John Loughborough Pearson

John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97) is one of the most famous of the Victorian church architects, responsible in the Isle of Man for new Kirk Braddan (1871-73) and St. Matthew's, Douglas (1895-1908).

Born in Durham, he was the son of a watercolour artist, William Pearson of Durham. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to Ignatius Bonomi in Durham, and there developed his lifelong interest in church architecture.

Pearson went to London, working for Anthony Salvin and then Philip Hardwick, before establishing his own practice in 1843. St Anne's, Ellerker, near Hull (1843-44) was his first solo church, and his first major work in London was Holy Trinity, Bessborough Gardens (1849-52).

In 1862 Pearson married Jemima Christian, daughter of Henry Curwen Christian and a cousin of Pearson's friend Ewan Christian, architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Their son Frank was born in 1864, but to Pearson's great sorrow Jemima died the following year of typhoid fever. Frank was brought up at Cronkbourne, Braddan, by Jemima's unmarried elder sister Sarah, who lived there with her sister Hannah, wife of William Fine Moore. This connection with Braddan led to Pearson's engagement to design the new parish church.

Kirk Braddan interior

Pearson's reputation grew, and he became one of the more successful establishment figures, becoming ARA in 1874 and being elected RA in 1880. He was architect to several of the great Cathedrals — Rochester, Bristol, Peterborough, and Lincoln. His parish churches include St Mary's, Dalton Holme (1858); St. Peter's, Vauxhall (1863); Holy Trinity, Wentworth (1873); St. Stephen's, Bournemouth (1881); All Saints, Hove (1891); St.Agnes, Sefton Park, Liverpool (1882); St. Alban's, Conybere Street, Birmingham (1881); and St. John's, Upper Norwood (1887). Possibly his greatest were St. Augustine's, Kilburn (1880); St. John's, Red Lion Square, Holborn (1874, bombed in 1941 and later demolished); and St. Michael and All Angels, Croydon (1880).

His masterpiece is arguably Truro Cathedral in Cornwall, which was commenced in 1880 and completed after his death under his son Frank. His other cathedral, St John's, Brisbane, Queensland, designed in 1888 and begun in 1906, was not completed until 2009. The likeness between the interior of Kirk Braddan (left) and Brisbane (below left) is evident.

Pearson evolved a Gothic style, at first influenced by Pugin, but he later turned to French Gothic. Many of his churches feature the vertical, with tall towers, as at Braddan, which was originally designed with an elegant spire (below left). (Similarly, the massive south porch at Croydon was intended to support a tower and spire, which were never built.)

Pearson died on 11th December 1897 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. For further information see article by John Phillips RIBA.

Brisbane Cathedral
Kirk Braddan with its spire