The Architect, John Middleton

John Middleton was born in York on 27 August 1820, the son of Thomas Middleton (1774-1833) and Hannah Sowersby (c1780-1834). Thomas was a Freeman of York, who was a successful shopkeeper and flour dealer. The deaths of both parents during his adolescence led to John being brought up by his uncle, John Sowersby.

He was educated at York Collegiate School, which he left in the summer of 1838 to become a pupil of the York architect James Pigott Pritchett (1789-1868). Pritchett deigned building in the picturesque Tudor-revival style and elegant neo-classicism. His notable York buildings include the Grecian Cemetery Chapel (1837) and the former Savings Bank (1829) in St. Helen’s Square.

His First Practise in Darlington
Middleton married Pritchett’s daughter, Maria Margaret, in July 1844, having shortly before having set up his own practise in Darlington. Though only 24, in August 1844 Middleton gained his first contract and was asked to design Cleveland Lodge, an impressive mansion situated directly beneath Roseberry Topping, for wealthy Quaker Thomas Richardson  (a member of the Pease family) was a major shareholder in the new Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR), and Middleton was then employed as its retained architect and built stations and railway buildings for the company; and for a number of lines, including the Wear and Derwent Junction Railway (1845), the Middlesbrough and Redcar Railway (1846) and finally the recently re-opened Weardale Railway (1847).

The recession of the late eighteen-forties reduced railway incomes and share values. Middleton’s railway work seems to have ceased in 1849. Three years later his brother-in- law, James Pigott Pritchett junior (1830-1911), joined the practice.

Middleton relinquished his share in the business in 1855 and then travelled, partly in Italy[1], with his wife and young son before settling in Cheltenham in 1859, to which he had ‘retired’.Middleton’s work during his time in Darlington includes a variety of non railway buildings, though his church of St. John (1847-9), which stands conspicuously close to the town’s Bank Top Station, served a district partly colonised by railway employees. Other works in the town include its Central Hall and a branch of the National Provincial Bank (1849-50): a dignified Italianate palazzo, though it retains nothing of the original interior. A more sternly institutional design was his new block (1846) for the recently-founded Quaker Agricultural School at Great Ayton (now converted into flats).

His Second Practise in Cheltenham
After settling in Cheltenham, after a their tour of Europe, John Middleton was asked to design a new church for the St Mark’s district of the town; this was his first building in Cheltenham.

Middleton went on to build a total of five churches, St Marks (1861), All Saints (1868), Holy Apostles, Charlton Kings (1871), St Phillip and St James, Leckhampton (1879) and St Stephens (1873) which was only a mission church and not a parish church until later. Middleton built up a thriving practice, covering a variety of buildings, virtually all of a committed Gothic-Revival character. Other notable buildings being, the Day Boy End Cheltenham College, Cheltondale Boarding House for Cheltenham College, the Ladies College Main buildings, the Delancy Fever Hospital and a number of schools, including the original Holy Apostles C of E school by his church.

He also built a number of private houses, including his own Westholm on the Bayshill Estate, and Eastholm on Wellington Square. He also carried out a number of important Church restorations, and further afield built the Canterbury Buildings at Lampeter, plus a number of Churches across South Wales.

We agree with many commentators that his chef d’oeuvre is All Saints Church (1865-9), Pittville, Cheltenham, whose sumptuous interior marks a long journey from the simplicity of Darlington St. John.

Middleton died on 13 February 1885, but the practice was continued by Henry Prothero and George Henry Phillott, who had trained in the office and become partners shortly before his death. His son, John Henry Middleton (born 5 October 1846), was also a partner, but his chief interest was art history and archaeology. In 1886 John Henry became Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, subsequently adding the roles of Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and Director of Art at the South Kensington (Victoria & Albert) Museum. He died in June 1896.

Information on this page is based on the research of Fr Brian Torode (former Priest in Charge, of St Stephens Cheltenham – from his book John Middleton Victorian, Provincial Architect ISBN 978-953-99762-5-3

[1] When the Middleton settled in Cheltenham John Henry (John’s son) was enrolled as a Day Boy at Cheltenham College, and was reported to be fluent in Italian.