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  William Peachey

William Peachey is one of the most intriguing of the architects to have worked for the NER: a gifted designer, whose most outstanding work is the present Middlesbrough Station, completed in 1877 and displaying his penchant for gothic buildings, though his early work includes some gutsy Italianate designs, such as Saltburn Station.

Peachey came from Cheltenham, where he spent the first 28 years of his life, before moving to Darlington. He was born in 1826, baptised at St. Mary's church on 13 September. His parents were Emma and William, the latter being a carpenter, and their son duly followed in that trade. On 8 September 1849, the Salem Baptist Chapel in Cheltenham witnessed the marriage of young William to Harriet Moss, a dressmaker.

Peachey was a keen member of the Baptist community, whose minister, John Lewis, moved to Darlington in January 1852. It seems that Peachey already had ambitions to become an architect, and that Lewis encouraged him to move to Darlington to take advantage of the opportunities offered by that rapidly-expanding town. William and Harriet moved there in the Spring of 1854. By that period it was usual for architects to enter the profession by way of a formal apprenticeship in an established office; Peachey seems to have managed perfectly well without this, learning building skills through his father and developing design skills by observation and reading, an approach which had, of course, been perfectly normal back in the previous century.

Stockton & Darlington Railway records do not pin down when Peachey began working for the company, but the earliest reference found is May 1858. when he reported on a new station for St. Helen's Auckland (West Auckland Station), a nondescript affair. By 1859 he was drawing up plans for the company's new locomotive works in Darlington (North Road Works) under the direction of the S&D Engineer, William Cudworth. In this scheme he was very much the assistant, since the basic scheme for the works was drawn up by the engineer's brother, James I'Anson Cudworth, locomotive superintendent of the South Eastern Railway, and the form of the buildings copied those of the SER's Ashford Works. Peachey was a signatory to the contract drawings, and will have overseen the work, which was completed in November 1862, the workshops being brought into use on the following New Year's Day.

By then Peachey was being referred to formally as S&D Architect, and had two prestigious projects under his belt. Both were in Saltburn, a genteel seaside resort being developed under S&D auspices, where his major achievements were Saltburn Station (1861-2) and the Zetland Hotel (completed in 1863). These are distinctive and handsome Italianate designs but he was to display an increasing fondness for the fashionable Gothic Revival. A nod in this direction is made by his Saltburn Excursion Station of 1870, by which time he had already provided the town with a solidly-gothic monument in the form of Saltburn Water Tower, enlivened by bands of polychrome arcading.

In July 1863, Parliament approved the merger of the S&D into the NER but the 'Darlington Section' retained a distinct identity for many years more, its interests being looked after by a Darlington Committee of directors (subsidiary to the main NER Board) which met for the last time on 4 December 1879. Under this committee, the former S&D directorial committees dealing with Traffic and Works remained in place for a decade after the merger. Peachey continued as the retained architect to the Darlington Section, working in harness still with William Cudworth and totally independent of the NER Architect's Department.

Down to 1867, Peachey's relationship with the railway remained somewhat ambiguous: halfway between part-time employee and independent practitioner, and he continued to work from the former S&D head office in Darlington's Northgate. The situation was regularised by an agreement of February 1867 which required him to pay rental for these rooms and to find all the staff necessary 'for the proper examination and measuring off of all works he may have in hand from time to time for the Company.' He was to be paid £300 p.a. and in return his 'services shall be at command at such times as the [Darlington] Committee may require.' Prior to this, the railway had employed two building inspectors (clerks of works). Under the new regime they were given notice, but Peachey took on one of them: Mr. Hutchinson, who had been inspector on both Saltburn Station and the Zetland Hotel.

Though Peachey found favour with the Darlington directors for railway work, this patronage did not extend to their private affairs. All were wealthy men, and we find Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease, for instance, going to Alfred Waterhouse, a staunch Goth and leading figure in the profession. Others went to an established Darlington man: John Ross. Peachey picked up more modest commissions, such as Forcett Parsonage, a somewhat gaunt gothic house. A domestic work which displays his own inclinations is the double villa in Pierremont Crescent, Darlington, built in 1866 as a speculation on his own account. Though the detail is quite simple, the houses exploit their corner site with a vividly picturesque treatment of roofs and gables; each is given its own distinguishing features yet from a distance they read as one villa

Double villa in Pierremont Crescent, Darlington

Peachey's Baptist ties brought him some chapels. The one in York's Priory Street (1867-8) is a rather dull gothic affair externally, lacking the flair of his best railway designs, but is redeemed by a handsome interior with cast-iron arcades. This was followed by the Italianate Grange Road Chapel (1870-1) for his own Darlington congregation.

A gothic flowering can be seen in his railway work by 1866, when a new Etherley Station was built on the S&D main line. It is a vigorous, steeply-roofed design in which the offices and sheltered waiting area fronting the platform seem almost independent of the bulk of the building behind. This pronounced articulation of a building, to express externally the functions of the different parts, is taken further in his Tow Law Station (1870-71) and Middlesbrough Station. However, the opposite trend is seen in Brotton Station (designed 1872, opened 1875), which is a tightly-knit design, with the waiting area tucked in behind a handsome brick and iron arcade.

Peachey's work extended to all manner of railway buildings, including goods and engine sheds, usually distinguished by a restrained use of polychrome brickwork, and an extensive gothic stable range at Stockton. His prime achievement, however, is Middlesbrough Station, designed in 1874 and completed in 1877. This was the first major station in the North East to embrace the Gothic Revival, while it also boasted a handsome trainshed of unparalleled verticality - unfortunately the latter was wrecked in World War II.

1876 brought the death of the NER Architect, Benjamin Burleigh, on 25 April. Though the Darlington directors may have seen Peachey as a likely successor, the NER Engineer-in-Chief, Thomas Elliot Harrison, perhaps had misgivings. So the post was advertised, stressing that applicants should furnish a list of their chief works: 'more particularly those requiring a scientific knowledge of construction, such as station roofs, warehouses, and buildings in which machinery is used.' Unfortunately, the short-list of candidates does not survive, but things moved quickly and Peachey was appointed on 9 June. This meant moving to York and giving up his private practice, though his staff found new posts with the NER. One of his first tasks was a re-organisation of the Architect's Department, previously divided between York and Newcastle. Most of the staff were now concentrated at York, retaining just small outposts (three draughtsmen each) at Darlington and Newcastle.

One task Peachey inherited was that of modest revisions to the design for the new York Station Hotel. This lagged behind work on the new station itself and opened a year after it, in May 1878. It was built substantially to the contract drawings prepared by Thomas Prosser, but the facades betray Peachey's hand, in the form of some modest polychromy and a few vigorous details, as does the main staircase: the best internal feature.

Having made a good start, Peachey lasted just six months in post. On 5 January 1877 he was obliged to resign and the reason is evident in letters to the contractors for a new goods station at Stockton. The contract had been let in 1875 under terms which allowed the architect to claim a 2½% fee back from the contractors in return for supplying Bills of Quantities. However, by April 1876 he was asking them to send him extra money, having inflated their paybill accordingly 'to pay some extras on several small works for which I did not want to ask for more money. I have put £500 [extra] in this pay, as one of two want their money - do please let me have the Cash when you get it.' It seems doubtful that he had legitimate claims to settle on the railway's behalf, more that he had got his own business affairs into a mess as an earlier letter indicates: 'My account is overdrawn at the Bank and I must put it right at once. Only Builders are allowed to overdraw their account.'

Whatever the exact details of Peachey's manoeuvring, the NER directors regarded this as a clear breach of trust, though not something to be publicised. He went back into private practice, initially in York, where one fruit of these years is the Methodist Victoria Bar Chapel, an interesting polychromatic essay of 1880, whose bowed front and sweeping roof hint at the galleried auditorium within. By 1890 the Peacheys had settled in Saltburn, where William carried on a modestly successful practice. He must, however, have regretted the enormous scope which would have been open to him with the NER. His last known work is the prominent red-brick Post Office of 1901 in Saltburn's Regent Circus. About three years later, the Peacheys moved to Bromley-by-Bow, in East London, where they shared a handsome Italianate semi-villa with their schoolteacher niece, Gertrude Barrett. Harriet died there in April 1905, so William and his niece moved to a more modest house nearby, where he died on 2 March 1912, aged 85.





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© W. Fawcett, 2011