Architects and Craftsmen of Wolverhampton's Buildings

ARKELL, Daniel. flourished about 1890. Temple Row based architect responsible for many developments in Birmingham.

BANKS, Edward. Flourished from about 1842 to 1874. Banks was a Wolverhampton architect of some renown, whose offices were in Red Lion Street. Banks was a pupil of Charles Fowler (1792–1867), one of the founder members of the R.I.B.A. In the course of his career Banks changed the face of the town, for amongst the building in the town to which he contributed were the School of Art and Design, The Cattle Market, St. Matthew’s Church (demolished), The Royal Hospital, Holy Trinity Church at Heath Town, the Booking Hall and possibly High Level Station (demolished). Banks was also responsible for Wolverhampton’s original station which was at the top of Broad Street. Out of town he was responsible for the rebuilding of Codsall Church (and possibly the station) and the restoration of Bushbury Church (where he also gave one of the stained glass windows) and the Church of St. Paul at Coven. It was Banks who surveyed St. Bartholemew’s in Upper Penn. Other churches for which Banks was responsible include St. Milburger’s  1854/57 at Beckbury and St. John’s at Stretton. Further afield, Banks designed All Saint’s 1851/52 at Catfielf  in Norfolk and St. Andrews at Chinnor in Oxford.

Banks also designed model dwellings and lodgings in Brickkiln Street (1853). In town he was responsible for many shops and houses. He designed the school built near to the church of St. Luke. He even planned a campanile in the “style of Giotto” in John Street. Edward Banks was a very prominent figure in the life of the town, serving on the council and as a member of the Public Works Committee. For a short period Banks was in partnership with George Bidlake with whom he collaborated on St. Andrew’s in 1865/67 and St. Matthew’s in 1847/49, both in Wolverhampton.

BATES, Ernest. Flourished about 1868. Manchester architect. Designer of the Town Hall. Also responsible for St. Martin’s at Castlemoor, Rochdale.

BIDLAKE, George. (1829/30-1892) Bidlake was a Wolverhampton architect who lived at No 54 Waterloo Road, next to the Subscription Library. His offices were in Darlington Street until his partnership with Lovatt in April 1853. Bidlake designed the powerful Queen Street Congregational Chapel (demolished). In a very different vein from the Queen Street Chapel is the attractive church of St. Jude 1867-9, on the Tettenhall Road. This church has a particularly graceful spire, (added later by Fleeming) which can best be viewed from a place that the architects would never have dreamed, the top floor of the Wulfrun College. In autumn especially the top of the church rides above a profusion of multi-hued trees. Bidlake was also responsible for the Church of St. Mary, Coseley, though the later chancel is by Fleeming. Bidlake was one of the architects who submitted plans for the new Town Hall, but those of E. Bates were accepted. His designs for Bilston Town Hall (with Lovatt) were however accepted. Also in the Wolverhampton area, Bidlake designed Tettenhall Towers, now part of Tettenhall College, and the Congregational Church Sedgley (with Lovatt). Holy Trinity Methodist Church in Compton Road has recently been demolished; this is sad for the number of Bidlake buildings is ever diminishing. Every so often there are plans to demolish Bilston Town Hall. If this happens it would be a severe loss as Bilston does not have a great deal of good quality Victorian buildings.1 Bidlake also designed the Workhouse at Trysull of which little remains, having been converted to industrial use. Out of the area Bidlake was responsible for the Congregational Chapel at Stone. Bidlake also wrote on architectural matters and in 1865 published “Sketches of Churches Designed for the Use of Nonconformists”. Bidlake later moved to Leamington.

BOULTON, Richard Lockwood (c.1832-1905). This firm was responsible for the Panels on the Art Gallery and the reredos in the church of S.S. Mary and John. The firm of Boulton and Son had premises in Cheltenham.

CHATWIN, Charles Alfred (1829-1907). Chatwin was responsible for the Museum and Art Gallery. Chatwin was a pupil of Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament. He was a local Birmingham man and the founder of a dynasty of Birmingham architects. Between 1864 and 1869 he was responsible for the refacing of St. Philip’s Cathedral and later in 1883 remodelled part of the inside. He was also mainly responsible for the rebuilding of St. Martins in the Bull Ring. He also designed Lloyds bank in Queen Square, Wolverhampton. He later worked with his son J.B. Chatwin.

CHRISTIAN, Ewan (1814-1895). After being articled to M. Habershon, Christian set up in practice in 1842. He was responsible for the sensitive restoration of St. Peter’s Church in Wolverhampton. Whilst at work on St. Peter’s, Christian was asked to survey the newly completed Corn Exchange; his report points to a roof nearly in a state of collapse. It was Christian who was called upon to report on the poor state of nearby Lapley church. Christian was both architect and architectural adviser to the Ecclesiastical Commissions from 1850 and consulting architect to the Charity Commissioners from collapse. It was Christian who was called upon to report on the poor state of nearby 1887. His most famous work was the National Portrait Gallery in London. He was President of the R.I.B.A. from 1884-6. He was awarded the R.I.B.A. Gold Medal in 1887. “His life was one of quiet domestic happiness, and ceaseless labour, however, which he supremely enjoyed, and which bought him a well-deserved reward of wealth sufficient for his wants and his liberality of reputation, honourable position, and the esteem of valued friends”.2

EBBELS, Robert. Died 1860. A very prolific artist of Trysull and Tettenhall Wood. Amongst the local churches for which Ebbels was responsible can be included Holy Trinity, Bilston in 1833/35, St. Peter's at Priorslee in 1831/37, also churches in Herefordshire, Coventry, Carmarthanshire and Surrey.

FLEEMING, Thomas Henry (1849-1935). A Wolverhampton architect whose offices were at 102 Darlington Street. Fleeming’s most exuberant building must surely be Barclays Bank in Queen Square. Fleeming was also responsible for the Eye Infirmary in Chapel Ash. One of Fleeming’s church commissions was the church of St. Barnabas on the Wednesfield Road, 1892-3. This is a brick building with lancet windows. It is now used by the New Testament Church of God. Much of the brick work has been covered in rough cast.

HANSOM, Charles (1816/17?-1888). A Coventry architect, Hansom was the architect of S.S. Mary and John. He also designed Clifton College and Christ Church, both in Bristol.

HARDMAN (See under John Hardman & Company)

HARE, Henry T. (1860-1921). Hare was President of the R.I.B.A. 1917-1919. He designed Wolverhampton Library. Hare was an outstanding and prolific architect and designer of large buildings in a wide variety of styles. He was born in Scarborough and studied in Paris. He ran his own practice from 1891 onwards. He also designed the County Buildings Stafford, Oxford Town Hall and parts of Bangor University.

JOHN HARDMAN & COMPANY. Hardman & Co. of Birmingham are very much a local firm (and one that is still in existence) and although their glass is found throughout Britain and indeed the world, fine examples are to be seen in the Midlands. The founder of the firm, John Hardan (1811-1867) who originally produced ecclesiastical metalwork, such as altar rails and screens. He included stained glass in his output at the instigation of his friend Pugin. Until 1849 Pugin designed all of Hardman & Co.’s stained glass, indeed most of it was destined for churches designed by him. After his death in 1852, his nephew, John Hardman Powell (1828-1895) became chief designer. He originally worked in the Gothic style favoured by his uncle, but eventually he and his team of designers developed a more pictorial style. The glass in S.S. Mary and John clearly illustrates this change. The Hardman family were Roman Catholics and a great deal of the firm’s output was for Roman Catholic churches, built in great numbers after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. S.S. Mary and John was designed by the Roman Catholic architect Charles Hansom in 1851 and extended by him in 1879-80. The Hardman glass was gradually added after 1880. The first piece installed in 1880; it depicted the Crucifixion and was the work of F. Green, one of a team of four designers led by J.H. Powell who were working for the firm at this date. An example of Hardman and Co. metalwork can be seen in St. Peter’s. It is a memorial brass to Rev. Jeffcock, in the memorial arcade in the South Aisle.

KEMPE, Charles Eamer (1837-1907). Kempe designed stained glass windows in St. Peter’s Church and those in the chapel of the Royal School, Penn Road. There are also other examples of his work at Wombourne and Pattingham. Kempe came from a wealthy background and went to Oxford with the intention of entering the church. A severe stammer prevented this; so Kempe, who was deeply religious, turned instead to church decoration, producing carvings and embroideries as well as over 3,000 windows, all in elaborate High Church style. Kempe trained at the workshop of Clayton and Bell, who at this time were producing stained glass in a distinctive Gothic style with a preponderance of dark colours, particularly deep blue backgrounds. Kempe’s own lightness of touch could hardly be a greater contrast. Kempe set up his own workshop in 1869. Kempe died in 1907, but his firm continued under the direction of his cousin, Walter Tower, who added his own “tower” badge to Kempe’s Wheatsheaf when signing glass. The company, known after Kempe’s death as C.E. Kempe and Co. Ltd., continued in production until 1934. There were also a number of designers who were influenced by, or who produced glass in direct imitation of Kempe. Chief amongst these was Herbert Bryans (1855-1925) who did succeed in capturing something of Kempe’s delicacy of design. (A good example of Bryan’s work, signed with his greyhound emblem, can be seen in St. Nicholas’ church, Codsall). Other imitators simply copied the pale tones of Kempe glass, until by the mid-20th century the genre had become merely washed out and colourless.

There can be no better assessment of Kempe’s work than that of Lady Mander: “Kempe’s work has a unique charm; its colours shine out from jewels that cluster on the mitres or the crowns his figures wear and from their peacock’s feathers, while angels playing their instruments are drawn with tender delicacy and scattered above the main windows informally but making a pattern of precision. Above all, the prevailing yellow wash is literally translucent, for it lets through the rays of the full or the setting sun, less, one feels, to show the beauty of the conception than ,in so intensely religious an artist, to bring reassurance from a source of everlasting light.” 3

MARSHALL, Arthur (1858-1915). Architect of Darlington Street Methodist Chapel. Also responsible for the original Workhouse buildings at New Cross.

MINTON, Herbert. Herbert Minton provided tiles for the churches of St. John and St. Luke. Minton began the successful manufacture of tiles as Minton and Co. in 1840. A criticism at the time of church tiles, was that they were too uniform, one critic said that when laid they looked like linoleum. Minton avoided this by not glazing the body of the tile but only painting over the inlaid part with vitreous enamel. Minton also modified the bright surfaces by random indentation and by darkening the inlay so creating a more genuine looking medieval effect. When a church ordered his tiles, Minton made a practice of making a gift of the tiles to be placed east of the communion rail. In the case of St. Luke’s the whole floor was the gift of Minton.

ORFORD, C.W. flourished between 1846-1850. Architect of St. Mark’s, Chapel Ash. Orford also designed the church of St. Jude, Hill Street, Birmingham. Pevsner says of the latter “obviously cheap Gothic: plain everywhere, of brick with meager stone dressing”. However the first vicar of St. Mark’s described his new church as his “little cathedral” and there is no denying that on close inspection the building does have its finer points, especially the tower and spire. Orford was also responsible for St. Jude’s 1849/51 and St. Luke’s 1850/51, both in Birmingham. As can be seen from the dates when he flourished, Orford had a very brief career.

PHIPPS, Charles John. (1835-1897). Phipps specialised in the design of theatres and was responsible for the Grand Theatre. He was also responsible for the Theatre Royal, Nottingham; the Lyric Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre, London.

ROBINSON, George Thomas (1828-1897). A Wolverhampton architect who later moved to Leamington. Architect and designer of the ill-fated Exchange Building in Wolverhampton (possibly with his father Richard). Robinson was also responsible for the church of St. Luke, Upper Villiers Street, which is a riot of polychrome brickwork. Pevsner describes him as a rogue architect and in discussing one particular strange detail about St. Luke’s asks, “Who in the name of reason would do that?”. Also responsible for the Old Town Hall at Burslem. Robinson designed the original public baths in the street of that name. Nearby churches for which Robinson was responsible include Christ Church, Gailey, although the chancel is by J. Fowler; also the church of St. John, Bishops wood, which is a delight.

TANNER, Sir Henry. The Post Office. Sir Henry Tanner was the Government Architect and in his own day not very highly regarded as he was thought to be lacking in artistic reputation. When the architect John Bryden left unfinished the Government Buildings in Parliament Square London, they were finished by Tanner. When the new building was opened in 1908, the Architectural Review commented “…the intrusion of another hand less inspired than the original designer is plainly evident.” Tanner also designed Post Offices in Birmingham (1891), Bury St Edmunds, York, Bradford and Leeds as well as being responsible for the Custom House Cardiff and the Serpentine Gallery and Oceanic House, London.

THEED, William (1804-1891). Carved the statue of Viscount Pelham, now in West Park. Theed was born at nearby Trentham where his father, also a sculptor, designed for Wedgwood. Theed was a highly respected artist who was a pupil of Edward Hodges Bailey. For twenty two years Theed worked and studied in Rome. He exhibited at the Royal Academy and was responsible for carving the "Africa" group on the Albert Memorial. He also sculpted a bust of Prince Albert that formed part of the private collection of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

THORNEYCROFT, Thomas (1815-1885). The Statue of Prince Albert, Queen Square. Thorneycroft was one of the most eminent Victorian sculptors whose most famous work is probably the statue of Boadicea on the banks of the Thames. Thorneycroft cornered a fair share of the market in Albertan memorabilia for he provided statues of the Prince not only for Wolverhampton but for Halifax and Liverpool. He was also responsible for the “Commerce” group on the Albert Memorial. Thorneycroft was present at the unveiling but the story that he committed suicide after seeing a fault in his work is myth.

VEALL, James Reade (c. 1824-1898). Wolverhampton architect who did some restoration work on St. Peter's before Christian. Veall was responsible for the official decoration of the town for the Queen's visit and was also responsible for the design of St. Michael and All Angels, Caldmore, Walsall.

WAILES, William (1808-1881). Wailes designed the “Wellington” window in St Peter’s. Originally a grocer who dabbled in art, Wailes decided to try his hand at stained glass manufacture in 1838, beginning with a kiln at the back of his shop. A hitherto undiscovered talent surfaced and four years later he was collaborating with A.W.N. Pugin. Wailes was Pugin's third collaborator for he had quarrelled with the previous two, and they worked together for only three years. The break with Pugin does not seem to have hindered Wailes’ progress, since his output increased steadily throughout the 1840s, and by the early 1850s he was employing 76 workers. Wailes was a businessman rather than a designer, but he employed artists of a high caliber. One of whom was Joseph Baguley (1834-1915) who worked for Wailes in the 1850s and later set up his own firm, one of whose windows can be seen in the church of St. John. In 1859, Wailes firm produced one of its finest works, the West Window of Gloucester Cathedral. After this, although styles in stained glass moved on, Wailes’ output remained stuck in the Gothic style. He died a wealthy man leaving his Gateshead home as a public park for the town.

WARD AND HUGHES. The firm of Ward and Hughes spans the history of Victorian stained glass from the Gothic revival to the Aesthetic Movement. Despite having worked in so many styles, their windows are easily recognisable since, unlike those of many artists, they are always signed “Ward and Hughes, London” with the date of manufacture. The partnership of Thomas Ward (1808-1870) and Henry Hughes (1822-1883) began in the early 1850s. Thomas Ward had been a stained glass designer for almost twenty years by this time, in partnership with one J.H. Nixon. When Nixon retired Henry Hughes, one of his pupils and a talented designer, took his place. One of the new partnership’s earliest commissions was to restore 14th century windows containing pattered glass and make new windows for the church of St. Mary, Bushbury. These can still be seen: the East and West windows. These windows are not good illustrations of their work since Ward and Hughes simply manufactured the windows to designs by Charles Winston, the antiquarian, and various clergymen. After Ward’s death in 1870 Hughes was free to run things as he wanted. There was clearly a change of direction in the 1870s away from the now stale Gothic style towards a style influenced by the Aesthetic Movement. This can be seen in the two Ward and Hughes windows in the church of St. John, Wolverhampton, which feature figures dressed in Greek drapery. Henry Hughes died in 1883 and the firm was taken over by a relative of his, Thomas Curtis. Soon after, the firm’s output was signed “Curtis, London”. The firm remained operational until the late 1920s, but most of the company’s archives have been lost, so little is known about his remarkable and enduring firm.


1. Having said which, there is the old Bilston College of Art an absolute gem of a building with lovely terracotta medallion reliefs of great artists. At the time of writing (2003) it is boarded up and a sign warns the public to  beware because the building is unsafe. Beautiful and listed buildings have a habit of becoming unsafe and have to be demolished. They also have an extraordinary habit of conveniently catching fire. See it now.
2. Anonymous, "Ewan Christian", 1896
3. Lady Mander, "The Work of C.E. Kempe" Apollo Magazine, Feb. 1973

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