Other Links

  Benjamin Burleigh

Benjamin Burleigh's regime as NER Architect was brief and not particularly noteworthy. Under his predecessor, Thomas Prosser, the department was based in Newcastle with a small subsidiary office in York. The eighteen-seventies brought a renewal of York's railway infrastructure with the construction of new passenger and goods stations to replace the original ones squeezed within the city walls. In December 1872 therefore, the directors decided to ease Prosser's workload and build up the York office by appointing a Southern Division Architect. Their choice fell on Burleigh, though his background was entirely in civil engineering. Burleigh must have been a capable manager, for on Prosser's retirement in May 1874, due to ill health, he was immediately placed in charge and given a remit to reorganise the office so as to consolidate the York and Newcastle staff. This meant scaling down Newcastle and making York the chief office. By November he was able to report that his rationalisation would yield savings of over £400 p.a.

The biggest architectural work on hand was at York, but Burleigh never saw this through to completion. He died, unexpectedly, at his house in Priory Street, York, on 25 April 1876, shortly before his fifty-sixth birthday. The directors granted his widow, Georgiana, £350, six months salary, in appreciation of his 'indefatigable services'.

Burleigh was born in Oxford on 24 May 1820 and took up surveying at an early age, carrying out a number of parish surveys. His obituary states that he worked under John Braithwaite on the construction of the Eastern Counties Railway [in the eighteen-forties] making designs and drawings for bridges and that he was later a resident engineer under William Cubitt on the construction of the Great Northern Railway. Subsequently he established his own office in Westminster and engineered the modest railway from Clifton to Avonmouth, after which he superintended the construction of the East London Railway (1865-9) for Sir John Hawkshaw and George Robert Stephenson. This was taken through Marc Brunel's Thames Tunnel at Wapping.


None of this suggests a particular aptitude for architecture, though Burleigh clearly understood both masonry and iron construction and had plenty of experience in managing contractors, factors which now doubt influenced the NER Engineer, Thomas Elliot Harrison, who introduced him to the directors. Burleigh lacked Prosser's sensitivity to detail and some of the buildings of his short regime have a decidedly hard look about them. One instance is the standard housing, where he revised the Prosser design to provide the same accommodation at a slightly reduced cost but the result is rather mean-looking compared with the earlier houses, thanks in part to the trimming back of roof overhangs and eaves. Another example is the new station for Haydon Bridge, designed shortly before his death, which would look more at home in a Lancashire mill town than the Northumbrian countryside. His most satisfying work is probably York Goods Station, designed in November 1875 and begun three months later. This is now the National Railway Museum's Station Hall, and is a dignified, functional transhipment shed fronted by a two-storey office range, which formerly housed the York goods manager and his multitude of clerks.

In 1847 Benjamin Burleigh married Georgiana Curtis. Their third son, born in the latter part of 1853, was Alfred Benjamin, who joined the NER under his father. Listed at different times as draughtsman or surveyor, he remained with the office until retiring shortly after World War I. In September 1885 he joined the committee of the Yorkshire Architectural Association and next month married Louisa, youngest daughter of the watercolour artist Edwin Moore.



Alfred Benjamin Burleigh (foreground) from a 1905 photograph of staff in the NER Architect's Drawing Office. The figure behind is F.E. Wootton







 Contact us at:


© W. Fawcett, 2011