Richard Knill Freeman

Bolton architect

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Richard Knill Freeman was born in 1840 in Stepney. His father was a draper and his mother ran private schools. Little is known of his early life; from 1854 to 1860 he was articled to the architect George Rake of Portsea, and between 1861 and 1863 seems to have been working in both Portsmouth and Bolton. His obituary in the Building News states that "In the early sixties Mr Freeman gained some distinction as an architect at Derby, where for a time he had an office", (although as Building News gets his name wrong this may not be the most reliable information; Derby is not mentioned in his RIBA nomination papers). He moved to Bolton in about 1865 living first in Manchester Road, then at Haulgh Hall. He eventually settled in about 1874 at 114 Radcliffe Road where he lived until his death from pneumonia in 1904.

His original office seems to have been Haulgh Hall, Bolton; he then moved to 17 Wood Street where he remained for the rest of his working life. In his capacity as Diocesan Surveyor of Ecclesiastical Dilapidations he also had an office at Diocesan Chambers, 51 South King Street, Manchester.

He was associated with various other architects. His first partnership was with George Cunliffe of Bolton, as Cunliffe and Freeman, between 1865 and 1870/71. He was also involved with SD Robins (Freeman and Robins, 1888-1897) who did work in the Newcastle area, but it is probable that they just collaborated on competition entries or on projects in the North East. He was also associated with a number of other local architects. Charles Thomas Marshall, John Oliver Harris, Marshall Robinson, and Dan Gibson were assistants and Thomas Mawson worked with Knill Freeman on some projects such as the large house and garden at Graythwaite in the Lake District. Orlando Prescott, who practised in Wigan, was a pupil. There is no evidence for the claim that Freeman trained in Austin and Paley's office.

He married Mary Jane Tilly in Tewkesbury abbey in 1864 and they had five children.

Knill Freeman died on June 23 1904 aged 64. Hints of his character can be found in his obituaries: he was "conservative in politics, in religion a member of the High Church party and at one time an earnest supporter of the local branch of the English Church Union" (an Anglo-Catholic advocacy group within the Church of England) according to the Bolton Journal. He “held office” in connection with St Stephen and All Martyrs, Lever Bridge, where he is buried.

The Building News stated that he "was a very active, energetic, and distinctly clever man; he could speak well and easily. He had corns, as those who trod on them were apt to find out; he sometimes forgot that others might have corns too." He was considered an authority on church architecture and the practice of designing church fabrics [presumably pulpits, reredoses and pews, etc.] not only in Lancashire but also in the country and on the continent. He was a member of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society from 1885 until his death. He exhibited at the Royal Academy on seven occasions between 1882 and 1894.

After his death, in 1907, The Waifs and Strays' Society opened his former house at 114 Radcliffe Road as a home, after ten years of fundraising within the Manchester Diocese. The extent of Freeman's involvement in this is not clear but he was involved in other charitable schemes. He also had an interest in housing for the working classes and published some plans of model dwellings.

His son, Richard Frank Freeman (generally known as Frank R Freeman), FRIBA (1870-1934), continued the practice after Knill Freeman’s death as Knill Freeman & Son (Architects). He built a number of churches, schools and other buildings in a somewhat similar style to his father and completed or extended some of Knill Freeman’s churches.