dam began the following year.

Swithland Reservoir was built at almost the same time as the Great Central Railway line to London, which crosses it on two viaducts.  This stretch of railway now forms part of the Great Central Railway (Loughborough) heritage line.

In preparation for the opening of Swithland Reservoir in 1896, the Cropston pumping station was extended to pump water between the three reservoirs.

No sooner was this system in place than Leicester Corporation went to Parliament for powers to extract water from the Derbyshire River Derwent.  Other authorities had similar ideas and were obliged to collaborate by forming the Derwent Valley Water Board and building the reservoirs at Howden (1912), Derwent (1916) and Ladybower (1945).

The Leicester legacy of this race to build reservoirs includes three reservoirs and two former pumping stations.

Cropston Pumping Station, built for the Leicester Waterworks Company in 1870 and extended by Leicester Corporation Waterworks in 1894, was stripped of its engines and boilers in the 1950s and has been sensitively converted, retaining what was left of the internal installation, to a restaurant, wedding and conference venue by the current owners, Simon and Liz Thompson in 2015: https://www.thepumpingstation.co.uk.

The bar and restaurant space is in the former boiler house and the adjacent 1894 engine house retains the overhead winch which serviced the machinery below.  The 1870 engine house is now a private residence which includes the spiral staircase up the truncated chimney to an observation deck.

Visitors park their cars among the ornamental filter beds, below which is an underground brick reservoir which, in time to come, could become an exciting visitor attraction.

Water supply engineering has the happy advantage of enhancing local amenities.  People are resistant to having their land flooded, but the end-result is attractive, from Derbyshire’s spectacular lakeland to the quieter landscape of the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire.

The Pumping Station, Cropston is a lunch stop on the ‘Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness’ (September 16th-20th 2021) tour. For details of the itinerary, please click here.

Swithland Pumping Station is not accessible to the public.

Muscular Gothic

Bestwood Lodge, Nottinghamshire

On my 2019 ‘Pugin and the Gothic Revival’ tour, we took a lunch stop, between the parish church of St Mary, Derby and St Barnabas’ Cathedral, Nottingham, at the astonishing Bestwood Lodge, now a Best Western hotel:  https://www.bestwoodlodgehotel.co.uk.

Dropping Bestwood Lodge into a tour themed around the work of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was, as Londoners would say, “’avin’ a larf”.

The architect for this extravaganza was Samuel Sanders Teulon (1812-1873), who after twenty years of steady work within the mainstream of the Gothic Revival was beginning to take the theoretical principles of Pugin and Scott to extremes.  He appears to have decided that the time and the market had arrived for him to throw stylistic caution to the wind and build aggressively.  Some modern writers have labelled this style “muscular Gothic”.

Teulon’s client was William Beauclerk, 10th Duke of St Albans (1840-1898), who had the vestiges of a medieval hunting lodge removed to make way for a completely new and quite startling country retreat, in Nottingham pressed brick with Mansfield stone dressings vigorously carved by the Nottingham-born sculptor Thomas Earp (1828-1893).

The house stands high on a defined level terrace;  its gables, dormers, chimneys and spires give it a lively skyline and its elevations bristle with a succession of varied bays, turrets and buttresses.

The main porch is a weird collection of Gothic ingredients – vaulting supporting an oriel, flying buttresses at right angles to each other and quirky pinnacles set diagonally.  Carvings of Robin Hood and his merry men peer down from this bizarre composition. 

The wing to the left of the entrance looks for all the world like a chapel but was designed originally – to the expressed disapproval of the ultra-orthodox Ecclesiologist – as the servants’ hall.  Later on it did in fact become a chapel.

The most impressive interior space is the central hall, top-lit by an octagonal lantern, its Gothic arcading almost certainly modified by a later owner.  The heavy stepped fireplace shows how far Teulon was prepared to squash, stretch and distort orthodox Gothic forms.  It seems not to have harmed his commercial prospects;  Pevsner relates that it was on the recommendation of his work at Bestwood that he was invited to work at Sandringham.

The tenth Duke’s friendship with Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, brought numerous royal visits, sometimes incognito:  the Prince and Princess of Wales stayed at Bestwood for the opening of the Castle Museum in 1878, and Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, visited when he opened University College in 1881.

After the death of the tenth Duke in 1898 the house was leased for long periods while his son, Charles, 11th Duke (1870-1934) was confined to an asylum.  It was finally vacated when the estate was sold to pay the eleventh Duke’s death duties in 1938. 

The purchaser was Sir Harold Bowden, 2nd Bt (1880-1960), chairman of the Raleigh Bicycle Company.  The house was first requisitioned and later purchased by the Army for headquarters, and became a hotel in the 1970s.

Pugin would have loathed it.

Exploring Sydney – Parramatta

Anglican Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia
St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia

One of my resolutions on my 2017 visit to Sydney was to make the most of the network of ferries across the harbour, and I decided to take one of the two longest trips, to Parramatta.

I had no great hopes of Parramatta – a settlement founded in the same year as Sydney itself, 1788, in the hope of establishing a farm away from the unproductive soil of the coastal area.  I enjoyed the ferry, and on the strength of a free street-map of Parramatta I walked up river to find St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral which was a great surprise.

From the outside it looks an entirely conventional Gothic revival church of parochial size dated 1854, distinguished only by its tower and spire which is later, 1880.  The entrance is located at the east end, and within is a breathtakingly modern chapel with brilliant white walls, built within the original shell and the nave arcade.  The old cathedral was burnt down in 1996, and the shell now serves as a prelude for the new cathedral, designed by Romaldo Giurgola of MGT Architects, built at right angles to the liturgical north, an open-plan space with much modern sculpture and glass, and a Norman & Beard organ brought from St Saviour’s, Knightsbridge and rebuilt here in 2005.  Outside is a monument to Pope John Paul II, a sculptural group featuring the Pope with four young people by Linda Klarfeld.

I walked to the opposite end of Church Street, where stands the Anglican Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, built in 1852-5 in Romanesque style – unusual in Australia – and distinguished by earlier twin towers with spires of c1820 based on the ruined church of St Mary at Reculver in Kent, which was reputedly the last English church the Governor’s wife, Elizabeth Macquarie, saw as she set off for Australia.  Almost all the woodwork in this dark, warm building is in the Romanesque style, except the font, which is a gift from the Māori people of New Zealand, carved by the Māori craftsman Charles Tuaru in 1966-9.

I returned to Sydney by train from Parramatta station, on a suburban double-deck train which gives good views of the passing suburbs.  When the train drew into Lidburne station I remembered it was where on a previous visit I’d got off to explore Rookwood Cemetery, the destination of trains from the Mortuary Station next to Central.  And sure enough, as we drew out of the station I spotted a siding that turns away from the main line and points across the road to the gap in the graves where the trains used to run.

My first library

Attercliffe Library, Sheffield

When I was around six or seven years old, circa 1954, my mother would collect me from Huntsman’s Gardens Schools, in the depths of Sheffield’s industrial east end, and call round at Attercliffe Library for her weekly fix of books to read.  Though she had left school at fourteen, she was an omnivorous reader.

I have a clear memory that, while she browsed, I would make a beeline for the bottom shelf of the music section, dig out a score of Handel’s Messiah and stare in wonderment at the multiple staves of the ‘Halleluiah Chorus’, amazed to see how much music could be going on at one instant.

How I reached this I’ve no idea.  Somehow I must have known that the ‘Halleluiah Chorus’ was part of Messiah and that it had been written by George Frideric Handel, but the piece is actually buried at the end of Part II and so isn’t easy for a little kid to find.

Attercliffe Library, built in 1894, still exists, an elegant Jacobethan building next door to the older Attercliffe Baths of 1879.  It was designed by Charles Wilke, about whom next to nothing is known.

For nearly a hundred years it provided knowledge and entertainment to Attercliffe workers and their families and then, when the houses eventually came down, it closed in 1986.

It’s now a rather fine restaurant, spearheading the cultural renaissance of Attercliffe as a place to visit:  https://www.thelibrarybylounge.co.uk.

Happy resort

Felixstowe, Suffolk

Over years of driving into East Anglia I have only associated Felixstowe with processions of container trucks hammering down the A14.

When I stayed at the Woodbridge Station Guest House I took the train to Ipswich and then on to Felixstowe to a happy surprise.  “Felix” is, after all, Latin for “happy”.

The mouth of the River Orwell has been strategically important, both for trade and defence, since Roman times at least, and grew markedly after the arrival of the railway in 1877 and the opening of the port in 1886.

The passenger train-service now terminates at the latest of the town’s three stations, Felixstowe Town (1898), which was built in response to an upturn in tourism after the 1891 visit of Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein (1858-1921), Queen Victoria’s great-niece and the wife of Germany’s last Kaiser, Wilhelm II.

The walk down Hamilton Road, now partly pedestrianised, leads to a clifftop view of the Pier (1905;  rebuilt 2017) [http://www.felixstowe-pier.co.uk], with the cranes of the distant docks to the right, and the promenade to the left.

On the way, you pass the former Ritz Cinema (1937;  still operating as the Palace) [http://www.palacecinemafelixstowe.com].

The seafront is dotted with opulent former hotels, of which the Felix Hotel (1903) is the most prominent.  This is where Princess Victoria and her family stayed in 1901 and, coincidentally, where Wallis Simpson took rooms while her divorce took place in nearby Ipswich in 1936.  (This was the occasion of the legendary American newspaper headline “KING’S MOLL RENO’D IN WOLSEY’S HOME TOWN.”)  The Felix closed in 1952 and became the headquarters of the fertiliser company Fisons Ltd for thirty years.  It is now, predictably, converted to apartments.

Landguard Fort [http://www.landguard.com] introduces visitors to the long history of Felixstowe’s defences.  This was the location of the last opposed invasion of England in 1677, and four of the original seven Martello towers in the town survive.

I had a typical seaside lunch, fish and chips at Fish Dish [http://www.myfishdish.co.uk].  When I told the guy behind the till that the place reminded me of Whitby he smiled and said he’d trained and worked at Whitby for thirteen years before setting up in Essex.

The pleasures of Felixstowe are simple.  On a sunny day you can sit on a promenade bench and watch vast container ships, loaded to capacity, making their way out of the port at surprising speed.

And, because Ipswich is a significant rail hub, you can visit Felixstowe from far afield without using a car.

Woodbridge Station Guest House

Woodbridge Station, Suffolk

The Station Guest House at Woodbridge – https://woodbridgestationguesthouse.co.uk – is an excellent example of practical reuse of a potentially redundant station building.  The station itself continues to operate as the first stop out of Ipswich on the line to Lowestoft and the building houses a high-quality café, the three-bedroom guest house, a florist’s shop and a taxi office. 

The station was built for the former East Suffolk Railway and opened in 1859.  A footbridge provides access both to the Ipswich-bound platform and also to the banks of the nearby River Deben.

I had a comfortable family room with a double bed and a single bed, with an en-suite which allowed me to watch people walking over the footbridge without them seeing me at my ablutions.  It’s a corner room, so from one window I could watch the trains arrive and depart over the level crossings and from the other I could watch the boats riding the tide on the river.

Breakfast is served promptly at 9.00am at a reserved table in the café and the service is admirable.  The only minor downside is that car-parking is £3.00 a day maximum and you have to feed the meter before the guy with the hi-vis jacket books you.  The notice by the machine warns that photographs may be taken, which I read as a threat.

There’s really no reason to bring a car to stay at the Station Guest House.  There’s a perfectly good train service that links with London and East Coast services via Ipswich.

Carla, the delightful lady who welcomed me to the Station Guest House , reeled off a list of places to have dinner as the café closes at 3.00pm.  For most of my stay, however, I happily picnicked each night with more than enough tea and coffee and the sound of the trains through the open window. 

Woodbridge itself is an attractive town.  Beside the river is the Woodbridge Tide Mill, one of two remaining tidal watermills that are restored to working order and producing wholemeal flour for sale [https://woodbridgetidemill.org.uk] and on the opposite bank is the National Trust Sutton Hoo Visitor Centre [https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-hoo], marking the site of the enormously significant Anglo-Saxon ship burial, excavated in 1939. 

First-class fishery

Lister Drive Baths, Liverpool: first-class swimming pool (2019)

Some conversions of old buildings to new uses are an uneasy compromise – cinemas converted into apartment blocks, places of worship adapted as pubs.

The former Lister Drive Baths in Liverpool is an example of reuse as pure genius.

Lister Drive, connecting Newsham Park with Green Lane, was laid out in the late 1890s and furnished with a series of Corporation buildings, all of them overseen, but not all designed by the City Surveyor, Thomas Shelmerdine.

At the west end of the Drive, nearest the Park, was the tramway electricity generating station (c1902, demolished), and to the east Green Lane Council School  (1907, demolished) and Thomas Shelmerdine’s Green Lane Carnegie Library (1904-05, currently being restored), and in the centre the Lister Drive Baths, designed by the Corporation Baths Engineer, W R Court (1901-04) on the basis of “sketch designs” by Shelmerdine.

The Baths is an essay in terracotta, inside and out, in what is described as a “free English Renaissance” style.  The tiles and bricks were supplied by Pilkington & Company, including fish and leaf designs by Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857-1941).  The layout provided first- and second-class plunge baths for men (60ft × 30ft and 75ft × 35ft respectively), first-, second- and third-class private baths for men, and women’s private baths.  Women were allowed access to the first-class men’s bath on certain days.

Hot water for the baths was supplied by the nearby electricity generating station.

The Baths were closed because of bomb damage during the Second World War, and were repaired and reopened in August 1949.  They finally closed in 1987 and were appropriately adapted as a welcoming pet shop, with the first-class pool given over to koi carp.

During opening hours the public are welcome to look around, without any obligation to buy so much as a packet of bird-seed. And if you have a pet, it seems the Lister Fisheries & Pet Centre has everything they might need or want:  http://www.listerpetcentre.co.uk/index.html.

The rescheduled Unexpected Liverpool (June 7th-11th 2021) tour includes an informal visit to the Lister Drive BathsFor further details please click here.

Rivelin Valley cemetery

Cemetery of St Michael, Rivelin Valley, Sheffield: chapel interior

On the north-western outskirts of Sheffield, a short walk up the Rivelin Valley from the Supertram terminus at Malin Bridge, a gateway leads to the Roman Catholic cemetery of St Michael, opened in 1862 and still in use:  https://www.saintmichaelscemetery.org.

After the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, the first parish church in the area was St Bede’s, opened at Masborough on the then outskirts of Rotherham in 1842.  It was followed by the parish church of St Marie in Sheffield (1850), now the cathedral of the Diocese of Hallam, and another large church, St Vincent’s (1853 onwards) was started in The Crofts, an overcrowded area north of the town centre where Irish Catholics settled after the Potato Famine.

Of these, only St Bede’s had a burial ground, until in 1862 the priest at St Vincent’s, Father Burke, purchased eight acres of steeply sloping land in the Rivelin Valley from the snuff-manufacturer Mr Wilson, whose family had also provided the land for the General Cemetery nearly thirty years before.

The cemetery, with a temporary chapel, was dedicated on Michaelmas Day, September 29th 1863.

The present chapel was built in 1877, financed by a gift of £2,000 from the Sheffield tailor and gents’ outfitter, George Harvey Foster, and designed by the father-and-son practice Matthew Ellison and Charles Hadfield.  This new chapel is 72 feet long and 22 feet wide, built in the Early English style.  It has an apsidal east end, a sixty-foot-high bellcote above the west door, and the south-west porch is embellished with a statue of St Michael slaying Satan as a dragon.

The interior, restored in 2005, is distinguished by the work of an impressive group of contemporary artists.  The marble and alabaster altar, with its figure of the dead Christ, is from the Cheltenham workshop of the sculptor Richard Lockwood Boulton. 

Further decorations were funded by a gift of £430 by the Foster family in 1884 – wall paintings by Charles Hadfield and Nathaniel Westlake, who also designed the west window, and the three east windows, designed by John Francis Bentley who later became the architect of Westminster Cathedral and manufactured by Nathaniel Westlake’s stained-glass company, Lavers & Westlake.

The two most prominent monuments in the cemetery stand above the family vaults of George Harvey Foster (1829-1894), and the department-store proprietor, John Walsh (d1905), respectively gothic and neo-Classical and constructed within a decade of each other. 

The sharp gradient makes exploring the cemetery a strenuous activity, and visitors are advised not to stray from paths because gravestones may be unstable.

Higher up the valley side are two more burial grounds, a very small Jewish cemetery and the Church of England Walkley Cemetery, both opened in 1860.

Chris Hobbs’ local-history website has a feature on Walkley Cemetery:  https://www.chrishobbs.com/sheffield/walkleycemetery.htm.

The Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (September 16th-20th 2021) tour includes a visit to St Michael’s Cemetery.  For further details of the tour please click here.

Steel workers’ resting place 3

City Road Cemetery, Sheffield: Catholic Chapel of St Michael (2014)

When the very last Sheffield tram came off the streets in October 1960 an assiduous member of its load of enthusiasts made sure that, as the gates of Tinsley Tram Sheds closed behind it, its destination indicator showed ‘CEMETERY GATES’.

The cemetery gates at which Intake trams sometimes turned back was City Road, established by the newly-formed Sheffield Burial Board on a site east of the town-centre purchased from the 15th Duke of Norfolk in 1881. 

The original buildings – Church of England and Nonconformist chapels, a gateway and lodge on Manor Lane and a gatehouse and offices on City Road, all in late Perpendicular style – were designed by the Sheffield architects Matthew Ellison Hadfield & Son.

The initial apportionment of land was between the Church of England (slightly over 20 acres), the Nonconformists (13 acres) and the Roman Catholics (7 acres), leaving 9 acres to allocated as required in future.

There was no Roman Catholic chapel at the cemetery until 1898, when the Duke of Norfolk commissioned a design with a hexagonal sanctuary and a central lantern above the altar, 60 feet long, by Matthew Ellison Hadfield’s son Charles.  Dedicated to St Michael, the foundation stone was laid on July 22nd 1899, and it was consecrated on October 11th 1900.

A subsequent resolution by the Burial Board allowed the space in front of the chapel to be used for burials of Catholic clergy, and it became known as the Priest Vaults.

In 1901 Sheffield Corporation, having taken over the functions of the Burial Board the previous year, gained legal powers to construct one of the first municipal crematoria in Britain, and commissioned Charles Hadfield and his son Charles Matthew Ellison Hadfield to design an octagonal structure alongside the Nonconformist chapel, based on the Abbot’s Kitchen at Glastonbury so that the steel exhaust from the cremator could pass through the Gothic lantern which provided light and ventilation to the space below. 

Charles M E Hadfield’s bronze catafalque was constructed by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts and installed in the chapel, and a columbarium was installed in the south side of the City Road entrance range.

The crematorium opened on April 5th 1905.  The first cremation was of Eliza Hawley of Upperthorpe, on April 24th 1905, in the presence of her family, the architect and the Town Clerk.  A further six cremations took place in the following six months to November 1905.

The Church of England chapel was demolished in 1982, having been made redundant by the construction of a modern chapel to the north of the crematorium.  All the other original buildings on the site remain, though the Catholic Chapel has been derelict for years.

City Road Cemetery is included in the itinerary of the Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (September 16th-20th 2021) tour. For further details of the tour please click here.

Everton landmarks

Everton Library, Liverpool: entrance (2019)

One of the destinations on the Unexpected Liverpool (June 1st-5th 2020) tour is the iron church of St George, Everton, which I first visited so long ago – in 1978 – that I could photograph on the opposite side of the road the Catholic Church of Our Lady Immaculate, the only vestige of Edward Welby Pugin’s Catholic Cathedral to be built in 1853-6.

Our Lady Immaculate was knocked down in the early 1990s but there are still other significant buildings to see in the vicinity of St George’s.

Almost directly across the road on a triangular site is Everton Library (1895-6), a bold, varied but taut freestyle design – a blend of Jacobean and Arts & Crafts – by the versatile Corporation Surveyor Thomas Shelmerdine (1845-1921) who, between 1871 and 1912 built several other branch libraries and the grand Hornby Library in the city centre, the ponderous gates to Sefton Park, the fire station and tramway offices at Hatton Garden, another fire station at Kirkdale, several schools and a couple of colleges and a tactful extension to the Town Hall.  He laid out St John’s Gardens once it was decided that the Anglican Cathedral wouldn’t be built there.

Everton Library closed in 1996 and is now in a parlous state because of vandalism and neglect alike:  [https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/stop-rot-plans-evertons-jewel-10961779 and https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/signature-living-plans-transform-decaying-15342770].   Repeated efforts to convert it into a community hub and enterprise centre have foundered, and it figures in the Victorian Society’s 2019 list of endangered buildings:  https://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/everton-library-liverpool.   

A few yards from the Library stands the lively, turreted half-timbered The Mere Bank public house (1881), bristling with terracotta panels and plasterwork, and until recently still trading, though they haven’t updated their Facebook page since Hallowe’en:  https://www.facebook.com/MerebankPub.

In the distance, and visible for miles across the Mersey, is Everton Waterworks (Thomas Duncan, 1853-7) [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTRfHTX0bJE], which consists of an underground reservoir and a Piranesian high-level water-tank, 90 feet above ground-level, holding 2,700 gallons, dwarfing the two Italianate pumphouses, built to provide a head of water in the time before 1891 when Liverpool took its water from Lake Vrynwy in mid-Wales.  Everton Waterworks has been long disused, yet a mystery buyer purchased it for £71,000 in March 2019:  https://lbndaily.co.uk/mystery-buyer-pays-70000-evertons-victorian-water-tower.  It remains to be seen what they plan to do with it.

The rescheduled Unexpected Liverpool (June 7th-11th 2021) tour not only includes a visit to St George’s Church, Everton, but also to the sister iron church of St Michael-in-the-Hamlet, ToxtethFor further details please click here.