Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||William Atkinson |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||1774 or 1775 |
|Died: ||22 May 1839 |
|Bio Notes: ||William Atkinson was born in 1774 or 1775 in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. He trained as a carpenter. His father who was probably also William Atkinson was employed as a builder at Auckland Castle in the 1760s and who signed the drawings connected with James Wyatt’s works at the Castle for Bishop Barrington in the 1790s. The younger William Atkinson, probably through the influence of Bishop Barrington, obtained a place in the office of James Wyatt in London. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1796 and won the Gold Medal the following year. He exhibited occasionally at the Royal Academy until 1811. In 1805 he published ‘Views of Picturesque Cottages’. This comprised asymmetrical elevations with picturesque landscapes and irregular plans designed for utility rather than design effect. |
Atkinson also had a business venture in marketing his invention ‘Atkinson’s Cement’ which he introduced into the London market. The raw material, lime-bearing calcareous clay, was imported from Lord Musgrave’s estates near Whitby to Atkinson’s own wharf in Westminster. It could be used as both an external render and to form mouldings. It was through the influence of Lord Musgrave that Atkinson succeeded Wyatt as architect to the Board of Ordnance, a post which he held from 1813-1829 when the Board was abolished.
Colvin states that between 1812 and 1816 Atkinson had an office in Manchester and that he wrote letters from Manchester, exhibited at the Liverpool Academy and appears in directories of Manchester for 1815 and 1816. However it has been conclusively proved by Neil Darlington that there was an entirely different architect of the name William Atkinson working at this time in Manchester. He has no relationship with William Atkinson who was born in County Durham.
Atkinson was mainly a country house architect especially favouring the Gothic style. Between 1804 and 1834 he built twelve country houses in the Gothic or castle style. Usually the buildings have an asymmetrical plan and many pinnacled gables and battlements. His Gothic details are not scholarly nor are they fanciful like other 18th century Gothic detail. His interior of Broughton Hall is one of his most successful. His work as architect to the Board of Ordnance comprised alterations to numerous public buildings which were all in England. The National Records of Scotland holds a number of letters in the Buccleuch Papers which relate to work for the family, though it is not clear if some relate to Scotland.
Atkinson’s most significant Scottish work is Abbotsford for Sir Walter Scott. A variety of other people contributed to the design including the architect Edward Blore and Scott himself. The workers on the site also contributed some of the details.
Outwith his career as architect he was a keen chemist, geologist and botanist. He collected rare specimens of trees and his gardens were decorated with different sorts of stone. He planted rare species at his villa which he built for himself at Grove End, Paddington in 1818. In about 1830 he bought the estate of Silvermere in Surrey and his interest in horticulture and planting were given full expression in the large gardens there.
Atkinson was an able architect and was accomplished in both theory and practice. The Architectural Publications Society Dictionary states that he 'particularly excelled in alterations to existing edifices'. He attracted many pupils.
Atkinson died on 22 May 1839. He was buried at Walton-on-Thames. He was survived by his two sons, the younger of whom became an architect.
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|London, England||Private/business||1796||1811|| |
Employment and Training
|The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):|
| ||Name||Date from||Date to||Position||Notes|
|James Wyatt||1790s|| ||Assistant|| |
Buildings and Designs
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|APSD|| ||The Dictionary of Architecture||ed Wyatt Papworth||The Architectural Publication Society (8v 1852-1892)|| |
|Brayley, E W || ||Topographical History of Surrey|| || ||Volume II, 1841, p368|
|Brown, Malcolm||1996||William Atkinson, FGS, FHS|| ||Archives of Natural History, 23 (3)|| |
|DNB|| ||Dictionary of National Biography|| || ||Entry by Richard Riddell.|
|Farington, Joseph|| ||Diary|| || ||18 September 1813. |
|Smith, J T||1905||A Book for a Rainy Day|| || ||pp312-313|
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)||Gifts and deposits||GD 112/74/30, 34, 35, 37||Correspondence with the Earl and Lady Breadbalane regarding Taymouth and also 100 Park Lane, London|
|National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)||Gifts and deposits||GD 224/666/1||Correspondence about mines at Wanlockhead etc (Duke of Buccleuch)|
|National Library of Scotland||Manuscript Collection||MS 587, no1202||Letter about planting at Silvermere.|
|PRO||Wills|| ||PCC 339 Vaughan|