Richard Knill Freeman

Bolton architect

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Features Links with Paley and Austin

Links with Sharpe, Paley and Austin

Knill Freeman’s practice in Lancashire was possibly second only to Paley and Austin’s, but has received much less attention. In terms of numbers, Geoff Brandwood’s book on Paley and Austin (The Architecture of Sharpe, Paley and Austin; English Heritage; 2012) states that the firm’s reputation rests chiefly on its achievements from 1870 to 1910. This is almost exactly the same period that Freeman was active. Paley and Austin did 600 commissions from 1836 to 1942. Knill Freeman was responsible for at least 200 commissions from 1866 to 1904.

Brandwood also states that “No other practice which achieved such eminence in church building worked across so wide a denominational spectrum”. Freeman, who was a High Church Anglican, did ecclesiastical work for various denominations, particularly Methodists (for instance Brunswick; Bagslate and Victoria Wesleyan, Bolton) and occasionally Catholics (various cemetery chapels, St Patrick’s, Bolton). In addition, Freeman’s range of building types (piers, pubs, libraries, museums, theatres, town halls) seems greater than that of Sharpe, Paley and Austin. Freeman’s geographical range is also wider including churches and houses in Moscow and San Remo, and works in Derby and the north-east through various partnerships.

Brandwood says vast majority of Sharpe, Paley and Austin commissions came from word-of-mouth recommendations. Freeman had to win competitions in order to establish his reputation in the 1870s. Roger Harper (in Victorian Architectural Competitions) records six entries for Paley and Austin and 15 for Freeman. These will both be underestimates (I have so far traced 29 for Freeman; of these he won 14) but the proportions may be correct. It does not appear that the two firms ever entered the same competition.

The 2004 edition of the South east Lancashire Pevsner stated that Freeman “trained in Austin and Paley’s office”. There is no evidence for this and the reference was removed from the revised 2010 edition. Despite this, there are a number of buildings that both practices worked on, often at similar times:

At St Thomas, Halliwell, Freeman designed the school (1877) adjacent to Paley and Austin’s church of 1874-75. At nearby All Souls (Paley and Austin 1879-81), Freeman designed the choir stalls and either built or altered the vicarage.

Christ church Walmsley, Bolton (1837-39) was the first substantial aisled church by Edmund Sharpe. It featured “channeled stone” which is also a feature of the school of 1839, possibly also by Sharpe. Freeman extended the school in 1888 also using channeled stone.

At St Mary Ribbleton, Freeman designed a new church in 1888 and the aisle chancel and vestry were added by Austin and Paley in 1938. The opposite happened at St Annes-on-the-Sea where Freeman added a tower, aisle and reredos to Paley and Austin’s church of 1873. Nearby at St Cuthbert’s, Lytham, Freeman (who designed the pulpit) also submitted designs for new pews but Paley and Austin were engaged instead because they had done considerable work there in the past.

St Stephen and All Martyrs, Lever Bridge, Bolton was Freeman’s local church and is where he is buried. The “pot church” was designed by Edmund Sharpe, who also designed the school and vicarage. Freeman later extended the school in a similar style. Freeman’s son later installed electric lighting in the church.

At Little Lever, Paley and Austin’s St Matthews (1865) was enhanced by Freeman’s Slade memorial, oak chancel screen, tablet and choir stalls of 1894. Freeman also built the adjoining vicarage (1870) and Church House (1906).

Freeman was heavily involved with the Waifs and Strays society. Paley and Austin designed their home in Lancaster.

Both practices had connections with the Ormrod family of Bolton. Paley and Austin designed Bolton’s new parish church in the 1860s. This was largely funded (£30,000 of the £45,000 cost) by Peter Ormrod (1795-1875) a cotton spinner and banker (Ormrod and Hardcastle). His brother James lived in Halliwell Lodge for which Freeman designed an extension. Paley built Ormrod’s house at Wyresdale Hall, Scorton (1856-58), to which Freeman later made alterations. Paley and Austin rebult St Peter Scorton as a memorial to Peter Ormrod, funded by James and also known as Ormrod memorial church. James Ormrod built All Saints, Pen-y-lan as a memorial to his wife. This was designed by Knill Freeman.

St Peter Mawdesley of 1839-40 by Edmund Sharpe was restored and redecorated by Knill Freeman in 1892.

At St Mary Deane, Freeman replaced the roof in 1888. Austin and Paley reported in January 1915: “The nave and Chancel roof (renewed we understand some thirty years ago) are of oak and apparently in excellent condition as is also the leadwork covering same.”

In 1873 alterations, including a new were made to St John Farnworth. Pevsner states that there was “some confusion because the church asked for plans from both Freeman and Cunliffe and Paley and Austin”. The work was done by Freeman.

Other sites that both practices worked on include The Saviour’s church, Bolton; St Maxentius, Bradshaw, Bolton; St Saviour, Ringley,  St Margaret, Halliwell and St John, Read.