Pilling was articled to George Cunliffe in 1862 and from 1869 to Cunliffe and Freeman. He was assistant to Freeman until 1871 when the Cunliffe and Freeman partnership was dissolved. From 1871 to 1880 he was head draughtsman to George Cunliffe. His practice retained the name of Cunliffe and Pilling after Cunliffe’s death in 1887 and was based in Mawdsley Street, Bolton. He was proposed for fellowship of the RIBA by Freeman and the Bolton architects Bradshaw and Gass.