Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Pearson, John Loughborough

PEARSON, JOHN LOUGHBOROUGH (1817–1897), architect, born in Brussels in 1817, was the son of William Pearson, etcher and water-colourist, whose father, a solicitor, belonged to a family possessing property in the neighbourhood of Durham. After pupilage (1831) in the office of Ignatius Bonomi [see Bonomi, Joseph, the elder] at Durham, young Pearson continued his architectural training in London, first under Anthony Salvin [q. v.], and next with Philip Hardwick [q. v.]; under Hardwick he was engaged upon the drawings of the hall and library of Lincoln's Inn, which are said to owe at least as much to the assistant as to the master. In 1843 Pearson began independent practice. His first office was in Keppel Street, Bloomsbury, and his first works were for Yorkshire, such as Ellerker Chapel in 1843, the churches of Elloughton and Wauldby in 1844, Ellerton in 1846, and North Ferriby, completed in the same year. In 1850 Pearson began the first of the London churches with which his name is associated. Holy Trinity, Bessborough Gardens, designed for Archdeacon Bentinck, was looked upon by the contemporary leaders of the Gothic revival as a conspicuous example of good work. The style adopted was the 'geometric' type of Gothic, and the church is remarkable for the dimensions of the chancel, which, owing to a peculiarity of the site, is made wider than the nave.

Pearson had already begun his work as a restorer on the churches of Lea, Lincolnshire, Llangasty Tallylyn, and others. He had also (1848) done his first domestic work, a house at Treberfydd. In 1863 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. Various works of church restoration belong to this period such as Exton in Rutlandshire, Braintree and Ashen in Essex, and Stinchcombe in Gloucestershire, the reseating of Fairford Church in the same county, and the reconstruction of the groining of Stow Church, Lincolnshire ; this last gave him an introduction to a branch of art in which he achieved great success. Pearson's second London church, St. Peter's, Vauxhall, begun about 1859, showed (like Freeland Church, Dalton Holme, Scorborough, Daylesford, and others) traces of the French study then in vogue with Sir George Gilbert Scott [q. v.] and his school. It has a nave and chancel equal in width and height, aisles, a baptistery, a narthex, and an apse. It draws its light almost entirely from the clerestory, is vaulted throughout with stone ribs and brick filling, and is said to have cost little more than 6,000l. Pearson was by this time in full practice, and works followed one another with rapidity. Yorkshire still supplied many opportunities, a new church at Broomfleet in 1857, and another with vicarage at Appleton-le-Moors (1863), restorations in the same year at Bishop Wilton and South Cave, shortly followed by Bishop Burton (1859), Hilston (I860), Lastingham (1862, a particularly interesting work), and both Riccall and Hemsworth in 1864.

Babworth, Nottinghamshire, was restored in 1858, Nibley, Gloucestershire, in the next year, and in 1860, the year in which Pearson became a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, he designed the new church of Rhydydwmyn, and subsequently many similar works in Wales.

It was not till 1870 that Pearson received his first appointment as architect to a cathedral fabric. In that year he was consulted at Lincoln, where he restored the groining of the north transept, rebuilt part of the south-west tower, and repaired the chapter-house and cloister. About the same time he was engaged on the building of another great London church, that of St. Augustine, Kilburn, remarkable for its size, for its moderate price (11,200l. in the first instance), for its new treatment of the gallery problem, and for its highly successful use of stock-brick for the interior wall surface. It is of a thirteenth-century type, though not exclusively English in its plan. In 1872 Pearson built Wentworth Church, Yorkshire, for Lord Fitzwilliam, a good imitation of fourteenth-century work. In 1874 he built his fourth great London church, that of St. John, Red Lion Square, with its vicarage. Here Pearson showed his skill in occupying an unpromising site, and the church is as remarkable in point of plan as in the beauty of the Early English detail employed.

Horsforth Church, near Leeds, in the thirteenth-century manner, belongs to the same year, and Headingley Church in the same neighbourhood to 1885. In 1878 Pearson received a gold medal at Paris and the knighthood of the legion of honour. In 1879 he was selected as architect for the new cathedral of Truro; this appointment may be said to have coupled Pearson with Sir Christopher Wren as the only architects of English cathedrals consecrated since the middle ages. Except for the fact that a portion of the old parish church was incorporated as one of the south choir aisles, the building is an entirely new one, thus distinguishing the task from those works of alteration which have been undertaken in other towns to suit parish churches to the needs of new dioceses. It is the greatest ecclesiastical opportunity which has been offered to any modern architect, and it was used by Pearson in a manner which showed him a consummate master of the art of building according to mediaeval precedent.

The outer walls are faced with Penrhyn granite, the dressings being of Bath stone. The internal ashlar is also of granite, contrasted with columns of polyphant. The incorporation of the portion of old building (which in date is later than the style adopted for the main fabric) not only gives rise to interesting changes of level, but also controls the disposition of the columns in the choir which was made to follow the spacing of the bays in the old church. It was the necessity of supporting the south buttresses of the choir that gave rise to the picturesque double row of shafts which separate the old work from the new. The total length of the cathedral when completed will be three hundred feet, the height of the central spire 250 feet, the width of nave twenty-nine feet, and the height of vaulting seventy feet. The part first completed (which omitted all the nave except two bays and the upper part of the tower) cost 74,000l., and the fittings cost 15,000l. more. It was consecrated on 3 Nov. 1887, the foundation-stone having been laid by the Prince of Wales, as duke of Cornwall, on 20 May 1880. In this same year, 1880, Pearson received the gold medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, on the council of which he at one time served, and was honoured by the full membership of the Royal Academy, having been an associate since 1874. In 1879 he had designed St. Alban's Church, Birmingham, in which town he also, in 1896, built the church of St. Patrick. St. Agues, Liverpool, dates from 1883, Speke in the same county from 1873, and Norley Church in Cheshire from 1878.

Of Pearson's works of restoration the best known is the north transept of Westminster Abbey, the front of which (though largely designed from fragments found in the old walls) he may be said to have rebuilt. The portals bad already been handled by Sir George Gilbert Scott. His other work in the abbey consisted of general repairs. Pearson's proposals for the restoration at Westminster Hall were the subject of a select parliamentary committee in 1885, before which the architect argued against much opposition, but with ultimate success, in favour of re-erecting between the buttresses on the west side a building such as in his opinion had once existed there before. This building was carried out, in Ketton stone, and the committee-rooms and other apartments of which it consists are approached by a staircase from the floor of Westminster Hall. Pearson's report to this committee was fully illustrated with plans and diagrams, and disclosed very completely the history of the building.

Other small works by Pearson in the same neighbourhood were the replacement of the nondescript porch of St. Margaret's Church by a new one of correcter Gothic, sundry alterations in Westminster School, and some new canons' houses.

Besides Lincoln, already mentioned, Pearson was engaged in cathedral restoration at Peterborough, Canterbury, Bristol, Rochester, Chichester, and Exeter. At the last-named he rebuilt part of the cloister and formed a chapter-library above it. The Chichester appointment came only just before his death, though he completed a design for the new tower. At Rochester he restored the Norman west front and ornamented the screen. At Canterbury he reinstated St. Anselm's Chapel. At Bristol, besides various repairs, he finished the western towers from the design of George Edmund Street [q.v.], rearranged the choir with a new marble floor, and designed the altar screen, sedilia, and choir screen, and restored the ancient gateway. At Peterborough he twice had to face the storm of criticism. The central tower was bound to come down, and it was restored on the numbered-stone system ; but controversy arose over the question whether the pointed arches of the tower piers should be restored as pointed arches, or whether the Norman character of the surrounding work should be a sufficient argument for making the new arches circular. The question was referred to the archbishop of Canterbury, who decided for the pointed form, and also gave his vote against Pearson's original design for a new tower. The later controversy, which concerned itself with the great narthex at the west front, began in 1896. A strong opposition, which took the form of newspaper correspondence (see Times, December 1896, January 1897), combated Pearson's intention of reconstructing the arches, which were evidently insecure, and argued for the retention in situ of all the existing external stones. With characteristic unconcern Pearson, who was sure of his ground, took no part in the controversy, if he even read the letters of his opponents, and before his death carried out a great part of the work, in which of course he preserved every possible portion of the ancient masonry. His interior work at this cathedral included the elaborate marble pavement of the sanctuary, the bishop's throne, the stalls, and the baldachino.

Pearson's art was neither exclusively Gothic nor wholly ecclesiastical. Treberfydd, a country house already mentioned, was of a late fifteenth-century type. Quar Wood (Gloucestershire), which followed, was certainly Gothic, but Roundwick (Sussex) was Tudor in character, and Lechlade Manor Jacobean. Westwood House, Sydenham, shows something of a Francois I treatment, while the offices for the Hon. W. W. Astor on the Thames Embankment display a free type of Renaissance work. This building is an excellent and rich design, exhibiting to the full the versatility of its author's genius. For the same employer Pearson carried out works at Carlton House Terrace and Cliveden, Buckinghamshire, previously owned by the Duke of Westminster.

Among Pearson's other works in London and neighbourhood should be mentioned the Catholic Apostolic Church, near the Regent's canal, noticeable externally for a deeply recessed west window ; the sedilia, font, and font-cover at St. Andrew's, Wells Street ; a chapel at the Middlesex Hospital ; the restoration of St. Mary-the-Less, Lambeth ; St. Helen's, Bishopsgate ; and All Hallows, Barking; the new and important churches of St. Michael, Croydon (1880), and St. John, Upper Norwood (1881); the building of St. Peter's Home, Kilburn, and various schools. He did little work at Oxford, only additions to a hospital in the suburb of Cowley and the reredos at New College; but at Cambridge he carried out extensions at Sidney Sussex and Emmanuel Colleges, and did a similar task at the university library, where the existing fragment of the fifteenth-century gateway was cleverly incorporated.

It is impossible to give here a complete list of Pearson's works, but the following entirely new churches are worthy of special notice: St. Barnabas and All Saints at Hove, Brighton (the latter with a striking tower); St. Matthew at St. Leonards-on-Sea; St. Stephen, Bournemouth; High Cliffe, near Winchester; All Saints, Torquay (St. Matthias in the same town was only remodelled by Pearson); Sutton-Veney, Chute Forest, Porton, and Laverstoke all in Wiltshire; Oakhill, Somerset; St. James, Weybridge; Titsey, near Godstone; Hersham, Surrey; Freeland, Oxfordshire (with vicarage and school); Daylesford, Worcestershire; Norley, Winnington, and Thurstaston in Cheshire; Daybrook, near Nottingham; Wentworth, for the Earl of Fitzwilliam; Darlington; Cullercoats, for the Duke of Northumberland; and two churches in the Isle of Man, Kirkbraddan, and St. Matthew, Douglas. St. John, Redhill, was practically rebuilt by Pearson, as was also the church at Chiswick. Pearson made a complete design for Brisbane Cathedral, under the instructions of Bishop Webber, his former employer at Red Lion Square; this was opened in 1901.

In Scotland Pearson's only works were the Glenalmond infirmary and a new church at Ayr. In Wales, besides the church already mentioned, he designed those of Solva, Port Talbot, and Tretower. His principal domestic works not already mentioned were St. Peter's Convalescent Home at Woking, a residence for the Hon. C. Lawley at Exminster, and two others at Rustington, Sussex, and Great Warley near Brentwood, besides numerous vicarages in different parts of the country. He designed a mausoleum at Tunbridge Wells and a chapel in Byzantine style for the cemetery at Malta.

Pearson was fully engaged in work to the end of his life, and, dying after a short illness at 13 Mansfield Street on 11 Dec. 1897, was honoured with a funeral in Westminster Abbey. He married, in 1863, Jemima, daughter of Henry Curwen Christian (she died in 1865); by her he had one son, Frank Loughborough Pearson, who was for many years intimately associated with his father's work, and has continued after his death the additions to Wakefield Cathedral, the north-western tower of Chichester Cathedral, and the building in progress at Truro Cathedral.

A good portrait of Pearson was painted in oils by Mr. W. W. Ouless, R.A., and is now in the possession of Mr. Frank Pearson. He was a man of moderate height and pleasant aspect, with a full beard and moustache and gentle expressive eyes. Having few interests outside his art he gave his whole mind to it, was intensely industrious, and exceptionally modest. Though far from unsociable he was unusually retiring. Unlike many of his brother-architects, he never wrote or lectured on the subject of his art. From the time when he first started his work in London he never lived in the country; his first office was changed for one in Delahay Street, Westminster, and before he took his final office and residence in Mansfield Street he had for a time a home in Harley Street.

[John E. Newberry's articles in Architectural Review, vol. i. 1897; Royal Inst. Brit. Arch. Journal, 1897-8, v. 113; private information.]

P. W.