|Bio Notes: ||Richard Knill Freeman was born in London, the son of Richard (?) and Harriet Freeman. By 1851, following the early death of his father, the family had returned to his mother’s home town of Portsea, Hampshire. Here Harriet Freeman established Elm Grove House, a preparatory school for boys and here too Richard Knill Freeman was later articled to the local architect, George Rake, between 1854 and 1860. On completion of his articles, he appears to have moved firstly to the Manchester/Bolton area. Contemporary records show that in December 1860 Freeman was actively involved in the formation of the Manchester Architectural Association, becoming its first Honorary Secretary, while in 1861 he was managing assistant to W W Whittaker of Bolton before working in architect’s offices in Portsmouth, Manchester and Bolton in 1862 and 1863 (RIBA Directory). |
A number of his obituaries indicate that he began his architectural career in Derby in the early 1860's (1863-1864?) before returning to Bolton about 1865, working initially in partnership with George Cunliffe but after October 1871 mostly alone. In the five years following the dissolution of the partnership, Freeman struggled to obtain major commissions. (Claims that he was responsible for the design of the Indian Pavilion on Blackpool’s North pier in 1874 are incorrect as to date of construction and suspect as to Freeman’s possible involvement). It was only after his appointment as architect for the Museum and Public Library at Derby in 1876 that new commissions of any significance increased and the success of the practice became assured. The library was opened in 1879 and in the intervening three years Freeman operated a branch office in Derby. His later success was aided in part by his appointment as Surveyor to the Diocese of Manchester under the Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Act 1871, and a growing reputation as an authority on church architecture.
Many of his major commissions were won in open competition, a correspondent in the Manchester Guardian noting “Mr Freeman went in freely for architectural competitions in which he was more successful than the majority of those who regard this form of speculation as a profitable investment of time and money.” In addition to the Free Library at Derby, successful entries included Bolton Infirmary (1878), West Hartlepool Municipal Offices (1886), Bolton Central Higher Grade School (1894) and the pavilion at the landward end of Central Pier, Blackpool (1897). Less successful were his entries for Southport Art Gallery (1877), the National Museum of Science and Art, Dublin (1882), and the unplaced entry for Exchange Station, Tithebarn Street, Liverpool (1881).
R K Freeman was elected a Fellow of the RIBA on 9 January 1882, nominated by Lawrence Booth, Alfred Darbyshire and George T Redmayne. He was also a Fellow of the Manchester Society of Architects and its president in 1890-91.
While Freeman generally worked alone, he entered a loose association or partnership from 1886-1897 with S Denison Robins who practised in Sunderland and Newcastle which seems to have been mainly for the purpose of entering competitions in the north east. About 1900 he took his son Frank Richard Freeman into partnership, the firm practising under the style R Knill Freeman and Son, architects, Bolton and it was Frank Freeman who continued the practice from 21 Wood Street, Bolton, following his father’s death.
Richard Knill Freeman died on 23 June 1904, aged 64, the local paper recording that he “had been in failing health for some time back and his demise was not altogether unexpected.” He was interred in the churchyard of St Stephen’s Lever Bridge, Bolton, one of Edmund Sharpe’s famous “pot churches,” following a private ceremony, the chief mourners being his widow, Frank Freeman, and Miss (Constance E) Freeman. However, baptismal records exist for three other sons and one other daughter, some of whom are assumed to have died in infancy or early childhood.