Will the real J. T. Parkinson please stand up? The architect of Bryanston and Montagu Squares in Marylebone
By Survey of London, on 21 August 2020
Long, narrow, leafy, and still to a large degree lined with elegant late-Georgian terraces of the 1800s–20s, Bryanston and Montagu Squares form a distinctive part of the grid of streets and squares making up the Portman Estate district of St Marylebone, south of Marylebone Road. While the aristocratic mansions of nearby Portman Square have almost all vanished, replaced before the Second World War by blocks of flats, the smaller scale of these two charming squares has helped ensure their survival, most of the losses there being the result of wartime bombing. Like many terraces of the day, the houses on the long sides of Bryanston Square were designed as complete Classical compositions, with pilastered end pavilions and centrepieces. Those in Montagu Square are plainer but more informal, with shallow bow windows on the ground floor, many of these carried up higher later on in the nineteenth century.
The architectural and town-planning qualities of these squares have long been recognized, but the architect who designed them, James Thompson Parkinson (d. 1859), has rarely been correctly acknowledged. Most sources, even some of the most reputable, attribute the work to the apparently unrelated architect and surveyor Joseph Parkinson (d. 1855). Other aspects of the two men’s careers have often been misidentified or conflated, and the confusion has even created a hybrid, Frankenstein’s monster of an architect, ‘Joseph T. Parkinson’, who never existed. This blog post attempts to disentangle the two Parkinsons, setting out their respective identities and some of their major commissions.
James Thompson Parkinson was born in 1780 in Whitechapel to John Parkinson, a surgeon dentist, and his wife Elizabeth. The family moved to central London in 1787 or 1788, to Racquet Court, Fleet Street, an address which James sometimes used for his practice and where two of his brothers carried on their father’s business after his death in 1804. Howard Colvin, who attempted to separate the two Parkinsons and their work in his Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, records that J. T. Parkinson was apprenticed in 1795 to Richard Wooding (d. 1808), a London surveyor, and he seems to have been in practice on his own by the early 1800s. In 1805 he married Louisa Sophia Salter of Poplar at St Pancras Old Church. By this time he was based in Ely Place in Holborn.
In the Auto-Biography of an Octogenarian Architect (1870), George Ledwell Taylor recalled being articled in 1804, aged 15, to ‘Mr Parkinson of Ely Place’, having been passed on to him by the well-known architect-builder James Burton, who was then about to retire. Taylor gives little information about his employer, but does recount that he was a commander of the 1,000-strong volunteers corps raised by Burton in 1804, the Loyal British Artificers. Parkinson was involved with Burton in property development in the Tavistock Square area of Bloomsbury in the early 1800s, where both men lived, and he handled the sale of Tavistock House when Burton left there for a new country house, Mabledon House, that he built in 1805 near Tonbridge in Kent. For these reasons, it seems most likely that it was J. T. Parkinson who designed Mabledon House for Burton, not Joseph Parkinson, to whom it has often been attributed.
Marylebone was where J. T. Parkinson’s energies were to be concentrated in the ensuing decades. For some years he was architect and surveyor to the Portman Estate, which until the 1950s, when sales took place to meet death duties, extended from Oxford Street to well north of Marylebone Road. During this period he was working in partnership with David Porter, a chimney-sweep who built up a successful business from next to nothing and became a property developer and notable philanthropist. Much of the southern portion of the Portman Estate had already been built up by this time, but there remained a good deal of undeveloped ground ripe for building, and as well as Bryanston and Montagu Squares, Parkinson and Porter were engaged in development elsewhere on the estate during the 1810s–30s, including the Dorset Square area north of Marylebone Road. Parkinson also designed the new part-covered Portman Market for hay, fruit, vegetables, meat, and also pigs, erected in 1829–30 in Church Street off Edgware Road. Run by the agent to the Portman Estate, Thomas Wilson, the Portman Market was set up to match or eclipse Covent Garden, but never achieved this level of success. It was damaged by fire in the 1880s and subsequently rebuilt, and although the site has now been redeveloped, the market itself lives on in the form of the regular open-air market in Church Street, with stalls stretching from Edgware Road to Lisson Grove.
One other identifiable work by J. T. Parkinson from this period is a chapel built by subscription at Bagshot Heath, Surrey, in 1819–21 (with the assistance of a small grant from the recently formed Incorporated Church Building Society), for which a plan and elevation by him survive at Lambeth Palace Library. But little else is heard of Parkinson after around 1830 until his death. Colvin suggests that in the 1830s Parkinson left London for Jersey, and it is possible that he spent the latter part of his life there and on the Continent. When he died in December 1859, at the house of his nieces in Holloway, aged 79, it was reported that he had latterly been ‘of Versailles’ as well as of Wyndham Place on the Portman Estate. A son, Rawlinson Parkinson (d. 1885), followed him into the architectural profession, and continued to use the Racquet Court, Fleet Street address for his practice. He was a resident of Highgate, and surveyor to Hornsey District Council, and buildings designed by him include: Fairlawns, a large classical villa of 1853 at 89 Wimbledon Park Side, Putney Heath; the Rainbow Tavern at 15 Fleet Street (1859–60); and new printing offices for the Standard newspaper in Shoe Lane (1871).
J. T. Parkinson’s pupils include the architect and civil engineer Edward Cresy (1792–1858), friend, travelling companion, brother-in-law and co-author of George Ledwell Taylor.
Fairlawns, 89 Wimbledon Park Side, Putney Heath (© Historic England Archive, IOE01/04345/22)
Joseph Parkinson was born in 1783, the son of James Parkinson (d. 1813), a land agent. A year after Joseph’s birth, his father acquired the well-known natural history collection of Sir Asthon Lever, which Lever had decided to dispose of by lottery. The collection had latterly been displayed by him in a museum at Leicester House, Leicester Square. James Parkinson took a substantial terrace house on the south side of Blackfriars Road, near Blackfriars Bridge, and in 1788–9 erected at its rear a spacious circular exhibition building, known as the Rotunda, to exhibit the Leverian Museum.
In 1806 he sold the whole collection at auction, and the Rotunda was then converted by his son Joseph for the Surrey Institution, a new establishment aimed at spreading scientific and literary knowledge among the London public via lectures and exhibitions. Completed by 1808, Joseph Parkinson’s work was well received in the press, The Star stating that the manner of the conversion was ‘highly honourable … to the talents and ingenuity’ of its architect, and singling out the Lecture Theatre in the Rotunda as ‘one of the most complete and elegant of its size in the Metropolis’.
As Colvin records, Joseph Parkinson was articled to the well-known Yorkshire-born architect and surveyor William Pilkington (1758–1848). From 1819 he was surveyor to the Union Assurance Society and for most of his career was based at 41 Sackville Street, Piccadilly. Perhaps his most notable commission came in the 1820s when he spent several years working on designs for new buildings and alterations at Magdalen College, Oxford. For some 30 years there had been proposals for a new building programme there involving such eminent figures as James Wyatt, John Nash, Humphrey Repton and the artist and architect John Buckler, but when this finally got under way in 1822 it was Parkinson who got the job. There are numerous plans by him in both Classical and Gothic styles, but the only major work actually carried out to his designs seems to have been the rebuilding of the north front of the cloisters in 1823, in a Tudor Gothic manner, and the restoration of the library. Parkinson was also involved in the 1830s in the speculative development of substantial villas in Grafton Place, Kentish Town, now part of Prince of Wales Road; and with a small square of houses in Lady Leake’s Grove (now Adelina Grove), in Mile End. When he died in 1855 he left his estate to his nephew and fellow architect Frederick Claudius John Parkinson, who had been assisting him in his office. John Raphael Brandon and Thomas Hayter Lewis were also pupils.
A few uncertainties remain. Rotherfield Park House, a Grade 1 listed country pile of 1815–21 at East Tisted, Hampshire, Tudoresque Gothic in style, has long been attributed to Joseph Parkinson. The house was erected for James Scott, of the Fulham family of builders and contractors, who were thought to have been involved in the construction of Bryanston and Montagu Squares – though that is not the case. Colvin assigns the house to James Thompson Parkinson, and it certainly has some stylistic similarities with James Burton’s Mabledon House. That tenuous connection between James Scott and Joseph Parkinson has also led to an attribution to Parkinson of a row of semi-detached Italianate stuccoed cottages of the 1820s at 22–38 Rotherfield Street in Islington, which have Ionic pilasters with unusual ammonite volutes – simply because the estate on which they stand belonged to the Scott family. Finally, the ‘Mr Parkinson’ appointed by the Rector and Churchwardens at Streatham to rebuild the body of St Leonard’s Church in 1830–2 is usually given as J. T. Parkinson, though this has always been identified as Joseph rather than James. So for now there are still pieces of the puzzle that do not fit.
22–38 Rotherfield Street, Islington (© Historic England Archive, IOE01/15807/38)