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Medland and Henry Taylor: Manchester architects

By Fiona Martin

1. The two architect brothers were born in Stanford Rivers, Essex, the sons of Isaac Taylor and Elizabeth Medland.  In choosing to practise architecture they followed the family vocation of the Medlands,  a family of carpenters, surveyors and architects who had lived in south London for several generations.

2. There were close links between the Taylor and Medland families. When Elizabeth's mother (nee Sarah Clark) died in the 1810s, Jane Taylor became a sort of surrogate mother to the children: Sarah, Elizabeth, Phoebe, James and John. Elizabeth’s widowed father James proposed marriage to Jane in 1821 and was initially accepted, but Jane quickly broke the engagement on account of her deteriorating health (to the great sadness of both parties) but James in fact predeceased her, in June 1823.

3. The younger of the two brothers, Henry Medland Taylor (1837 -1916), usually just called Henry, began their Manchester connection when he trained at Owen’s College, which soon afterwards became Manchester University. It was founded in 1851 when Henry was 14, so he must have been one of the early students there.

4. His older brother, James Medland Taylor (1834 -1909), usually called just Medland, began his training in Leatherhead and then was a pupil in the architect’s firm of his uncle, James Medland (after whom he was named) in Gloucester. James Medland was the brother of Elizabeth, mother of Henry and Medland. Both were born in Newington, then a quite rural part of Surrey, just south of the Thames.

5. The first James Medland (1739–1820) was, according to his will, a “carpenter and gentleman”. His son, James Medland II (1769–1823) was a surveyor, “of St Mary Newington” but his probate inventory describes him as an architect “late of Union Place, New Kent Road”. James Medland III (1808–94) with whom James Medland Taylor trained in Gloucester was the grandson of James Medland I. He trained with James Piggott Pritchett, a York-based architect and Congregational deacon who had been apprenticed to James Medland I and who also later trained James Medland Taylor’s cousin, Isaac Charles Gilbert of Nottingham (1822–1885), usually called just Charles, a son of Ann Gilbert, the elder sister of Medland and Henry’s father Isaac Taylor. Other architects in the family included James Medland III’s sons John Medland (c1840–1913) and Matthew Henry Medland (1838–c1910), and John Medland Clark (1813– 1849), architect of the Old Custom House, Key Street, Ipswich, another grandson of James Medland I.

6. A history of Gloucester says: “The leading local architects before 1850 were Thomas Fulljames, the county surveyor, and Samuel Whitfield Daukes. Daukes, a pupil of the York architect J.P. Pritchett, had an office in Gloucester by 1834 and obtained commissions for new commercial buildings. On his departure in the late 1840s his associate James Medland, another of Pritchett's pupils, continued the practice, at first with J.R. Hamilton who had been Daukes's partner from 1841. By the later 1840s Fulljames, also the diocesan surveyor, had taken into partnership his pupil F. S. Waller. Another local architect of the period was John Jacques.”

7. The census for 1851 shows that Medland was staying with his uncle’s family in Clarence Street, Gloucester; he was 16 or 17 at the time. Another person living there was his uncle’s other pupil, James Sewell, who was a couple of years older. The firm, as well as being very successful in and around Gloucester, also specialised in designing the layout and buildings in cemeteries being built to serve rapidly expanding cities such as Birmingham, Plymouth and Leicester. James Medland rose to become County Surveyor by 1880. There is also some evidence that he was the architect of the Independent Congregational chapel in Ongar, the foundation stone of which was laid, on April 24, 1833, by the (very) young Isaac Taylor IV and to which a Sunday School designed by Isaac Charles Gilbert was added in 1865.

8. Medland and Henry Taylor set up their architecture firm at 2 St Anne’s Churchyard, Manchester, not far from Owen’s College. The two brothers were very busy during the second half of the 19th century, and Medland was active into the 20th. Their main activity, either individually or together as a team, was building Anglican churches for the many growing communities in what is now known as Greater Manchester, and also in the neighbouring counties of Lancashire, Derbyshire and Cheshire. For example, Salford grew very quickly.

“The main population growth of Salford took place towards the middle of 19th century. In 1821 there were 25,700 inhabitants and by 1841 probably 40,000. If steps had not been taken by Stowell (the local vicar) and others to divide the Parish of Christ Church it would have had about 60,000 folk living within its borders by 1880”.

And of course this was a time when almost everyone went to church, so buildings were urgently needed. In Saughall in Cheshire the Taylors built a church with “a total of 358 seats in the church for a village of 800 people”.

Another important factor, for communities without a wealthy benefactor, was cost, especially in a village that size, where the church’s total estimated cost came to 1288. This is probably why many of the churches are made of brick rather than stone. Even with these basic materials, several of the churches have been considered of high enough quality to be given Listed Building status. One example is St Peter’s Church in St Helen’s, built in 1864-5 by Medland Taylor, although the local authority description of local listed buildings does not make it sound very beautiful: “Rubble walls, a mixture of red and yellow sandstone and industrial waste, with red and yellow stone dressings; slate roof”. In Denton there are five Medland Taylor buildings: two churches, two rectories, and the chancel and transepts to the 16th century church of St Lawrence, also known as Denton chapel.

Among the many churches they built were: St John’s, Manchester; St Clement’s, Longsight; St Agnes’, Longsight; St Luke’s, Manchester; Stowell Memorial Church, Regent Road, Manchester; St Thomas’, Heaton Chapel; Church of the Ascension, Broughton; the enlargement of St Mary’s, Droylsden; St Michael's, Lavender Street, Hulme; All Saints’, Cheadle Hulme; St Anne’s, Denton; St Elizabeth of Hungary, Aspull near Wigan; St Peter’s, St Helens; Holy Trinity Church, Gee Cross, Stockport; St Chad’s, Romiley, Stockport; St John the Evangelist, Bacup; Saint Edmund’s, Falinge, Rochdale; St Catherine’s, Todmorden Road, Burnley; St George’s, Pendleton; St James’s, Buxton; St Mary the Virgin, Haughton Green; St Ann's Haughton (church and rectory) and St Andrew’s, Hadfield, Derbyshire.

9. The University of Wales at Bangor has an archive of their work, Medland and Taylor Architects Church Photographs and Drawings [GB 0222 BMSS MED]. They also designed public buildings paid for by local philanthropic industrialists such as the Astley Cheetham Public Library, in Stalybridge and the Blair Hospital, a convalescent home in Egerton. The Library, built by J.F. Cheetham, has been a lasting success.

“In 1897 his wife (Mrs Astley Cheetham) laid the foundation stone of a new public library for Stalybridge which was built at his expense and opened in 1901. Cheetham's commitment to this project was shown in the detailed planning he gave to it. He personally inspected many libraries in London and tried to avoid their mistakes, and worked in close collaboration with his chosen architect, Medland Taylor. The site was chosen with care, as being central but not too noisy. Trinity Street was widened to accommodate the building. The result was a library that has served Stalybridge for over a century and remains one of Tameside's finest buildings. His generosity was recognised when he was made a Freeman of the Borough of Stalybridge in 1897.”

10. Their best-known work, according to David Garrard (Historic Churches Adviser to the Victorian Society) “is probably the extraordinary free-form brick church of St Anne at Denton (grade II*, 1881); this forms the nucleus of the most important cluster of their buildings still surviving, comprising St Anne’s with its adjoining lych-gate (grade II) and rectory (grade II*), the chancel and transepts added in 1872 to the 16th-century timber-framed church of St Laurence, Denton (grade II*), and – in the same material but with a bizarre octagonal brick belfry tower resembling a minaret – the church of St Mary at nearby Haughton Green (grade II, 1876). The Old Rectory, built to house the incumbent at the latter church, forms an important element in this group, and shares many of its common stylistic features including the use of brown and red brickwork, timber-framing, projecting gables, canted bays and corbelling.”

11. Medland Taylor seems to have been the one with drive and energy. He was president of the Manchester Society of Architects in 1880-81. One guide claims that he “canvassed” for the job of building All Saints’ Church in Rochdale in about 1860 “as soon as it was announced”. His obituary in The Builder (June 12, 1909) drew attention to work at Chetham College, at Sacred Trinity Schools (Salford), and the Seamen’s Institute and Chapel (near Manchester docks) as well as some of the work mentioned above. Henry was a more scholarly, gentle person. At a guess, the partnership between the brothers may not always have been harmonious, but while it lasted it was certainly productive. Their firm evolved eventually into the present-day firm of Taylor Wood.

12. Nowadays, the brothers’ work gets mixed reviews. The Lancashire volume of Pevsner’s Guide describes one church, St Agnes in Longsight  as “a charming little building, with typical Taylor details, Gothic, low and gabled, built of polychrome brick”. This church was designed by both Henry and Medland Taylor (in the 1880’s). Medland Taylor was certainly the better known of the two. Although he is still described as a leading Victorian architect, and “prolific and original”, his style has rather fallen out of fashion. The Blair Hospital is (according to the Pevsner Guide) “as odd as any of his churches”, being “in an unusual mix of stone and brick in equal quantities, either striped or chequered. The brick is harshly red.” But most of the churches (and especially the library) have stood the test of time as the places that they were designed to be. [Hartwell, Manchester (Pevsner Architectural Guides) 2001 also lists many of their other churches]. Henry and Medland are regarded by David Garrard as “two of the most important regional architects working in Manchester in the mid-Victorian period.”

13. Henry seems to have effectively taken early retirement from the firm (perhaps because of ill health) to devote himself to what really interested him, architectural history. He became an FSA and wrote a number of well received books, such as The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Old Halls in Lancashire and Cheshire and Ightham Mote. Isaac Taylor, Medland’s son (1871–1948) probably took Henry’s place. Henry and his family later moved from Manchester to Tunbridge Wells and Southport, while Medland stayed in Rusholme at his house called Stanford (after their native village in Essex) at 147 Dickenson Road.

12. The extended Taylor family are also in Henry’s debt for all his work on family history and family trees, which in those days was much harder and more time-consuming than it is now.

April 2009 
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