- The Architecture of Sharpe, Paley and Austin by Geoff Brandwood
When edmund Sharpe (1809–77) returned to Lancaster in 1835 from his two-year tour of the Continent to start what was to become one of England’s most productive provincial architectural practices, he immediately set about putting to use his deep knowledge of Romanesque and Gothic architecture in the designs of a number of remarkable country churches that became the practice’s hallmark until its closing in 1944−45. Only ten years later, Sharpe handed over the practice to his brother-in-law and business partner, Edward Graham Paley (1823–95), in order to concentrate on, among other interests, his career as an architectural writer and builder of railways in Wales and on the Continent. In 1868, Paley acquired as a new partner Hubert James Austin (1841–1915), another of Sharpe’s relatives by marriage, a man whose architectural genius is considered to have propelled the practice to a greatness that radiated far beyond the northern counties where almost all of their projects were commissioned and built. The last principal to join the practice was Paley’s son Henry Anderson Paley (1859–1946), who continued working into the late 1930s. Over the last fifty years, their buildings (which include churches, schools, railway stations, country houses, and bridges) have attracted the attention and admiration of architectural historians such as Nikolaus Pevsner and James Price, the latter of whom published two concise studies of the practice in the 1990s and contributed his expertise to the present book. In The Architecture of Sharpe, Paley and Austin, Geoff Brandwood, whose earlier publications include Temple Moore: An Architect of the Late Gothic Revival (1997) and Ruskin & Architecture (co-edited with Rebecca Daniels, 2003), for the first time offers a comprehensive history of the practice’s works and the intersecting networks of family and business relationships that often led to major commissions and that help to explain the remarkable stability of the practice’s economic success. Proceeding largely chronologically, in short and concise chapters, Brandwood presents the firm’s stylistic advances and its innovative use of materials such as terracotta, which frequently featured in the practice’s “pot churches” from the 1840s onwards. He does so while discussing in somewhat greater detail a select number of landmark projects, such as the Royal Albert Asylum, Lancaster (1867–73); the rebuilding of Holker Hall (1871–75); and St. George’s Church, Stockport (1892–97); [End Page 205] which is generally considered Austin’s master work. Those readers wishing to learn more about a particular building—either realized or planned but unbuilt—may consult Brandwood’s comprehensive catalogue of works by Sharpe, the Paleys, and Austin, which forms one of five appendices offering a wealth of details about the practice’s pupils, contractors, and craftsmen. Though not a guidebook, Brandwood’s monograph will contribute to the ongoing rediscovery, reassessment, and preservation of Victorian and early twentieth-century architecture in northern England, whose existence is often threatened, as is the case elsewhere.
The book is profusely illustrated with Mark Watson’s splendid photos of many of the practice’s surviving buildings, as well as with an impressive array of historical photos, drawings, and engravings of buildings from archives and collections across the country. These illustrations allow the reader to follow the development of the firm’s architectural style, which can still be encountered in many places in Lancashire and its adjacent counties.
Martin Spies is a research assistant in the English department at the Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany. He received his PhD in 2009 from the University of Ghent (Belgium) with a dissertation entitled Victorian Visions of Lady Jane Grey. His current research focuses on country-house literature and on early modern concepts and representations of genealogy in England and Scotland.