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Edward Graham Paley

Although he will forever be associated with the City of Lancaster, Edward was born at Easington near York in 1823, the fourth son of a clergyman. He studied at Christ's Hospital, London, and at the age of fifteen commenced his long architectural career as a pupil of Edmund Sharpe, (1809-77), a Cambridge graduate who set up a practice in Sun Street, Lancaster. Paley became a partner in 1845 and after Sharpe's retirement in 1851 ran the growing practice for seventeen years before engaging Hubert James Austin, (1841-1915), as partner in 1868. The sons of both men subsequently joined the firm and at the time of its eventual closure in 1944, the practice then known as Austin and Paley had produced 636 known works in 108 years, ranging from hospitals, schools and churches, to minor restorations.

Between 1868 and 1886 when Paley's son Harry joined the firm, design output continued apace and in addition to their moving to larger premises in Castle Park, Lancaster, a separate office opened in Barrow-in-Furness. This extension produced numerous commissions within the rapidly growing industrial town, including work for the Furness railway and the impressive St. James' Church, (1867-9). Although this office was no longer listed in the Town Directory after 1890 work continued with North Lonsdale Hospital and other church commissions.

Both Edward Paley and Hubert Austin were the sons of Anglican clergymen but the significant growth in Non-Conformism and Catholicism meant that designs were produced for all branches of Christian faith. Paley's finest design in his own right, and that for which he has best become known, was St. Peter's Church in Lancaster, (1857-9). Pope Pius XI later elevated to the status of the church to a Cathedral in 1924. As a student of Sharpe, a Gothic revivalist and follower of Pugin, Paley earnestly continued the devotion to accuracy which paralleled the mediaeval master craftsmen, designing St. Peter's and then St. George's Church in Barrow, (1859-61), in the evolved Gothic Decorated style redolent of the period c.1300. Pevsner subsequently complimented his design of St.Peter's thus; "One might almost take it for a 'genuine' mediaeval building with 'correct' tracery on the north side of the nave and the later rose window on the south transept."

Notwithstanding his own considerable talents it was his inspired choice of Austin as business partner that propelled his practice and reputation. A lack of places of worship had been identified to parliament as early as 1815 and by the middle years of Victoria's reign, a genuine religious revival had resulted in several thousand new churches being built in England and Wales and many thousand more undergoing enlargement and restoration. In addition to their share of this ecclesiastical growth, Paley and Austin designed hotels, the impressive new wing to Holker Hall, (1873), Thurland Castle, stations and office buildings for the Furness railway, the Lancaster Waggon Works and the Royal Albert Hospital. They also undertook commissions for schools including Lancaster Grammar, Giggleswick, Sedburgh, and Rossall. Pevsner wrote that "...this Lancaster dynasty of architects did more work in the county, and for a time more outstanding work than any other."

Paley had not confined his life's work to architecture and held interests in history, music and education. He was a learned antiquarian and a founder member of the British Archaeological Society. In addition to the forty new churches he designed with Hubert Austin, his obituary of the 25th January 1895 in 'The Lancaster Observer', stated that seventy-two other buildings were to his individual credit. A further paragraph declared that "...he devoted himself to his practice (and he was) one of nature's gentlemen (who) was always cheerful and friendly."


J. Price Sharpe Paley and Austin A Lancaster Architectural Practice1836-1942 Centre for North-West Regional Studies, University of Lancaster, Lancaster 1998.

N. Pevsner The Buildings of England: North/South Lancashire PenguinBooks, Middlesex, 1969. (accessed 21st November 2008)

Contributor: Jonathan Cass

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