An important piece of the Padorama puzzle?

The booklet accompanying the Padorama exhibition is a valuable source of images of the early days of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which opened in 1830. Both the booklet and exhibition covered the 31 mile journey from Manchester to Liverpool. The exhibition was held at the Baker Street Bazaar in London and appears to have been open from mid-May until the end of August, 1834. Its presence would have coincided with construction of London's first steam railway, the London & Greenwich, which opened in 1836.

Although there has been much speculation, little is known about the origins and nature of the Padorama. A brief description in the Spectator, however, gives valuable context.

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Figure: Excerpt from the Spectator, May 1834.

From this it may be plausible to deduce:

  1. It was a moving panorama rather than a model railway set against a static backdrop. It is not possible to say whether this involved the canvas being located on the outside of a large rotating cylinder or being scrolled between two spindles. While the latter was normally the case during presentations, i.e. with a speaker interpreting the scene, the Padorama operated on a continuous basis such that the entire display could be seen in 30 minutes from time of entry (as per the final advert in the same volume). As house lights would probably be dimmed, the accompanying (and optional) booklet would be of limited use and was probably more by way of an aide memoire or memento. Perhaps there were posters briefing viewers in advance of their seeing the actual display.
  2. The viewer perspective varied and model trains appeared when the railway was in the close foreground. If the booklet is any guide, the railway is sometimes seen in the distance, as at Newton for example. Some have suggested that viewers sat in simulated train carriages but this would make little sense for such a view. It is true, however, that the viewer is typically facing towards the north, the Sankey Viaduct being a notable (and possibly ignored) exception. A more useful analogy might have been with a bird flying alongside the track. Some have suggested that the model trains constituted the first model railway although it is equally likely that they were made of cardboard and operated behind the scenes either by hand or by clockwork (as with elaborate town clocks). The apparatus was described as a "Disyntrechon" which provided a "mechanico-graphoramic" view.
  3. The fact that there are multiple perspectives suggests that, while there may be sections that are continuous, lights may be dimmed or curtains drawn during transitions. This in turn suggests a proscenium-style presentation with the audience in tiered seats, probably with an optional standing area.
  4. The allusion to the Daguerre Diorama suggests that some views were lit such that objects were revealed or hidden sequentially or that variations in lighting in a particular scene marked the passing of time, e.g. while waiting for the early morning train. The reference to "lanes" presumably refers to the roads leading to level crossings as seen at Green Lane (Patricroft) and Ordsall Lane (Salford).
  5. The sponsor and author of the Padorama has always been something of a mystery. However, we now see that it was sponsored by one of the foremost companies showing moving (persitrephic) panoramas, Messrs Marshall of Glasgow. Philip Phillips was a well-known panorama artist and the only pupil of Clarkson Stanfield, scenic painter at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Stanfield was one of the most eminent panorama artists of his day although by now he was moving into less arduous landscape painting. It is possible therefore that Phillips inherited the commission from Stanfield. Others have identified the otherwise unknown Thorne as the artist but works on this scale were often carried out by teams.
  6. The identity of H. West is not revealed. West was responsible for the sketches in the Padorama booklet and the 1833 "Railway Companion". This person may be another minor scenic artist but it is also possible that it is a nom de plume for Charles Marshall (of Messrs Marshall). In his book "Illusions of Motion", Huhtamo describes Marshall as "elusive". The Marshall brothers were also painters so well able to execute the sketches concerned while also having the authority to decide what would make a good subject for the display and what could be edited out or condensed. Marshall is thus potentially also the enigmatically named author "A Tourist". The "Railway Companion" may have been a marketing tool to ascertain or excite interest. However, quite why Messrs Marshall are not acknowledged in the 1834 exhibition booklet is a mystery. Perhaps there was concern over how the railway proprietors would regard the panorama and the "revelation" in the Spectator was accidental. Possibly there was concern that the panorama was too "experimental" and a wish to avoid negative publicity should it fail commercially (it appears to have had only one further outing the following year in New York).

If the conjectures above are at all accurate, the disyntrechon presentation at the Baker Street Bazaar may have been an interesting hybrid and significantly more sophisticated than the majority of panoramas displayed in this era.

More railway-related buildings designed by JW Casson?

Over the past few weeks I've been following an architectural trail on the 1830s Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR) that started at Sudley House (a possible station precursor), continued to Liverpool Crown Street station (the Liverpool terminus) and thence to Manchester Liverpool Road station (the Manchester equivalent).

The tenuous link between these three locations is the presence of paired pilasters around the entrances. At Sudely and Crown Street they encompass useful sidelights but these are unnecessary at Liverpool Road given its unobstructed south-facing windows and entrance.

The prime candidate for architect at Sudley is John Whiteside Casson and the suggestion is that he then designed the two railway termini, Crown Street relatively soon after the enabling Act was passed in 1826 and Liverpool Road just before the railway opened in 1830.

While the issue of confirmation bias is significant, this list of possible Casson designs was then extended by addition of Windsor Terrace sited at the junction of Upper Parliament Street and Crown Street in Liverpool. There are no sidelights but here the paired entrance pilasters are accompanied by giant recessed pilasters covering the upper two storeys. These effectively simulate paired pilasters and form a pilasade.

Further candidate Casson designs

Two further railway-associated buildings have either paired or recessed pilasters:

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Figure: Dale Street frontage of Eastwood's Royal Hotel from WG Herdman's sketch of 1858. The booking office is highlighted in red and the giant paired pilasters in dark brown. The shop(s) to the right and rooms above are not part of the hotel.

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Figure: Smithdown Lane offices based on @lmrailway twitter images. End units in particular have recessed and part-hidden pilasters.

In both cases there is channelled rustication of the ground floor facade. The Smithdown Lane buildings are single-storey and the pilasters in the main block form part of a blind arcade into which are inserted doors, a large window and a service hatch, all with semicircular fanlights.

The pilasters at Dale Street don't extend to the shop-like booking office on the ground floor of the Royal Hotel's Dale Street frontage (the main entrance was around the corner on Moorfields). The siting of the booking office may have been a commercial lease by the hotel proprietor, Peter Eastwood, contracted on the basis of mutual benefit. However, if Casson was involved in the hotel's design he may have alerted the L&MR to the availability of a venue in the main business district. Alternatively, the hotel may have been co-financed by railway directors (if not the railway company itself). In either case the hotel advertises in railway guides its provision of accommodation close to the departure point for omnibuses taking passengers to and from Crown Street. On that basis it would seem to constitute an early railway hotel, albeit some distance from the station itself.

Assuming the buildings are all the work of Casson, an evolutionary pathway can be traced that starts with Sudley in 1824/5 followed by Crown Street in ~1827 but which then divides to yield the larger Windsor Terrace (sometime after 1824) and Royal Hotel (1829/30) on the one hand and Liverpool Road (1830) and Smithdown Lane (unknown) on the other. If the pathway is correct then it suggests that Smithdown Lane is a late addition and may have replaced space that was lost once Crown Street had to accommodate passengers.

Edge Hill station

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Figure: Edge Hill railway station by Haigh & Franklin. Note presence of pediment and corbels absent from earlier buildings.

In 1836 Crown Street was closed to passenger traffic and the station part-demolished soon after. The focus switched instead to the tunnel leading down to the centre of Liverpool and the new Lime Street station. Office functions at Dale Street and Clayton Square were relocated to Lime Street.

The eastern end of the tunnel was marked by Edge Hill station which replaced a smaller station at Wavertree Lane. The architects of the 1836 Edge Hill station, Haigh & Franklin, seem to have developed the Casson design to their own tastes. The six-bay by two-bay arrangement of Crown Street is retained, at least at first floor level, with the long side again facing the track and the short side the road (at the foot of a carriage ramp). However, the pilasters have disappeared completely, the channel rustication has a markedly different pattern and for the first time there is a bay with a small pediment and corbels facing the track.

1836 and all that

The absence of any semblance of pilasters at the 1836 station seems to mark the departure of the original architect from the project, here presumed to be Casson who died in 1842 at the age of 75. It seems not unlikely that he would be "slowing down" post-1830 although he is known to have designed St Thomas Melling in 1834/5. This has the characteristic large windows and surprisingly modern design that we first saw at Sudley but now in a Gothic Revival format.

The change in style seen in the 1836 station suggests that Haigh & Franklin did not design any of the aforementioned pre-1836 works and that the paired pilasters were not a company "logo". They did, of course, design the 1830 warehouse at Manchester (which has no significant similarities to the adjacent station building). The Haigh & Franklin design does not seem to have been widely adopted on the L&MR which probably reflects a steady decline in popularity for the neoclassical approach.

Of course, all of the above can also be explained by coincidence or a temporary vogue for pilasters. We cannot be sure either that the buildings we see now are in the same form that they were in the 1830s. Further research is required.

A Crown Street station mystery: the missing door knob

Door size

If you look at Bury's print of Crown Street station, you are immediately struck by how small the people are standing on the verandah. Bury was an architecture student, so maybe he wanted to accentuate the grandeur of the built environment or possibly that's what his publisher, Ackermann, needed to attract custom. Another possibility is that the men in the picture are actually smaller than we expect (average male height would be about 5ft 5 in in the early 19th century) and that the door was significantly bigger than the average front door enountered these days.

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Figure: Bury's print of Liverpool Crown Street station with inset showing paired pilasters (left, Wikipedia) and the former main door at Sudley showing paired pilasters and suggested size of original main door (red outline).

If the hypothesis is correct that both Sudley House and Crown Street were designed by the same architect, JW Casson, then perhaps the main door at Sudley served as a model for the station. As previously mentioned, both have paired pilasters with sidelights.

My guess is that the main door at Sudley originally filled the space presently occupied by the door, small sidelights and transom light. That would equate with the door at Crown Street which lacks those features and, very rough guess, would make the door plus immediate surround about 5ft wide by 10 feet high. If the door to the platform had similar dimensions then it is not that the men pictured next to it are small but that the door is just larger than expected.

A door of that size had practical consequences. It meant that two people could pass each other going in opposite directions and that awkwardly shaped luggage or packages could enter without difficulty. In all probability the door was also a status symbol. Its size would impress and in a house the owner would employ someone whose job in part was to open it for visitors.

The missing door knob

There are two contemporary pictures of Crown Street that show the door, one by Bury and one by an unknown artist that appeared in 1833 in the Penny Magazine of the Society for the Distribution of Useful Knowledge. The latter looks like Bury's print minus coaches, carriages and people. However, it also shows features of the train shed/verandah missing from Bury's print but present in Shaw's sketch in which the door, alas, is obscured by omnibuses. Neither shows a door knob or handle. While it is possible that this omission was made on aesthetic grounds or that the knob is hidden by the door recess, another possibility exists: there was no door knob.

Perhaps the wealthy first class passengers expected to have doors opened for them. The station clerks would keep an eye open through the sidelights for the arrival of the coaches and open the door from the inside when one arrived. As each coach reversed up to the door, the 18 passengers would get out and queue through the door to the desk inside as they checked-in, their names being added to the waybill given to the train guard. The portico/porch would shelter them from rain or bright sun depending on the prevailing weather. They would then proceed either to the waiting-room beyond or onto the verandah.

The door is not seen as opened in Bury's print as the people have just arrived from Manchester and are boarding the omnibuses. Their carriages have been marshalled for the next departure.

The booking office(s)

Clearly the clerks would not want to open the door for each and every visitor so the door on the verandah would be the normal entrance for those wanting to make a booking in advance (as was required). Generally such booking would be transacted via the Dale Street office in the city centre but Crown Street would be more convenient for those living in country houses as many merchants and bankers did. It is not unlikely that such bookings would be made by servants used to using a secondary entrance.

The spatial separation between departure and booking traffic suggests that the second door further along the verandah would be for those using second class trains. This is something I had considered previously but abandoned. While not ideal, it makes more sense if both classes accessed their respective booking desk via the verandah rather than first class passengers having to wrestle with the huge door. Again second class passengers would queue sheltered by the verandah. It would be a little less convenient with the same door being used for passage in both directions but that was probably the idea.

The doors at Manchester and Sudley

Of course, a plausible solution to the door mystery doesn't absolve Bury of all errors of perspective but it perhaps explains the smaller double-doors and larger check-in area at Manchester. As a consequence Manchester didn't require a porch and, according to Fitzgerald, sported a vestibule to retain some wamth from its coal fire in wintertime. Some of this may reflect different local circumstances but it may also be a consequence of a more custom, less off-the-shelf, approach to the Manchester design. If so, this constitutes further evidence that Crown Street was built prior to Manchester and informed its development.

For some reason the second family to occupy Sudley, the Holts, changed the main axis of the house such that the entrance moved from the side considered here, the east, to the north side of the house. One possibility is improved access for carriages but another might be the considerable loss of heat that occurred when the large east door was opened in cold weather. The extensions to the wings along with the portico would have provided some shelter but not as much as the curious blind-ended portico ultimately added to the north.

Deconstructing Shaw's sketch of the Railway Office

The classic image of the Liverpool Railway Office, i.e. the 1830 Crown Street station, is by Thomas Talbot Bury. My preference, however, is for the sketch by Isaac Shaw (zoomable version courtesy of Yale Center for British Art). Both, in fact, depict the station in 1831 when the train shed was built. We can see the skylights in the train shed compensating for the shadow cast by this new shelter for the expensive railway carriages.

As with the Barton Moss pictures, it is almost as though the two artists were present at the same scene though there are differences in both cases. Whether the railway company exerted any editorial influence is unknown though some think it likely.

Like so many railway artists, Shaw occasionally struggles with perspective (the two omnibuses that brought first class passengers from Dale Street, for example) and scale (some people are dwarfed by what were actually quite small carriages) but he tells a more interesting story.

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Figure: Liverpool Crown Street station by Thomas Talbot Bury (left; Wikipedia) and Isaac Shaw (right; Yale/Public Domain)

The omnibuses

Firstly, the two omnibuses parked in the station yard clearly differ. This is not entirely surprising because the nearest has the same shape as the red one in Bury's print, the remainder being yellow like the first class "glass" coaches. As previously with the Mona's Isle advert on the righthand wall, the image can be manipulated to reveal the text on the righthand coach, in this case "Liverpool Post Office".

The Royal Mail started using the Liverpool & Manchester Railway soon after it opened and operated a superior grade railway carriage to carry the mails. Shaw's sketch presumably ante-dates arrival of this special carriage but indicates that the mail street coach, like the railway carriage, carried passengers as well as post.

Both omnibuses have metal edging around the roof to prevent luggage falling off. The post office omnibus used a tarpaulin as well. Several men and one of the women are carrying umbrellas so it may just have finished raining.

The presence of the extra horse is curious as it suggests that the teams are being changed. Perhaps the sheds behind the station building are actually stables?

Presumably the passengers have left the omnibuses which are now waiting for the next train to arrive once this one has departed (the tunnel is single-track).

The railway carriages

The departure platform is on the left and four coaches have been assembled. Trains typically comprised 4-5 coaches and we can see another coach on the right under the train shed. However, this has been forsaken for the 4-inside premium coach being hauled in from the right. This would appear to take two additional passengers riding in the coupe compartment at the front as well as the guard or brakesman at the rear. It differs from the later mail carriage but its spaciousness similarly came at a (slightly lower) premium.

Presumably the 4-inside was normally located in the main train shed and the track to the adjacent Millfield station had been used for a brief stop while it was swapped for one of the yellow coaches which we now see resting in its place. We can see one of the turnplates clearly but there were actually three, one for each track.

The departing passengers

While the station may appear a bustling hive of activity, it is likely a pale shadow of its normal self prior to departure; we are probably witnessing latecomers. After all, a four carriage train could accommodate 128 people, passengers who are presumably already onboard the train.

The two couples who are to be the occupants of the 4-inside are being addressed by the guards (perhaps mail trains had two, one specifically for the mails), both of whom are dressed in heavy overcoats as protection against the elements. I assume the remaining two passengers riding in the coupe at the front are the man with his hat tied down, possibly a trusted servant who fears the worst, and the lad with the hat who looks as though he may be going away to school. His sister and mother are there to see them off -- there was no barrier to public access to the station at Liverpool, unlike Manchester.

The arrivals

Trains arriving would have been rope-hauled up the centre track by the winding engines at the far end of the tunnel. The rope has presumably been withdrawn at least as far as the tunnel to prevent it being fouled and damaged by carriage movements.

To the right of centre we see a man in a heavy cloak and an accompanying woman. These may be passengers remaining from the previous arrival who have been awaiting their personal carriage to take them home while the train they arrived in is manually shunted to its present position on the departure platform. The porter beside them will take their baggage to the carriage waiting outside the main gate.

The reflected shadows on the windows of the mail omnibus might be construed as people inside but I think not.

The porter is one of three men seen actively carrying baggage, presumably all porters. One seems to be specifically attending the occupants of the 4-inside but another may be assisting the group of two women and accompanying girl who are waiting for him before boarding the train. Presumably this is a company porter who may also assist the women into the train from the trackside despite the presence of a reasonably elevated platform/verandah (where an overlooker is keeping an eye on matters). Legend has it that the twelve pillars supporting the train shed sometimes interfered with the opening of doors so that passengers had to enter on the other side.

The two women and girl are waiting by what is generally termed the Chinese coach.

The Chinese coach

There is no sign of "indoor" porters loading baggage onto the carriage roofs and, indeed, no sign of baggage on any roof. My guess is that the Chinese coach is carrying the luggage for this train along with the mails (it also appears in Bury's print albeit at the opposite end).

I speculated previously on the role of this carriage. Perhaps Shaw's sketch brings us closer to the truth.

The tunnel

Two pillars can be seen above the tunnel and these are the two "Pillars of Hercules", actually chimneys serving the boilers for the winding engines in the Moorish Arch at the far end of the tunnel. Look at the tunnel closely and you will see the locomotive at the other end awaiting the train. The train was started by a manual push and then descended through the tunnel under gravity.

The group by the hut to the right of the tunnel presumably includes the policeman/signalman who manages access to the tunnel based on signals sent to a bell by wire from the Moorish Arch. There may also be the Inspector of the Coach Wheels and, logically, a pointsman who changes the points (assuming this is not done by the policeman). Alternatively they may be trackworkers, including a lad, who are stopping for a chat.

A different world

The picture reminds us of a society still only on the cusp of a momentous change. The steam age as seen here still depends on horses and humans and operates for the benefit of the well-to-do or, in the case of the 4-inside, the very well-to-do. Most railway employees were classed as "servants" and poorly paid for long hours doing work that was often hazardous. That would change, albeit gradually. Anyway, what appears on the surface to be a charming if somewhat arbitrary picture in fact reveals a lot of what was needed to make the railway work.

A terrace by JW Casson on Liverpool's Upper Parliament Street?

Over the last couple of weeks I've been exploring the idea that John Whiteside Casson was the architect of the first two purpose-designed railway stations, one at Manchester in 1830 and the other at Liverpool in about 1827. This is predicated on Casson being the architect of the older parts of Sudley House, residence of Liverpool's mayor in 1828-9, Nicholas Robinson.

Did Casson "sign" his buildings?

Casson apparently had a signature motif comprising paired pilasters either side of the main door, sometimes encompassing sidelights. If true, it should make it easier to recognise his work. Much of this, however, seems to have been beyond Liverpool with the exception of Gladstone's residence on Rodney Street, a very early, if important, commission.

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Figure: Booking offices, Manchester Liverpool Road station (now Museum of Science & Industry)

The Liverpool and Manchester buildings are in some ways quite different and it would be of interest to find a Casson build that more closely reflects the Manchester design.

Behold, a terrace of two

Figure: 248, 250 Upper Parliament Street (Wikimedia, creator: rodhullandemu, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Numbers 248 and 250, Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool, date to the 1820s according to Historic England and are Grade II listed. They were probably part of a terrace and both have the paired Tuscan pilaster motif without sidelights, as seen at Manchester but not Crown Street. They also have a rusticated ground floor facade, again as seen at Manchester but not Crown Street. Some of the pilasters are recessed, yet again something seen at Manchester but not Crown Street.

Overall the style is far less austere than Sudley (and Crown Street) without being in any way obtrusive. It may be that the directors felt more confident about their product by the time it came to build the Manchester station probably more than two years later than Crown Street.

Update: Windsor Terrace

It appears that the remaining two houses were part of Windsor Terrace which comprised six, possibly 7, such houses. It doesn't appear on the 1823/4 map by Swires published in Hollinghurst's book on the Fosters so presumably it is 1824 or later.

In 1858 it appears to have found brief use as an orphan asylum prior to the asylum's relocation to the old Botanic Gardens close to Crown Street (the terrace is at the junction of Crown Street and Upper Parliament Street). It is an outside possibility that the asylum archives mention the original architect of Windsor Terrace.

As ever, caveats

There is no documentary evidence that the buildings on Upper Parliament Street are Casson's work although they date to the right period. They may also indicate that Casson continued to attract commissions in Liverpool, including fairly large ones such as this terrace.

Of course, paired pilasters are neither unique to Casson nor Liverpool but they do not appear to be that common either. It does seem to me that if an architect "signs" his creations in such an obvious way then it is at best contrary for local contemporaries to knowingly copy him.

However, Casson could also flout his own "rule". There's no obvious paired pilaster on Rodney Street or the Gothic Revival church at Melling. In both cases it would probably be a poor "fit".

The paired pilaster "signature" raises the possibility that Casson's work was moderately well-known in Liverpool and that the cognoscenti at least would nod sagely when they saw the paired pilasters at both stations.

Or perhaps that's what Casson hoped?

What we know of pioneer station architect John Whiteside Casson and why we know so little

As usual, much conjecture…

John Whiteside Casson was one of 21 persons listed as architects and surveyors in Gore's 1827 Liverpool Directory. Of these just a few are remembered today, most notably John Foster Jnr. While the Fosters, as borough surveyors, were in a unique position to influence major projects in Liverpool, they could not manage every development in a fast-growing port, let alone the hinterland of country houses and estates.

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Figure: Sudley House from the west. The station-like block is on the far right with a more recent verandah.

Others such as Casson were indeed active and his work at Sudley House for future mayor Nicholas Robinson bears a marked resemblance to the 1830 railway station at Crown Street. This in turn shares certain motifs with the Manchester terminus at Liverpool Road. Casson may therefore have a unique claim to fame as the architect of the first two purpose-designed railway stations.

And yet, we know almost nothing of him. The authority on such matters, Colvin, has just two sentences on Casson, saying he was active around Liverpool in the 1820s and '30s and crediting him with the 1835 Church of St Thomas & the Holy Rood at Melling. Pevsner adds Gladstone's house on Rodney Street as well as Sudley.


Even post-Google it is hard to assemble more than the basic facts of Casson's life. The following is a best-guess timeline derived from readily accessible sources.

1767 John Whiteside Casson was born on 11th September and baptised in St Peter's on Church Street nine days later. His father was John Casson, a "joyner", generally a key figure in construction projects.

Preliminary guesswork concerning family background (via Occupation (joiner), church (St Peter's) and domicile (Peter Street) are potential connections but a number of different Cassons appear to have attended St Peter's and further study would be needed to clarify their relationships, if any. Little is known for sure but Casson Snr may have lived on Peter Street (now School Lane). His wife presumably had the family name of Whiteside. He may have had another son, Thomas (b. 6th July 1777), who became a coachbuilder. He probably also had a daughter, Molly, born in 1769. A James Casson, also a joiner of Peter Street and possibly another brother or uncle, had a son John on 5th January 1807.

1790 A John Casson marries Ann Roberts, a widow, on 20th November 1790. It is unclear whether this is father, i.e. a second marriage, or son (or, indeed, unrelated). The groom is, however, listed as "Joiner". It seems not unreasonable that an architect should start out as a builder following his father's trade. After all, John Foster Snr became highly successful despite lacking formal qualifications in either architecture or engineering.

1793 A John White Casson is a witness to another wedding, this time of Robert Bradley, bookkeeper, and Hellen Woodward, spinster.

1796 JW Casson is tentatively credited by Pevsner with Gladstone's house on Rodney Street, a prestigious commission and a building that still stands. The basis for the attribution is not mentioned. He also surfaces as a witness to the marriage of another joiner, William Sharrock, and Mary Dutton.

1805 Baptism in St Peter's of a John Casson, son of John and Ann Casson (formerly Stevenson) of Peter Street. Father's occupation: Excise Officer! We have a confusing surfeit of not only Johns but now also Anns. On balance this is probably not the John and Ann in question.

1807 A John Casson of Liverpool is listed as having a recurring subscription to the African Institution, an organisation that attempted to establish a refuge for freed slaves in Sierra Leone. Other Liverpool members included William Roscoe, William Huskisson MP, Bartin Haigh (builder), and David Hodgson and James Cropper, both subsequently directors of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. Note, however, that there was a contemporaneous John Casson (1743-1814) in Liverpool who was a notable blind organist, composer and educator.

1824/5 A memoir of Nicholas Robinson, the first owner of Sudley, recounts that the architect was "Daddy" Carson, almost certainly Casson whom Pevsner tentatively credits. Gore lists Casson as resident in Great Newton Street (the house number varies) from 1825 to at least 1829.

~1827/8 Building of Liverpool Crown Street station. The precise date is uncertain. The Millfield shaft for the Wapping tunnel dates to Summer 1827 and Locke was using Crown Street as an address as early as March 1827 though whether he was located in the Railway Office, i.e. station, is unclear.

1829 The tunnel to the Chatsworth cutting is finished and Crown Street is no longer isolated though the line is unfinished elsewhere.

1830 Building of Manchester Liverpool Road station, June-August. The necessary legislation to cross the Irwell only came into effect on 14th May. The railway opened in September.

1833 Name on electoral roll. Now living in nearby Gill Street.

1835 Credited with the church of St Thomas at Melling.

1837 Casson's name is on Liverpool's electoral roll (similarly 1840).

1842 John Whiteside Casson dies on 19th April.

1842 Ann Casson dies on 9th May. There is a probate record for Ann Casson of Gill Street (discussed below).

The probate record

This is Ann's will in which she divides her estate between Frances Ann(e) Keating (wife of broker John Francis Keating) and Ellen Casson, presumably her two daughters who are also to act as Executrices. The will is made on 25th April 1842, just after the death of her husband (who is not mentioned). She herself dies on 9th May 1842, less than one month after her husband. An addendum dated 11th January 1843 asserts that the estate was worth lesss than £100 (£150 was regarded as a decent annual wage around this time). By this time Frances was a widow and had remarried in the name of Owen. Ellen had become Ellen Rankin, wife of upholsterer Richard Rankin and still resident in Gill Street. She had a baby, John Casson Rankin, on 1st September 1843. Clearly the memory of her father was still dear to her.

The estate of John W Casson remains a mystery. Had he made separate provision for his daughters and sons (if any)? Had the family fallen on hard times and been forced to downsize by moving to Gill Street? That might explain his continuing to practice well into his late sixties (the church at Melling was finished when he was ~67). Was it a response to infirmity (moving in with family or to a more suitable house)? In 1843 a new market would open at Dancie Street, taking up the space between Great Newton and Gill Street; might the move have been a response to this development?

There is no record of where either John or Ann might be buried. St Peter's Church closed in 1868 and burials were transferred to Anfield Cemetery.

Other mentions

According to a third-party newspaper advertisement, he was also responsible for rebuilding Higher Hall at Westleigh for John Hodson Kearsley MP.

Casson is mentioned after his death in a legal document, apparently an update on a will, concerning the estate of William Molyneux, sailmaker of St Ann Street who died in 1817, and for whom Casson acted as surveyor.


The rather hazy genealogy above sheds little light on Casson's practice. The notion that he started out as a joiner is not incompatible with becoming an architect and it would be interesting to track back in Gore to see when he is first listed as an architect (presumably sometime before his involvement with Sudley c.1824). Comparing his neighbours in Gill Street and Great Newton Street may give some clue as to whether the family ended in reduced circumstances. For the moment, however, none of the research confirms or denies his supposed role as pioneer railway architect.


The inability to put a name to the architect of the first railway stations has puzzled and irritated a number of authors. By contrast, we know that Jesse Hartley, for example, made significant contributions at Manchester and elsewhere as well as being consulting engineer. Possible explanations include:

  1. Documents mentioning Casson have been lost.
  2. Casson was air-brushed out for reasons unknown. Unlikely for a project attracting so much attention.
  3. He worked for free (as Foster did) but on condition of anonymity.
  4. He worked as a company employee rather than as a contractor or consultant.
  5. With the focus on innovative engineering, i.e. locomotives, and the Northumbrian contribution, all else faded into obscurity unless the persons concerned, such as Hartley and Foster, already had a significant reputation or went on to create one, such as Vignoles.
  6. The railway office building lacked attention-seeking features compared to Foster's Moorish Arch and likely most coaching inns as well.

My preference is for 5, possibly combined with 4.

Casson's understated contribution in retrospect was to normalise the railway experience, to make it mundane and acceptable to the well-to-do who were its initial target audience. The station was on the periphery of Liverpool and at first sight it didn't need to promote the company any more than its low-key booking office on Dale Street. The company had already opened its doors at Crown Street by allowing paid visits to the tunnels and the Rainhill Trials in 1829 also received a good press. That said, there may have been some second thoughts among the directors and hence Foster's exotic Moorish Arch which presaged a near future when companies would be building "statement" termini in city centres on a cathedral-like scale.

Why might Casson have abandoned his usual customers, the likes of Gladstone, Robinson and Kearsley? One possibility is that the arrival of the railway project made it difficult to conduct business-as-usual given the company's urgent requirement for bricklayers and joiners to develop the estate. Moreover, the services of an experienced architect and surveyor on the company books would be valued at a premium. When the railway was complete Casson may have resumed his previous practice, too advanced in years to consider a long-term career or location change.

As far as recognition is concerned, many others fell by the wayside. Thomas Longridge Gooch, for example, acted as Stephenson's principal draughtsman and amanuensis, converting the great man's ideas into working documents, all for scant recognition by posterity.

Doubtless much high-profile work was put out to tender, as with the Manchester warehouse, but probably not all. Much of the fine detail would fall to Gooch and It seems not unlikely that there were others working with him in the large office at Clayton Square. Casson in Great Newton Street was, like Sandars in nearby Pembroke Place, handily located for both Clayton Square and Crown Street. He may have opted out of his normal practice for short-term financial stability rather than recognition and career advancement.

Was JW Casson the architect of Manchester Liverpool Road station as well?

Over the past week I've been trying to convince myself that little-known architect John Whiteside Casson designed both Sudley House around 1823/4 and Liverpool Crown Street station around 1828 for opening in 1830. One of the motifs connecting the two is the presence of a doorway surrounded on both sides by twin pilasters enclosing sidelights.

The architect of the terminus at the other end of the line, Manchester Liverpool Road station, is likewise unknown but has been suggested to be either John Foster Jnr who is credited with the Moorish Arch and train shed at Liverpool or Joseph Franklin who is credited with the 1830 warehouse at the Manchester station and the 1836 Edge Hill station, both with builder Thomas Haigh. All that is known with any certainty is that the station building was built at very short notice by David Bellhouse Jnr who also built Franklin's warehouse.

Without any documentary evidence, I would suggest that Casson may also have designed the passenger station at Manchester Liverpool Road. The challenge here is quite different as the track crosses the River Irwell and Water Street on a viaduct and is hence at first floor level at the station. Moreover, we now have twin booking halls and waiting rooms, one for first class and the other for second class, the waiting rooms being at first floor level with a staircase beside the service desk.

However, if we go outside the building we see that the first class entrance is similar to Sudley and Crown Street with four pilasters albeit without sidelights. Perhaps they were removed or deemed superfluous. Again, no portico, the suggestion being at the other venues that these were later additions by other hands.

At first floor level the pilasters are mirrored in the design of the windows and this time glazed.

Manchester Liverpool Road exterior 1.jpg

One possibility is that by the time the Manchester terminus was built, the decision had been taken to run two classes of train and this encouraged greater elaboration for the first class booking hall which is scaled back for the second class in the interests of harmony and economy. It also raises the issue as to what stone was used at Crown Street.

While others have suggested that the Liverpool and Manchester termini were indeed designed by the same person, extending the comparison to Sudley House suggests that the name of John Whiteside Casson merits consideration.

The door at Crown Street station

I have been arguing that Sudley House in Mossley Hill was the architectural inspiration for Liverpool Crown Street, the first purpose-designed railway station which opened for business in 1830.

One obvious difference, however, is the door behind the portico in Bury's print. The south wing at Sudley doesn't have an external door in the comparable position as rooms were accessed via the former main hall, now the Garden Hall after the Holts added a new main entrance. However, if you look at Sudley's main door in the former hallway, you may be surprised.

sudley door.png
Figure: Door at Crown Street from Bury print (left, Wikipedia) and door to Garden Hall at Sudley (right). Orange arrows show pilasters, some of which are partially hidden by columns in front of them as are large sidelights at Sudley.

Pilasters and sidelights

To start with I saw the door at Sudley had small adjacent sidelights and thought that was vaguely familiar. However, when I had a chance to look at Bury's print, I noticed that the sidelights are much larger and bordered by four pilasters. They are coloured dark grey in the print which made me think they were part of the portico (which I suspect was added later by John Foster Jnr).

However, if you look more closely at Sudley, there are also large sidelights and these are bordered by sandstone pilasters! So maybe the pilasters were painted grey, in shadow or simply miscoloured? There is incidentally an earlier variant of Bury's print in which one pilaster is the same colour as the door. I have always assumed that this was an error but there is an outside possibility that it reflects an intermediate stage in the Foster works. Anyway, if Sudley is anything to go by, the pilasters would significantly change the internal appearance of the doorway and the OpenSim model needs to be modified accordingly.

sudley door internal.png
Figure: Interior view at Sudley showing large sidelights and transom light above door

The portico at Sudley

The door at Sudley also has a portico supported by four chunky Tuscan columns that look nothing like the slender (iron?) columns at Crown Street. There have been suggestions that architect Thomas Harrison of Chester had a hand in Sudley and I wonder whether these are the features being referenced. One possibility is that the Sudley portico was also added later -- perhaps Casson, the principal architect, had a profound dislike of them. However, as he got older Harrison increasingly focused his work on Chester so it depends somewhat on when Sudley was built and this, unfortunately, is another contentious question. I favour 1823/24 but opinions differ. Apparently the land was acquired by Robinson from the Tarletons as early as 1811.

The door at Sudley also has a transom light above it and this might also be the case at Crown Street where daylight would be at a premium, not least once the train shed and verandah were in place. Shaw's picture of the train shed shows that this had skylights but whether that was the case with the verandah canopy is less clear. The small tunnel, however was gas-lit and presumably this was an option for the station although there were certainly concerns about the cost of lighting the tunnel on a continuous basis.

The smaller sidelights and glazed door at Sudley may have been a later addition or simply discarded from the Crown Street design.


The reuse of a prominent Sudley feature drawn from outside the south wing seems to reduce the chance that the house and station are unconnected unless, of course, both are based on a common patternbook or prevailing style. To my mind, however, a common architect, namely Casson, is the simplest and most likely explanation.

What did Liverpool Crown Street station look like inside?

The short answer is that we don't know but we can hazard some guesses based on a comparison with Sudley House assuming that both were designed by the same architect, John Whiteside Casson (or "Daddy" Carson as he is called in a memoir about the original owner, Nicholas Robinson) with internal features common to both. Note that Sudley presently shows the art collection in the context of its later owner, wealthy Liverpool merchant and philanthropist George Holt, who made significant alterations and extensions to the original building.

What little information we have about the external appearance of Crown Street, arguably the first purpose-designed railway terminus, depends on images by Thomas Talbot Bury and Isaac Shaw. The results are instantiated in an OpenSimulator model which is presented as a work-in-progress.

crown street by shaw and bury.png
Crown Street station c.1831 by Bury (left; Wikipedia) and Shaw (right; Yale Center for British Art)

The Dining Room at Sudley corresponds to the booking (or coaching) office at Crown Street

Interestingly, the relevant parts of both buildings are oriented east-west and we start in the west. For Crown Street this would have been the entrance courtyard looking into what I assume is the booking office.

booking office composite.png
Top: the model of the booking office; below: similar views of the Dining Room (NB position of fireplace obscured by door to left in image at top left)

The original part of the south wing at Sudley comprises two rooms currently called the Dining Room and the Drawing Room. Each has its own chimneystack shared, I would guess, with the room above on the first floor. The portico entrance to the station booking office would go through the middle of the wall dividing the Morning Room, a later addition at Sudley, from the Dining Room/booking office. The door at Sudley is currently towards the south side of the dividing wall but apparently both this door and the equivalent one on the far side of the Dining Room (leading to the Drawing Room/waiting rooms) are late additions. Normally people at Sudley would have used the doors to the hallway located to the north on either side of the fireplace. Any equivalent door at Crown Street would take you into a (private?) yard with sheds; there is no hallway. Indeed, the model excludes north-facing, ground-floor windows onto the yard for this largely aesthetic reason.

The staircase

In both buildings the chimneystack and fireplace for this entrance room is located on the north side. To my mind this determines the layout with the desk for the booking clerks directly in front as passengers enter with two doors behind them, much as at Manchester Liverpool Road (which was built after Crown Street).

Sudley has an elegant staircase in the hallway. This isn't an option at Crown Street so my guess would be that there was a door located behind the desk and to the left/north that led upstairs to the offices. The door isn't strictly necessary but would serve as an additional security measure. The staircase at Manchester differs in being passenger-facing and is more elegant as a consequence. As an aside, the model originally had a Manchester-style staircase in the central room but this has now been removed.

The passenger experience

The door to the right/south of the desk leads to two waiting rooms, one beyond the other. The first corresponds to the Drawing Room at Sudley and the fireplace is on the far side of the dividing wall with the Dining Room, behind the desk area.

Initially railway travel was similar to present-day aviation; you booked in advance and checked-in before departure on the day of travel. On first class trains each passenger was booked to a numbered seat either at the Dale Street office or at the less central Crown Street. First class passengers had the option of taking a horse bus from Dale Street to the station. As these would arrive close to the time of departure it would likely have been a busy and confused scene with porters stowing luggage on the roofs of the carriages and passengers going straight to the train after check-in. Those who arrived by their own carriage, by cab or on foot could miss some of this bustle by checking-in early and sitting in the waiting room while the train was marshalled.

The first/westernmost window at Sudley is a door at the station and, once checked-in, passengers could go through that door to the platform if they so chose. A series of warning bells was used to signal departure and the passengers in the waiting rooms probably had the option of using an alternative door at the opposite (eastern) end to get to the platform. This end of the building does not exist at Sudley which has five window bays, three for the Dining Room, two for the Drawing Room. Images of the station by Bury and Shaw give no information on the number of bays or the presence of this second door to the platform although others, possibly with a degree of artistic licence, show a door and varying numbers of windows.

Given subsequent practice at Lime Street, it seems likely that passengers could purchase a newspaper or an orange from sellers permitted onto the station.

The platform

One interesting question is whether the terrace at Sudley inspired the platform at Crown Street. The latter probably looked not unlike the verandah at Sudley whose canopy, however, dates to much later. The early stations typically had low or non-existent platforms; the one at Manchester was not more than a few inches high. Shaw's picture of Crown Street, however, shows an elevation of the order of two feet (compared to the standard three feet nowadays) and explains the presence of a step from the yard to the platform as well as the steps up to the main door.

Whether Sudley originally had a terrace before it acquired the canopy is unknown. It is in any case a rather strange feature given that there is no door onto it from the house.

crown st exterior 1830 vs 1831 vs sudley.png
Top: Proposed model of Crown Street in 1830 (left) and 1831 (right)
Bottom: External view of south wing at Sudley, including non-original verandah.

Foster's contribution

As with his father before him, John Foster Jnr was a well-known Liverpool architect and contractor as well as being corporation surveyor. Several people have credited him with the station building and he is known to have designed the famous Moorish Arch in the nearby Chatsworth cutting. He was also responsible for the train shed at Crown Street. Plans for this were approved two months after the railway opened to passengers. Its dependence on the verandah canopy suggests that this might also be an addition by the same architect and, in the same vein, quite possibly the portico as well. By this time the directors would have appreciated the significant revenue being generated by passenger traffic on a line whose primary purpose was freight. The pillars supporting the canopy may, however, have made access to the carriages awkward and necessitated passenger use of the trackside doors.

Unanswered questions

There are significant imponderables such as the number of rooms on the ground floor. The model proposes three equally sized rooms on the basis of the number of chimneystacks and window bays but, of course, there is no bar to having a booking office and then a single large waiting room with multiple fireplaces.

One possibility is that the third room might have been for the use of second class passengers. At Manchester Liverpool Road the facilities for first and second class passengers were entirely separate. Crown Street, however, had less space available and passengers of the two classes may have been required to share waiting rooms. In practice they used different trains running at significant intervals so this could be managed. One interesting possibility that this raises, however, is that Crown Street was designed before the decision to operate two classes of train had been taken.

A fruitful proxy?

Whether one accepts that Casson's wing at Sudley was the prototype for Crown Street is perhaps secondary to the issues raised and the ways in which their resolution assists in refining the model. The model in turn informs our understanding of the way the station may have operated.

Railways were initially the province of the well-to-do. Adaptation of a merchant's "palace" into the first station may have been subconsciously reassuring to early passengers even if the experience was pared down and an ulterior motivation on the part of developers was convenient access to a proven design.

Demonstrating an unequivocal rather than circumstantial connection between Sudley and Crown Street will likely prove difficult. Nevertheless, there is now a new avenue to explore a question that has vexed many authors in the past. With the bicentenary of the railway in 2030 and the bicentenary of Crown Street likely some time before that (2028?), there may be an opportunity to develop an additional theme at Sudley to run in parallel with the Holt bequest.

JW Casson: architect of Liverpool's first railway station?

T.T. Bury's print of Liverpool Crown Street station (Wikipedia)

The story so far

Liverpool Crown Street station was the Liverpool terminus of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway which opened in 1830. Its linear design differed significantly from its counterpart at Liverpool Road in Manchester where access to the trains was at first floor level. Carroll Meeks credited Crown Street with embodying "the basic features of the modern station in embryo" and described it as the first British station (useful summary of the Stockton & Darlington's rudimentary early provision).

Little is known, however, of its origins and, in particular, of its architect. Several authors (Meeks, Hollinghurst) have suggested that it might be John Foster Jnr. Foster was certainly contracted to design the roof of the train shed (an afterthought added in 1831) as well as the nearby Moorish Arch. There is no direct evidence, however, for his involvement in the actual station building though it would not be a surprise if he added the portico. Indeed, given his prominence locally it is hard to understand why he should receive recognition for the Moorish Arch and not the station.

Other architects participated in company work, most notably Thomas Haigh who, with Franklin, designed the 1836 Edge Hill station, a replacement for Wavertree Lane. Fitzgerald believes Haigh also designed the other terminus, Manchester Liverpool Road, which was started as late as June 1830 for the opening in mid-September. He was certainly involved in the adjacent 1830 warehouse. While there are similarities between Liverpool Road and Edge Hill, they extend less convincingly to Crown Street.

Crown Street likely preceded all these developments as it provided office space during the early phases of construction of the railway. Henry Booth appears to have been located at Crown Street and progress meetings were held there on a fortnightly basis. It is possible that Joseph Locke was also based there during construction of the Wapping tunnel, a contract from which Foster withdrew.

The case for John Whiteside Casson (1767-1842)

Other local architects carried out work for the company (Cunningham and Holme, for example, at Lime Street) but here a new possibility is introduced, John Whiteside Casson. The only work definitively attributed to him appears to be the church of St Thomas Melling dating to 1835 but Pevsner tentatively credits him with Gladstone's house in Rodney Street around 1792-3 and with Sudley House built in 1824 for Nicholas Robinson, Mayor in 1828-9.

Both Hughes and Pevsner refer to Sudley as austere and, as suggested by Sharples, this may have appealed to Unitarians and Whigs such as the Holts who purchased and modified it in 1884 after Robinson's demise in 1854 (it is now a public art gallery and museum).

The same adjective might also apply to the station. From a modern (non-architect's!) perspective, however, this translates into a reasonably elegant building constructed to a budget to serve business as well as customer needs. In similar vein St Thomas Melling also has a surprising look of modernity while being designed as a low-cost Commissioners' church.

sudley house.png
South facade of Sudley House (Wikipedia)

Elements of the south facade of Sudley House appear remarkably similar to the station in Bury's print. The Holts commissioned James Rhind to make significant changes after their purchase and the verandah apparently was not in the original design but, of course, there was one running the length of the Crown Street building as well. Crown Street may well have been two-storey ashlar like Sudley and possibly more reddish than Bury's print suggests. The lack of architectural detail in the window design is unusual in high status buildings but again common to both. Sudley has a string course at first-storey floor level as did Crown Street. The roofs and chimneys are also similar.

The company likely looked elsewhere for the design of its Manchester terminus, possibly Haigh, so presumably felt the need to make a bolder aesthetic statement both there and at its second Liverpool terminus at Lime Street where Foster did the entrance facade. However, the Edge Hill "look" did not translate to smaller stations either though many of these were built somewhat later. The same might be said, of course, for the nearby Moorish Arch whose exotic appearance may have compensated for the simplicity of Casson's station at Crown Street.

Quite how Casson might have been chosen for the project is, of course, completely obscure. As we have seen, he had some connection with the Gladstones who were represented on the board of directors. Gore gives his Liverpool address as Great Newton Street which is close to the company's leading light Joseph Sandars in Pembroke Place. While the owner of Sudley, Robinson, was not associated with the railway project, his campaign for Lord Mayor was supported by director William Rathbone and, like Sandars and Booth, he was a corn merchant.

Evaluating the claim

All that can be said at present is that Casson was active in Liverpool at the right time for the station contract, he moved in the right circles and in Sudley may have built something very similar to the station. The Sudley attribution, however, is tentative and the similarity between the two buildings may simply be a coincidence. A distant possibility, for example, is that Haigh did Sudley as well as the three stations.

The fact that Casson's work for the company achieved negligible recognition could be due to his failure either to pursue or to secure further contracts. Possibly his austere style was out of keeping with the prestige Lime Street location that replaced Crown Street in 1836 and a more illustrious hand was desired, at least in Liverpool terms, namely that of Foster. However, it is also plausible that Casson sought less pressured work environments as he approached the end of his career (he was 63 in 1830 and died in 1842).