Mystery and intrigue surrounds the life of Victorian architect William Henry Crossland says Sheila Binns who has just written the first biography of ‘ Crossland, one of Yorkshire’s finest architects’. Here, the freelance researcher and regular visitor to Skipton, gives us a brief look into his life and accomplishments.

MYSTERY and intrigue surround the life of William Henry Crossland, one of Yorkshire’s greatest Victorian architects.

He designed many churches and secular buildings and restored numerous ancient churches in the county, including the new St Thomas’s Church, in Sutton-in-Craven, and fittings for St Andrew’s, Kildwick.

Crossland was born in Huddersfield in 1835 and trained under the great George Gilbert Scott.

Much of his work is in and around Huddersfield but he is best known for three gloriously rich buildings outside the county: Rochdale Town Hall, opened in 1871, the Holloway Sanatorium, 1885, and the Royal Holloway College, 1886, both in Surrey.

There are also three buildings in Craven associated with him. The church of St Thomas, Sutton- in-Craven, 1869, was a new church.

Daughter churches had been planned for the large parish of Kildwick as early as the 1850s. These plans came to fruition in Sutton in 1868, when Thomas Bairstow, a wealthy local, who had already paid for the Sutton National School, provided in his will a bequest for the building of the church.

The foundation stone was laid in November 1868, and the church, built to seat 350, was consecrated on St Thomas’s Day the following year, 21 December 1869.

It has a sturdy tower, built to carry a spire that was never added. The windows were mostly clear glass at consecration, although many were replaced by stained glass in later years as memorials to various people, including members of the Bairstow family.

The beautiful foliage carvings on the column capitals, are all different. The focus of the church is the huge stone pulpit, decorated with a large carving of an angel and banner, as well as carvings representing the evangelists. Thomas Bairstow’s widow ensured that she and her husband were remembered by placing a memorial plaque under the east window.

At around the same time (1868-69), Crossland is documented as having designed two fittings for Kildwick parish church itself.

Whether the commission at St Andrew’s Kildwick or the Sutton commission was first is unknown, but it seems certain that one came as a result of the other.

Crossland’s works were an oak screen across the bottom of the tower arch - no longer in place - and an elaborate cover for the font, in the style of an earlier one that had been destroyed.

This new font cover, by an unknown woodcarver, is a superlative example of Crossland’s outstanding design skills. It is 14 feet in height and weighs over four hundredweight so a new beam had to be installed from which it could be suspended, the old one not being sufficiently sound.

This beam could not have been installed without the removal of a gallery, installed in 1825, at the back of the church.

At the time of Crossland’s known work, there were also other works at St Andrew’s. The west end of the church was opened up; doorways were altered; the roof and ceiling were restored; the old vestry was replaced; new seats and a new heating system were installed; two new stained glass windows were installed and stonework was renewed; a new base was provided for the ancient font, to suit its octagonal form. The organ was also installed, replacing a harmonium and interior painting and oiling of wood was carried out.

These were substantial alterations and some of them had a direct bearing on Crossland’s documented work. It is likely, therefore, that Crossland actually carried out much more work at St Andrew’s than is actually recorded and that the documented works were integral to a whole restoration scheme.

Crossland’s third link with this area is All Saints, Broughton. Crossland’s commission was to restore the chancel. His plan for the work, signed and dated 1866, was for a large chancel, turning the Tempest Chapel into the Sacristy. The Tempest family may have objected to this, as the restoration was not carried out. In 1872, the matter was addressed again, and the restoration was completed in 1873. The result is a clumsy alteration on a scale that does not respect the proportions of the ancient church.

Parishioners have never liked the Victorian work and, puzzlingly, it is quite unlike any of Crossland’s other sensitive restorations.

The conundrum is solved by contemporary papers held in the North Yorkshire County Record Office. Here, together with Crossland’s plan, is another small plan to the same scale. It is for the chancel and is unsigned and undated and could easily have been traced from the original and then adapted by an unqualified person – possibly even the vicar at the time.

In the parish balance sheet for the restoration dated October 1873, there is no fee to Crossland or any other architect suggesting that, although Crossland drew up the initial plans, he was not responsible for the unpopular alterations.

In 1869, Crossland moved his office to London, although he continued to take on work in Yorkshire. The following year, he won an architectural competition to design an asylum at Virginia Water in Surrey for the phenomenally rich entrepreneur Thomas Holloway. This was to change his life utterly. Holloway Sanatorium was barely begun when the patron began planning another grand project, which he offered Crossland without a competition. This became the Royal Holloway College in Egham and Crossland somehow managed both enormous projects at the same time.

The extraordinary Holloway Sanatorium and stupendous Royal Holloway College, opened in 1885 and 1886 respectively, as well as the superlative Rochdale Town Hall, brought Crossland fame and celebrity. His earlier work in Yorkshire has, though, been undervalued. This biography aims to bring a long overdue reappraisal of the contribution made by W H Crossland to the built environment we treasure today.

WH Crossland: An Architectural Biography by Sheila Binns is published by the Lutterworth Press:

It includes discussion of all his known works and gives glimpses of his private life, new photographs and contemporary images.