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  John Middleton

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The architect John Middleton (1820-85) enjoyed two careers. The first was in Darlington where he practised from 1844 to 1855 and enjoyed the patronage of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, producing their first buildings of any architectural ambition. The second was in Cheltenham, where he settled in 1859, building up a flourishing practice, whose output included a number of distinguished churches.

John Middleton was born in York on 27 August 1820, the son of Thomas Middleton (1774-1833) and his wife Hannah Sowersby (c1780-1834). His father was a Freeman of York, who traded originally as a fellmonger but later became a successful shopkeeper and flour dealer. The deaths of both parents during his adolescence left John to be brought up latterly by his uncle, John Sowersby. He received a sound education at York Collegiate School, which he left in the summer of 1838 to become a pupil of the York architect James Pigott Pritchett (1789-1868). Pritchett practised both a picturesque Tudor-revival style and an elegant neo-classicism. Notable York buildings include the Grecian Cemetery Chapel (1837) and the former Savings Bank (1829) in St. Helen's Square. Pritchett had a strong foothold in Huddersfield, and his sole railway venture is the neo-Roman Huddersfield Station (1846-50), forming a splendid backdrop to the town's main square.

Prtichett's eldest son was a Methodist minister in Darlington, and this may have prompted the notion of Middleton establishing an architectural practice there shortly in advance of marrying Pritchett's daughter, Maria Margaret, in July 1844. His first known commission came that year and was a notable prize: a retirement villa, Cleveland Lodge, in Great Ayton (Yorkshire) for a wealthy Quaker bill-broker, Thomas Richardson, who had retired from his London business. Richardson was also the largest individual investor in the Stockton & Darlington Railway, which in August 1844 engaged Middleton as its retained architect.

Cleveland Lodge is a very restrained building, reflecting the traditional Quaker attitudes of Thomas Richardson. Quaker businessmen of the next generation would not always be so reticent about displaying their wealth.

The S&D expanded its network through satellite companies, with overlapping directorates, and Middleton duly became architect to a succession of these: the Wear & Derwent Junction (opened 1845), Middlesbrough & Redcar (1846) and Wear Valley (1847). His stations for the last two were particularly attractive. Of his Redcar line buildings (such as Middlesbrough 1847 Station) only a terrace of cottages remains. However, three of his Tudor-revival stations in the Wear Valley survive: Witton le Wear, Wolsingham and Frosterley.

Frosterley Station c1970

The approach road runs up to the triple-gabled frontage on the left, partially hidden behind an NER timber office range. The building was constructed of buff firebrick (from one of the collieries owned by the Pease family, who were very prominent in the S&D). This provides a subtle contrast with the sandstone used for the window dressings.

Middleton's work during his time in Darlington includes a variety of buildings with no railway connection, though his church of St. John (1847-9), which stands conspicuously close to the town's Bank Top Station, served a district partly colonised by railway employees. Other works in the town include its Central Hall and a branch of the National Provincial Bank (1849-50): a dignified Italianate palazzo, though it retains nothing of the original interior. A more sternly institutional design was his new block (1846) for the recently-founded Quaker Agricultural School at Great Ayton.

The recession of the late eighteen-forties brought a slide in railway incomes and share values, while S&D finances were also depressed by the need to absorb their satellites into a unified company. Middleton's railway work seems to have ceased in 1849. Three years later he brought his brother-in- law, James Pigott Pritchett junior (1830-1911), into the practice. Middleton appears to have relinquished his share in the business in 1855 and then travelled, partly in Italy, with his wife and young son before settling in Cheltenham in 1859. There, he built up a thriving practice, covering a variety of buildings, virtually all of a committed Gothic-Revival character. His chef d'oeuvre is seen to be All Saints Church (1865-9), Pittville, Cheltenham, whose sumptuous interior marks a long journey from the simplicity of Darlington St. John.

Middleton died on 13 February 1885, but the practice was continued by Henry Prothero and George Henry Phillott, who had trained in the office and become partners shortly before his death. His son, John Henry Middleton (born 5 October 1846), was also a partner, but his chief interest was art history and archaeology. In 1886 John Henry became Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, subsequently adding the roles of Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and Director of Art at the South Kensington (Victoria & Albert) Museum. He died in June 1896.




Brian Torode, John Middleton, Accent, 2008. ISBN 978 953 99762 5 3.

Bill Fawcett, A History of North Eastern Railway Architecture: vol. 1: The Pioneers, North Eastern Railway Association, 2001. ISBN 1 873513 34 8. (Chapter 7)

David Verey & Alan Brooks, The Buildings of England: Gloucestershire 2: The Vale and the Forest of Dean, 3rd edition, Yale, 2002. ISBN 0 300 09733 6





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