More on Gothic Ornaments – Pt 2.

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.”

Review of Gothic Ornaments in The Gentleman’s Magazine

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.

Gothic Ornament title page     go-original-cover

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).

2 thoughts on “More on Gothic Ornaments – Pt 2.

  1. Dear Nick Fielding – I an interested in why you do not consider that Thomas and Charles Atkinson are related – both have similar training – architects, drawing, lithography & stone masonry, and both worked for a while as partners.

    My interest is in trying to find out about the ‘early life’ of Charles Atkinson, as his ‘later life’ is well documented after he came to Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land) in May 1833, after having survived the burning and sinking of the ship Hibernia off Rio de Janeiro in February 1833.


    1. Hi Tony,
      Not sure if you have seen Sally Hayles’ detailed biography of Charles Atkinson that we published on 4 May 2017. She sets out a great deal of information about his early history and makes a strong case for him not being related to Thomas Atkinson, despite the surname and collaboration, both in churchbuilding and in producing the book Gothic Ornaments. While accepting that the issue is not finally resolved, the evidence so far is against a family relationship. Any further information on either the working – or possible family – relationship between the two men would be of great interest. Can I also ask what stimulated your interest in Charles?


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