Joseph Stretch Crowther
- Born: 1820 at Coventry
- Married: 1891 at Orsett, Essex, Richanda Barber
- Died: 24 March 1893 at Southport
A scholarly and talented church architect, Joseph Stretch Crowther was one of the first Manchester architects to adopt the principles of the Ecclesiological Society and retained a lifetime interest in the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages. His best churches were high and beautifully proportioned and his detailing was usually of great finesse. A staunch churchman, he maintained a strong interest interested in the liturgy, music and organs. He was described as “a man of singularly retiring disposition, highly educated, of cultured taste, but difficult to move when he had made up his mind.”
Born at Coventry in 1820, he was a son of John Crowther, (described as an architect of that town) and his wife, Martha. Details of Joseph Crowther's early education are unclear, although the Manchester Lit & Phil obituary suggests that he had been well educated, partly at Cambridge, and that at one time he had considered taking holy orders. In September 1838 Crowther was articled to the Manchester architect Richard Tattersall. Tattersall had been responsible for a number of Unitarian Chapels and Commissioner churches, but by the late 1830s had begun to explore the more accurate reproduction of Gothic details. In 1840 Tattersall was commissioned by Lord Derby to restore the family chapel in Manchester Cathedral. Crowther measured and sketched the chapel for Tattersall, beginning his association with the cathedral, the restoration of which he called "the crowning act" of his life. Crowther remained a pupil of Tattersall until 1842 or 1843. In his Separate Statement for Fellowship of the RIBA dated 29 June 1888, Crowther stated that in the period 1843-6 he had travelled in the United Kingdom for twelve months. Next, according to his statement, he became Managing Clerk to Mr Whittaker, Architect, of Bolton, (presumably the unnamed mill architect of his obituary), to gain further experience of construction before he commenced working for Henry Bowman, again as Managing Clerk.
Bowman took Crowther into partnership in 1846, the year he published his first book, "Specimens of the Ecclesiastical Architecture of Great Britain." In the preparation of this book he had been assisted by James Hadfield and J S Crowther. In addition, several of the drawings were prepared by Thomas Worthington who was articled to Bowman at the time and remained in Bowman’s office until 1847. With Crowther, Bowman was to produce his more important work, "Churches of the Middle Ages", originally published between 1849 and 1852 as part-works. These was eventually published in 1853 in the form of a large folio edition in two volumes containing a series of measured drawings but no text. By this time the partnership between Bowman and Crowther had ended. These volumes contained perspectives, plans, elevations and details of mediaeval churches, many examples being taken from the area around Sleaford in Lincolnshire. Again, a number of young architects helped in the preparation of the drawings and perspectives, including James Fowler of Louth, G.Hawkins, R. M. Smith, J. G. Elgood, Worthington’s assistant in 1855 and partner in 1880, Edward Salomons of Manchester and A.F. Tait. Both Salomons and Tait were also to work for the art dealer Thomas Agnew. A F Tait produced railway prints as an artist and lithographer; in 1850 he emigrated to America where he achieved fame as an animal and sporting artist.
Crowther's association with Bowman for a time placed him at the vanguard of church architecture, and any national reputation Crowther was to obtain was based on the book which they compiled together. The publication of Churches of the Middle Ages between 1849-52 for the first time gave architects source details of Gothic parish churches in the archeologically correct styles advocated by Pugin. His first major church, St. Mary's, Hulme, shows Crowther's use of medieval precedent and his liking for the picturesque in the careful massing of the domestic buildings and the placement of the tower and spire. However, the progress of the Gothic Revival was so rapid that even before the book and church were complete, Butterfield and Street had begun to develop new ideas, a progression from the strict copying of medieval examples. Crowther was never again to be at the forefront of the High Victorian Gothic Movement. Although highly talented and capable of great finesse, he was not a naturally inventive or innovative architect. Details that had once proved satisfactory were used repeatedly in later projects. Elements such as the gable cross and quatrefoil air vents became standard on all his churches, acting almost as a trademark. The details gathered for Churches of the Middle Ages were to provide the precedent for much of his later work. Researches associated with the book provided Crowther with “an endless collection of details and precedents from which he was able to draw at any time.”. However, the publication of this book results in Crowther's sources being more obvious than those of most Victorian church architects. His later work on the restoration of Manchester Cathedral was to provide a further rich source of medieval details. The restorations of Mobberley, Littleborough and Rochdale all contain elements derived from the timber carvings in the roof of the Cathedral.
Helped by a clerk, Crowther conducted his architectural practice from 22, Princess Street opposite the Athenaeum, the building probably demolished about 1870. He moved then to 28, Brazennose Street in the period 1870-1875. (letters dated 1870-2), and later to 20, St. John's Street (1875). On 17 December 1888 he was elected a Fellow of the RIBA, proposed by J. Holden, J. Murgatroyd, E. Salomons. About 1862 Crowther moved from Alderley Edge to 7, Hayward Street, Cheetham, some half a mile away from St. Albans Church where he sang in the choir and played the organ. Here he remained until about 1880 when he returned to Alderley Edge but not to Redcliffe Grange. Although the house remained in his ownership until his death in 1893, it was let out. Instead, Crowther moved to Endsleigh, Wood Lane, Alderley Edge, a house that was to serve both as a home and an office.
Crowther remained single until 1891 when he married his housekeeper Richanda Barber at Orsett, Essex. He was 71 she was 22.
Crowther died in a nursing home at 168 Lord Street in Southport on 25th March 1893, leaving almost £20,000. Farrar & Co. of Brazennose Street Manchester acted as solicitors dealing with the estate, Richard Crowther, Herbert Oakes Crowther and David Bryce being named as executors. At the time of his death he had almost completed a monograph, An Architectural History of the Cathedral Church, subsequently finished and edited by Dr Frank Renaud, an antiquarian of Alderley Edge, and published by a Mr Cornish. Associated with the book were Frank Oakley, the son of the Dean of Manchester, James Thompson and John Battye who also worked for Waterhouse.
- 1847: Bowman and Crowther, 2 Essex Street Manchester
- 1850-1853: Bowman and Crowther 68 George Street (advertisements etc)
- 1861: 22 Princess Street (Slater)
- 1863: J S Crowther, architect (Bowman and Crowther), 22 Princess Street (Slater)
- 1870-1876: 28, Brazennose Street (letters dated 1870-2),
- 1877-1879: 20, St. John's Street, Manchester
- 1850: Jos. S Crowther architect (Bowman & Crowther) Derby Cottage Cheetham
- 1853: Jos. S Crowther architect (Bowman & Crowther) 175 Cheetwood
- 1861: J S Crowther. Redclyffe Grange Alderley Edge (Census/Slater)
- 1863: J. S Crowther architect (Bowman & Crowther), 7 Heywood Street, Cheetham Hill Road
- 1876: J. S Crowther architect , 7 Heywood Street, Cheetham Hill Road
- 1879-1881: J. S Crowther, architect , 7 Heywood Street, Cheetham Hill Road
- 1881 Endsleigh Alderley Edge (Census)
Buildings and Designs
|Bowman and Crowther||Architectural practice||1846||1853||Manchester|