James Pigott Pritchett was one of York's most prolific architects during the early to mid-nineteenth century. He was born on 14th October 1789, the son of a Pembroke clergyman, Revd. Charles Pigott Pritchett, and Anne Rogers of Ludchurch, Pembrokeshire, of whom little is known. Educated at the Royal Academy Schools, Pritchett began his career working with London-based architect Daniel Alexander but was in York by 1813 where he worked alongside Charles Watson, whose practice had already been established for five years. Together, they worked on designs for buildings such as the new Lendal Congregational Chapel, York (1816) and the Friends Meeting House in Friargate, York (1817). Their designs for Wakefield Lunatic Asylum were chosen from a competition of no-less than forty proposals and were lauded for their innovative solutions for lighting, heating, ventilation and steam-powered washing machine and mangle, that building being completed in 1818. Pritchett and Watson's later commissions included modifications to York Lunatic Asylum (more recently Bootham Park Hospital), a new neo-classical facade to Lord Burlington's Assembly Rooms in Blake Street the York (1828) and the Savings Bank in St. Helen's Square, York (1829). Their collaboration ended in 1831 after which Pritchett continued to work independently.

The new Lendal Congregationalist church in York wasn't simply an architectural project for Pritchett. He served as the Deacon and led the Sunday School as superintendent. The Congregationalist community in York was flourishing during the early 1800s and Pritchett was the natural choice of architect to design the new Salem Chapel in St. Saviourgate, opening in 1839, this work being undertaken to massively increase the seating capacity in Congregationalist churches in the city. The demise of the Salem Chapel is one of the City of York's greatest travesties, this impressive edifice having been demolished in 1963 and replaced with a brutalist office block.

Pritchett was responsible for the entire collection of neo-classical buildings in York cemetery, including the cemetery chapel (1838), based on the Erechtheus in Athens and fronted by a tetrastyle portico of four ionic orders, in addition to the similarly modelled but much simpler cemetery gatehouse. These buildings are now listed Grade II and Grade II* respectively. Pritchett's own memorial lies nearby in the non-conformist area in the southern part of the 24-acre cemetery. In stark contrast to the grandeur of many of his architectural achievements, his grave is inconspicuous - a simple coped, incised slab, perhaps a reflection of Pritchett's own subscription to the Congregationalist denomination. The original coping stone is now badly eroded and the inscription barely legible but York Civic Trust, in 2018, installed a new headstone commemorating elements of his life and work.

Pritchett established himself not only in York but also in West Yorkshire, where his work included town-houses at Hanover Square in Leeds (1820s). It was in Huddersfield, however, where his West Riding commissions began to proliferate. He designed the now demolished Ramsden Street Chapel (1824), Huddersfield College (1839) and Lion Arcade in John William Street in 1853. Two of Pritchett's buildings in Huddersfield became famous for starkly contrasting reasons. The railway station in Huddersfield (1847) won the accolade "one of the best early railway stations in England" by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner. St. Peter's parish church, however, completed in 1834 led to a decline in his reputation and his commissions. Costs soared from a planned £2,000 to £10,000 and the church's construction technique led to early stonework failures. His reputation and commissions suffered a decline after Hon. Isabella Ramsden, from a powerful land-owning local family on whose estate Pritchett had completed several prominent buildings, publicly declared her contempt for his work. Another critic, writing in the Huddersfield Chronicle in May 1858 described St. Peter's church as 'a ricketty and scabbed looking thing". This had not been before Pritchett had served as the appointed architect for the Dean and Chapter of York Minster and for successive Earls Fitzwilliam as principal architect for the Wentworth Estate.

For the Dean and Chapter, most of his designs, including St. Peter's School, latterly the Minster Song School, the Consistory Court and Minster Chamber in Minster Yard, were executed in the Gothic or "Tudor" style in sympathy with the ecclesiastical styles extant in their immediate surroundings. His designs for the Purey-Cust building on the Minster estates were, however, not selected. For Earl Fitzwilliam, between 1813 and 1831, he had proposed designs for an unfulfilled library in Peterborough along with work on numerous buildings across the estate including landscaping at Wentworth Woodhouse.

At 36 years of age Pritchett co-authored a book A History of the Nonconformist Churches of York, providing a particularly personal account of his work in the city, from the perspective of a man who was engaged with its community and topography from his unique position as both architect and religious figurehead. He held other positions of authority, having been elected as a member of the council for the Yorkshire Philosophical Society and as a Guardian of the Poor for the York Union representing the 'Liberty of Mint Yard'.

Pritchett married his first wife, Peggy Terry, of Beckenham in Kent, in 1813, although he spent only a short length of time in the county and his architectural legacy is little evidenced in the south of England, except for some elements of Maidstone Prison. They moved back to York immediately after the wedding and of their four children, Charles, b. 1818, eventually took over his father's practice. Pritchett and Terry's grandson was John Henry Middleton, director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge followed by the Victoria and Albert Museum until his untimely death in 1896. Pritchett's second wife Caroline (neé Benson), the daughter of a solicitor from Thorne in South Yorkshire, is buried alongside her husband in the cemetery in York. With Caroline, Pritchett had three children including James Pigott Pritchett who went on to practise as an architect in Darlington.

Graham White, January 2021

 

 

Further Reading

York Civic Trust - [Article on James Pigott Pritchett] by Geoffrey Geddes and Richard Wilcock

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - [James Pigott Pritchett] by Derek Linstrum (you will need a university or local libraries account to access the full Oxford DNB article)

"The Life and Work of Pritchett of York" by Geoffrey Broadbent, published in Studies in Architectural History Vol II, 1956 ed. William A. Singleton

[James Pigott Pritchett (1789-1868)] - Huddersfield Exposed: Exploring the History of the Huddersfield Area

Lambeth Palace Library - Plans and Drawings by James Pigott Pritchett

Webster, C. 2020, 'Architectural Patronage in Early-Victorian Huddersfield' in Royle, E . (ed.) Power in the Land, University of Huddersfield Press