Harrison, Thomas (1744-1829) (DNB00)


HARRISON, THOMAS (1744–1829), architect, born in 1744 at Richmond in Yorkshire, was of humble origin, but early distinguished himself by his knowledge of arithmetic, drawing, and mechanics. He had the good fortune to attract the attention of Sir Lawrence Dundas, by whose liberality he was sent in 1769, with George Cuit the elder [q. v.], the landscape-painter, to study in Italy, and was for several years a student in Rome. In 1770 he made a design for Pope Clement XIV for the decoration of the cortile of the Belvedere. He also prepared other designs for the embellishment of the piazza near the Porta del Popolo, for which the pope presented him with a gold and a silver medal, and ordered his name to be added to the members of the academy of St. Luke, with a seat in the council of that body. He returned to London in 1776, and in 1777 exhibited his medal drawings. Shortly afterwards he was commissioned to build a bridge over the Lune at Lancaster; the first stone was laid by George III in 1783, and the work completed in 1788. It has five elliptical arches of sixty-nine feet span, and is said to be the first bridge with a level surface erected in England. He also rebuilt Lancaster Castle in the Gothic style, and designed other important buildings in that town. His plans in the Grecian Doric style for rebuilding the castle at Chester were selected in competition; they include a prison, county assize courts, armoury, exchequer, and gateway. These buildings were erected between 1793 and 1820, and are wholly of stone, no iron or timber being used in any part of the walls, ceilings, floors, or staircases. This was the first prison built on the panoptical arrangement in this country. In 1827 he erected the celebrated Grosvenor Bridge over the Dee at Chester, from designs he had prepared some years before. This consists of a single arch of two hundred feet span, a then unequalled dimension, and is of such singularly beautiful proportions as to convey little idea of size to a casual observer. This and the castle which stands near are Harrison's best-known works. He erected the obelisk on Moel Vammau, Denbighshire, to commemorate the jubilee of George III, the column to Lord Hill near Shrewsbury, and that to Lord Anglesea at Plâs Newydd. In Liverpool he was the architect of the Athenænum, the Lyceum, the theatre, the St. Nicholas's Tower, and other well-known buildings; in Manchester of the Portico, the Exchange Buildings (1809), and the Theatre Royal (burnt in 1843). He was also employed in erecting many public buildings and mansions for the nobility and gentry, not only in Lancashire and Cheshire, but in various parts of England and Scotland. He built Broomhall, Fifeshire, for Lord Elgin (1796). Harrison suggested to that nobleman, on his appointment to the embassy at Constantinople, that he should obtain casts and drawings of the works of art at Athens and other places in Greece. This resulted in that magnificent collection, the Elgin marbles, which were purchased by the British Museum in 1816. Harrison died at Chester, 29 March 1829, aged 85, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Bride. A bust of Harrison was presented by his nephew John to the Institute of British Architects in 1838, and there is an engraved portrait of him by A. R. Burt, dated Chester, 1 May 1824; in the background Chester Castle is shown. He exhibited five works at the Royal Academy between 1773 and 1814.

Most of his designs were in the revived classic style that suited the taste of his time, and such specimens as the Manchester Exchange, the Lyceum in Liverpool, and Wood Bank Hall, Stockport, serve to show his successful adaptation of this style to buildings intended for various purposes. They also have the merit of thoroughly convenient interior arrangement and excellent construction.

[Architectural Society's Dict.; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists of the English School; private information.]

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