William Young

Manchester London

  • Born: 1814-1815 at Manchester
  • Married (I):  21 August 1844 to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Richard Alsop
  • Married (II) : unknown, five children
  • Died: 12 January 1877 at Bradford

William Young was responsible for the design of Ashton Town Hall and two significant churches at Walkden and West Leigh in Greater Manchester, but remains one of the more obscure architects of the nineteenth century.

In his book, The Mighty Tortoise, the late Canon Dobbs sought to contrast the undoubted splendour of St Mark’s Church at Worsley with the inadequate provision made to meet the religious needs of the mining community at Walkden, While the Earl of Ellesmere, the inheritor of the Bridgewater estate, had lavished some £20,000 on his own church, St Mark’s, he had spent a mere £4,500 on St Paul’s Walkden Moor. For the one church, the Earl had employed the famous architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, for the other, the unknown William Young. Although St Paul’s, Walkden, had all the outward appearance of the munificence of a liberal benefactor, it was poorly constructed, cheap, and shoddy, the interior bare and unadorned. “Built with St Mark’s rubbish,” claimed Dobbs, who saw the building as yet another manifestation of the exploitation of the working class by a nineteenth century coal owner.  It is curious, therefore, that the architectural historian, Nicholas Pevsner, should consider both St Paul’s Walkden and Young’s other church, St Paul’s West Leigh, two of the best churches built in the 1840s. The drawings for these “two excellent churches” (Pevsner) were exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions of 1848 and 1849 respectively and were considered among the first examples of the ‘new’ Gothic as advocated by Pugin and the Ecclesiologists, with no residual early 19th century Gothic in plan or detail

For his churches at Worsley and Walkden the Earl of Ellesmere commissioned two young London architects. Both were at an early stage of their careers and both showed signs of considerable promise. But while George Gilbert Scott would go on to become one of the most eminent architects of his day, with a national reputation and an eventual knighthood, William Young disappeared into virtual obscurity.

Although William Young was working in London at the time of his appointment, he had strong local connections and in 1844 had married Elizabeth Alsop, the sister of the Vicar of Westhoughton. He was educated in Manchester and articled to Thomas Wright of Salford before setting up practice on his own account at 51 King Street, Manchester, in the late 1830’s. In 1841 he was briefly in partnership with Thomas Westall (1840- 1841), and with Charles Lee (1841-), before moving to London. Here he immediately became involved in the Association of Architectural Draughtsmen and was a founder member of its successor, the Architectural Association. Founded predominantly by younger members of the profession the latter remains the oldest school of architecture in the country. He was also author of a "Key to the Metropolitan Building Act" in 1855. By 1850 Young appeared set on a successful career. He had already completed five major commissions, including the Classical Town Hall at Ashton-under-Lyne (in partnership with Lee), and the churches of St Paul at Westleigh and St Paul at Walkden, together with another church and town hall, as yet unidentified. However, further major commissions failed to materialise. Possibly one of the most gifted architects of his generation, William Young was unable to contrive sufficient opportunity to display his undoubted talent. He was briefly in partnership with Frederick Hyde Pownall (1832-1907) from about 1860 and subsequently became manager or chief assistant in the offices of the eminent Victorian architect G E Street RA, whose works locally included the St Peter’s Church, Swinton. His work as assistant to Street and possibly others in the later years of his life is mostly un-recorded as are details of any personal difficulties. He is assumed to have re-married in his fifties.

In January 1877 his death was reported in the Builder, which starkly concluded its notice of his passing with the words: “He died in penury at Bradford last Friday, the 12th inst, and has left a widow and five young children entirely destitute.”

The architect T Roger Smith, speaking at the RIBA, best summed up the general view, commenting "It is much to be lamented that a man so highly endowed in many respects and who had won the affection as well as the esteem of all with whom he came into contact, should have been unable to make provision for his family."

1841: Young & Westall. architects, land and building surveyors, valuers, agents, 51 King Street Manchester (Pigot and Slater's Directoryl)
1841 : Young and Lee. Land and building agents, surveyors. 51 King Street Manchester (Pigot's)

1846    William Young 7 Granby Street Mornington Crescent, London
1852    William Young, architect & surveyor 42 Burton Street, Burton Crescent London (P O Directory)


Name Designation Formed Dissolved Location
Young and Westall Architectural practice 1840 1841 Manchester
Pownall and Young Architectural practice 1862 1866 London