In the 1850s Edward Walters was perhaps the leading commercial architect in Britain, equalled only by his cousin, Edward I’Anson in London. His abilities, are exemplified in a series of “Manchester warehouses,” intended as both showrooms and stores, which were erected in the central district of the city, during the boom years of the cotton industry.
Edward Walters was born in December 1808 at No 11 Fenchurch Buildings in the City of London, the son of John and Ann Walters (nee L’Anson). John Walters died at Brighton on 4 October 1821, reportedly as a result of chronic overwork. He left a widow, Ann, who survived him by many years; a son, Edward, and a daughter, Annie. His early death, at the comparatively early age of 39 years, significantly altered the course of Edward’s career.
Edward Walters was educated chiefly at Brighton and was still at school at the time of his father’s death. Shortly afterwards he returned to London, and entered the office of the architect Isaac Clarke, one of his father’s former pupils who had recently commenced business on his own account. He was not articled to Isaac Clarke, but remained with him for two or three years, thereby obtaining the rudiments of an architectural education. His first professional employment was in the office of Thomas Cubitt from whence he entered that of Lewis Vulliamy, where he was a contemporary of Owen Jones.For some time, he assisted John Wallen, and afterwards became assistant to Sir John Rennie, by whom he was sent to Constantinople in March 1832, to superintend the building of a small arms factory and some additions to the Arsenal for the Turkish Government.
Edward Walters remained in Constantinople until the completion of the works in 1837, when he returned to England, in company with his friend, the engineer William Henry Barlow, later president of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Barlow had also been sent to Constantinople in 1832 to superintend the installation of machinery at the ordnance factory on behalf of machine tool manufacturers Maudslay, Sons & Field. The two men left Constantinople in August 1837, visiting Smyrna, Malta, Sicily, and travelling through Calabria to Naples. Thence they went to Rome, Florence and Pisa, and by Leghorn and Marseilles to Paris, arriving at Dover on the 31 January 1838. The friendship which was thus early established between Edward Walters and William H Barlow continued until Edward Walter’s death in 1872. They frequently consulted each other upon points relating to their respective professional practice and worked together with the “most cordial feelings of amity.” In 1860 they were associated in the laying out a portion of the Midland Railway through the High Peak between Ambergate and Buxton of which W H Barlow was the consulting engineer; several of the stations on this line being built from Edward Walter’s designs.
As the Builder noted: “It is evident, from a consideration of his works, that he must at some time have studied the proportions of some of the Italian palaces, particularly the Mannerist palaces of Genoa and Venice; but he does not seem to have made any measurements, the drawings existent at his death being water colour sketches, executed with considerable force, and the point of view selected with a just eye for effect. It is possible that if he ever made any drawings they may have been destroyed, as he was extremely jealous of his early drawings being made public, and frequently tore up his youthful designs when he came across them.”
[During his residence in Constantinople, Edward Walters made an elaborate design for a palace for the Sultan a perspective of which was exhibited at the Institute. The design was never carried out, but, in all probability, this circumstance, led to the statement in one Manchester newspaper that he was appointed architect to the Sultan]
It was also while he was in Constantinople in 1837 that he met Richard Cobden, calico printer, co-founder of the Anti-Corn Law League, politician and four years his senior. This meeting would determine Walters’ future career. Cobden, was travelling abroad for his health, (while at the same time endeavouring to obtain the secret of producing the colour called “Turkey Red” used in the dyeing of cotton). Cobden struck up a warm friendship with Walters and persuaded him that the booming town of Manchester might provide a suitable stage on which to realise his architectural ambitions. Walters had no known local connections he does not appear to have even visited the town accepted the invitation, perhaps encouraged by W H Barlow’s decision to accept the post of assistant engineer to George W Buck on the Manchester to Birmingham Railway.
Both men arrived in Manchester in 1838, Walters setting up an office at 90 Fountain Street. His earliest known commission was a warehouse for Richard Cobden at 16, Mosley Street. Cobden's patronage would ultimately prove decisive, providing Walters withaccess to an important and wealthy section of the local community. By reference to the list of known works, his progress in his profession was at first slow. For five years he was chiefly employed in designing churches, chapels and schools and residences in the suburbs of the ordinary villa type. In 1844, however, he designed Oakwood Hall, Marple, a mansion in the Tudor style, upon which, it is said, he bestowed great care and study, most of the drawings being prepared by him personally. The following year, his proposals for the Salis Schwabe warehouse in Mosley Street, (now demolished), established him as the foremost designer of commercial warehouses in Manchester. In the design of this warehouse Walters had developed a distinct Manchester style of commercial architecture based on the Italian palazzo but modified to suit local conditions and requirements. However, Walters’ major work was undoubtedly the Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, of 1853-1856 won in a limited architectural competition. Victorian architectural competitions, particularly those held for projects in Manchester and Salford, rapidly gained a notorious reputation. That many members of the building committee for the Free Trade Hall happened to be members of the Anti-Corn Law League and Walters’ past clients was considered purely coincidental and of no consequence. However, it would be misleading to suggest that Walters was awarded the commission solely because of his League connections, strong as they were. His talents were then in full flow: the palatial Brown warehouse in Portland Street (1851) and the Italian Romanesque Independent Chapel at Knott Mill (1853) pointed to an architect capable of designing buildings in a variety of styles that stood out from the work of his contemporaries
In the architectural competition of 1860 for the Manchester Assize Courts Walters submitted a fine classical design but was unsuccessful. It is suggested that the success of Waterhouse’s Gothic design for the Assize Courts may have influenced Walter’s decision to semi-retire, aged a little over 50. This seems somewhat over-dramatic. Rather the course of the Lancashire cotton industry and Walter’ career over the next five years, would be determined by global events, both economic and political. By 1860, the Lancashire cotton industry was at the height of a boom with profits reaching 30% to 40% of capital invested, production higher than ever before and labour actively sought from rural areas. All this would change in a matter of months, as the American demand for finished cotton goods declined, and the dumping of cloth on the Indian and Chinese markets led to over-supply and a decrease in price. Added to this was the outbreak of the American Civil War and the blockade of raw cotton from the Southern States to the cotton mills of Lancashire.
Walters, too, was not immune from the prevailing economic conditions. Between 1860 and 1865, he received no new commissions for warehouse building, the mainstay of his practice. Forced to seek out new clients, it was William Henry Barlow, his old friend from Constantinople, who provided him with one such opportunity. Barlow had risen to the post of consulting engineer to the Midland Railway. By the 1860s the still expanding company was seeking to create a direct line from London to Manchester. To achieve this, they were forced to build a railway across difficult terrain through the High Peak district of Derbyshire and appointed Barlow to implement the scheme. Through Barlow’s influence, Walters was appointed to design the stations at Buxton, Bakewell, Longstone, Miller's Dale, Rowsley, and Hassop Station. It was no doubt through Barlow’s influence that Walters was invited to compete in the competition for the Midland Railway’s London terminus at St Pancras; a competition famously won by G G Scott.
By 1865 Edward Walters was on the verge of retirement. His last recorded work was a design for a portico to Salford Free Library and Museum in 1865. But having accepted the design, Salford Corporation placed it in the hands of T G Barker and authorised him to draw a specification and procure tenders for the work. Thomas Groom Barker and George Ellis had been Walters’ pupils and assistants, and from 1865 to 1868, his were his partners under the style of Walters Barker and Ellis. Walters retired to Hope Cottage Eccles Old Road, Pendleton, at the time one of Manchester’s most exclusive suburbs, inhabited by some of the city’s wealthiest and most influential families. His final years he spent travelling in England and Italy.
Edward Walters never married. While visiting Brighton he died of pleurisy on 22 January 1872 at 11 Oriental Place, Brighton.
(Note that The Builder and Paul Waterhouse’s biography in the Dictionary of National Biography erroneously give Oriental Terrace as the place of Walter’s death.]
Buildings and Designs
|Walters Barker and Ellis||Architectural practice||1865||1867||Manchester|