A plaque in memory of Mary Ann Finley, Lucy Atkinson’s mother, has just been installed at the cemetery in Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia, where she was buried in 1877. The plaque was the initiative of Marianne Simpson, who is a descendant of Mary Ann’s third-oldest son, William York Finley (b.1815).
Two years after her husband Matthew’s death in 1847 Mary Ann emigrated to Australia, where her eldest son – also Matthew – was already settled. Together with her children Thomas, George and Mary Ann, she sailed to Australia in December 1849 on the Katherine Stewart Forbes. The ship – a three-masted barque weighing just 457 tonnes – had originally been used to transport convicts to Australia, but when the Finleys sailed they were almost the only passengers, the holds being full of trade goods. They arrived at Port Jackson on 16th May 1850.
Mary Ann’s eldest son, Matthew Smith Finley, was already in Australia working with the Union Bank of Australia. Her son William and daughter Elizabeth married and remained in England. Sons Horatio and Joseph – and maybe also their sister, Maria – travelled separately to Australia. Her eldest daughter Lucy, as we know, travelled to Russia in about 1840 and stayed there until she returned to England with her husband Thomas Atkinson in 1858.
Mary Ann lived out her final years with her daughter Mary Ann Smith’s family on a property near Wellington, NSW. Mary Ann died aged 84 on 1st May 1877, and is buried at Dubbo, NSW.
I have uncovered another fascinating document in the Manchester Archives about Thomas Atkinson’s activities as an architect in the city.
The letter to the Manchester Royal Institution signed by Thomas Atkinson and J G Irwin
(courtesy of Manchester Central Archives)
The document in question is a two-page letter in Thomas’ own handwriting, but signed by him and another prominent Manchester architect called John Gould Irwin. Dated 3rd December 1838 and sent from an address in Oxford Street, Manchester, it is addressed to the secretary of the Royal Manchester Institution and is written on behalf of the Manchester Architectural Society. This latter organisation only had a short life, from about 1837-45, but is noticeable for being the first such professional body of architects in the city. The fact that the letter is signed by Atkinson and Irwin suggests that they were officeholders of the Society.
The letter asks if the Royal Manchester Institution would be willing to let them use a room for their monthly meetings. According to Cornelius P Darcy, in his book The Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Lancashire, 1760-1860 (MUP, 1976): “In order to encourage a greater interest in problems of art and architecture, the Manchester Architectural Society sponsored a series of conversazioni”, evenings at which prominent artist and architects would exhibit their works to municipal leaders to give them an idea of what was currently in fashion.
As Darcy states: “At these conversazioni, painters and architects had an opportunity to discuss with civic leaders problems of art and architecture and to review designs of proposed buildings for the community. In 1838 they examined designs submitted in competition for the Catholic Church, confident that ‘public examination is the most effectual mode of ensuring just decisions in competitions.’ Two years later, when the Society examined some twenty-five designs that were submitted for the new Independent College, ‘The general opinion was, so far at least as the first premium is concerned, the decision had been judicious’.”
The reference to the design for a Catholic Church is interesting because we know that in 1840 Thomas exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London “an interior view of a design for a Catholic church, Manchester”. It was one of several building designs from that period for which Thomas failed to win a commission. I have previously written about two other commissions – for the Athenaeum in Manchester and for a Unitarian Chapel in Upper Brook Street – in which Thomas lost out to the London architect Sir Charles Barry. It is likely that there was a lot of disquiet about the way in which commissions were awarded and this may explain Darcy’s comment about public examination being “the most effectual mode of ensuring just decisions in competitions.” It may have rankled even more with Thomas because in April 1838 he had been declared bankrupt, after one of his building projects was delayed. Even this, however, does not appear to have discouraged him from continuing to play an important role in this pioneering architects’ society.
Thomas Atkinson’s first book, Gothic Ornaments selected from the Different Cathedrals and Churches of England, published in 1828-29, continues to intrigue me. I last wrote about it on 16th July, when I commented on the fact that it was in the forefront of architectural books from the first half of the nineteenth century that sought to popularise the Gothic style. I have now had a bit more time to study the book and to consider Thomas’ relationship with his co-author, Charles Atkinson.
Despite the shared surname, it is unlikely that the two men were related. They must have met soon after Thomas first moved to London in the mid-1820s. Before long they were collaborating on the designs for a number of churches, mostly in the neo-Gothic style. Perhaps it was the detailed stone carving work required for these churches that gave Thomas the idea of publishing a book?
The description of Gothic Ornaments as a ‘book’ is actually something of a misnomer. It wasn’t published as a finished product, but ‘in folio’. This means that individual sheets were issued at regular intervals, either to subscribers or for sale to customers of the publishers. Those buying the sheets would collect the set and then have them bound at their own expense. Thus the Literary Gazette for January 1829 includes an announcement from the publisher, Thomas Griffiths of Wellington Street in the Strand, London:
“The Work will be complete in 25 Parts published at intervals of one month, each containing at least Four Subjects in atlas quarto with an ornamental Wrapper, price 4s. each.” The first plates were in fact published as early as September 1828, each of them containing one or two full-size drawings aimed at “the Architect, Carver and Modeller”.
The Gentleman’s Magazine (Vol 26, p452), reviewed plates Nos. I and II: “These ornaments have been selected from our cathedrals and other churches by the Mssrs. Atkinsons, Architects, by whom they are drawn as large as the original bosses, finials, etc. They are highly useful and from their accuracy in size and detail will be of great assistance to the working mason. The present numbers exhibit two finials and a head from Minster in Kent, a boss from Lincoln, a crocket and foliated capital from Lichfield and an ornament from a cornice at Boston Church.”
Later in 1829 the Gentleman’s Magazine carried a further small review: “We have already given our opinions of this useful publication. No 9 and 10 have just been published. They consist of many beautiful specimens of Gothic Ornaments in the Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral, consisting of crockets, finials, bosses and mouldings, which ornament the arches, pediments, cornices, brackets, etc, of that fine ecclesiastical structure. To the admirers of Gothic Architecture, and to artists especially, these specimens will afford much gratification.”
The Literary Gazette noted that the drawings were “delineated with great distinctness and will no doubt be very useful to the architectural students.”
So it is clear that these drawings were aimed at those who were responsible for decorating the stonework of the neo-Gothic church buildings then being built throughout Britain – much as Thomas himself had done from his earliest days, when he started out as a stone mason working for his father.
However, there are several unresolved questions. The first mystery concerns the joint authorship of the book. If we look closely, we can see that the first nine plates are all signed by ‘Thos. & Chas. Atkinson’. Plates 9-40 are signed by T&C Atkinson. However, plates 41-44 (I have not yet found plates 45-48) are signed by TW Atkinson alone. The first 28 plates were printed by Ingrey & Madeley. The next seven were printed by Jardine & co of Cornhill and from No 35 onwards they are printed by G E Madeley at the same address as the publisher, Thomas Griffiths. We know that Ingrey and Madeley dissolved their partnership on 23 March 1829, so that allows us to say that the first 28 plates were printed before the end of March 1829. We also know that Thomas Atkinson and Charles Atkinson dissolved their partnership on 7th August 1929 “by mutual consent”. This could explain why the last few plates are signed by Atkinson alone.
There is one more curious fact that also strengthens the notion that Thomas continued to publish the plates after his partnership with Charles Atkinson was dissolved. In addition to the well-known title page for the plates – the book contains no text – there is a second version of the title page in the British Library that is very different.
The two versions of the title page for Gothic Ornaments. The version on the left appeared before the one on the right.
As you can see, this second version of the title page contains none of the detailed illustrations that appear on the original and only carries Thomas’ name and the statement ‘Published by the Author’. Although I cannot be sure, it seems that this title page was printed following Thomas’s split with Charles in August 1829 and comes from an edition of 48 plates. Although he does not claim to have drawn all the illustrations, my guess is that Thomas was responsible for the bulk of them and that Charles Atkinson possibly helped to fund their publication. When the two men parted company Thomas carried on as best he could, publishing the remaining plates himself.
What happened to Charles Atkinson after his partnership with Thomas came to an end? That will be the subject of a future posting.
(Once again, I am very grateful to Sally Hayles for her diligent research, without which it would have been impossible to write this posting).