Thomas Wright (1782-1843) was an architect, surveyor and landowner. He was the eldest and only surviving child of Ann Hartley (died 1800) and William Wright (died 1812), surveyor of New Bayley Street, Salford. Thomas Wright’s grandfather, also named Thomas, was a land surveyor who died from drowning in 1789 aged 65. He is listed in Bailey’s Northern Dirctory in 1781 as Thomas Wright and Son, land surveyor, Salford. Thomas Wright the younger’s two main residences were 1 Albion Place, the Crescent, Salford and Summerhill, the Grade II listed ‘domestic gothic style’ stone mansion which stands on Eccles Old Road and is currently a nursing home. Wright lived with his family and servants at Summerhill until his death in 1843, moving there from Albion Place between 1825 and 1830. By 1851 Wright’s widow and daughters had moved back to the Crescent and Summerhill was leased to several tenants before becoming the Agnew family home. Thomas Wright’s place of business was at New Bailey Bridge, Salford where he had offices and a warehouse.

Advert in the Manchester Mercury, June 1818. Wright’s will later revealed the extent of his property in the Greengate area of Salford.

Thomas Wright and Martha Mills were married in 1813 at St Mary’s Church, Rostherne, Cheshire. Martha was baptised in 1794, the daughter of Isaac and Betty Mills of Rostherne. The Wrights had four children including a son William who died in infancy, two daughters Mary Ann and Elizabeth Jane, and a son also named Thomas who was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford.

Wright was responsible for several important buildings in Manchester, Salford and Pendleton during the 1820s and 1830s, one of a small group of Georgian architects of note in the area.

In October 1817 an initial notification for the proposed Blackfriars Bridge, was posted in national newspapers after legislation had been passed to enable the construction of the bridge. This was followed by a series of adverts for designs.

Wright must have provided several alternative designs for the bridge as this version has two arches and an iron balustrade.

Blackfriars Bridge 1818 WANTED. A DESIGN for a STONE OR IRON BRIDGE, One or Three Arches; consisting of Plans, Elevations and Sections, for a Bridge intended to be erected across the River Irwell, to form Communication between the Towns of Manchester and Salford. The River is 150 Feet wide; and the Bridge proposed is to be 42 Feet within the Battlements. The Height of the Surface of the Road at the end of the Bridge, on the Salford Side, above the Surface of the Water, is 12 Yards 24 Inches; and the Height of the Surface of the Road, on the Manchester Side, is 14 Yards 18 Inches. The Water is very shallow; and there is Rock on each Side of the River. The Scale will be required to One-Fifth of an Inch to a Foot, and the Designs must delivered in, before the Thirtieth Day of October next. A Premium of £20 will be given for the most approved Design; £15 for the Second, and £10 for the Third. Applications, for a Section of the River, to be made to Messrs. Halstead & Ainsworth, Solicitors, Manchester; to whom the Designs are to be forwarded.

Wright’s elegant design for Blackfriars Bridge was the successful entrant, the third major bridge to be built linking the Manchester and Salford sides of the Irwell. The new bridge replaced a wooden footbridge which was, according to contemporary newspaper reports, originally built to provide access to Water Street and a nearby theatrical venue on the Salford side of the river. Water Street on the Salford side of the river was renamed Blackfriars Street, taking its name from the original footbridge. When first built the new bridge attracted artists and illustrators who recorded the structure. Later photographs show the bridge hemmed in by factories and warehouses through which runs the toxic Irwell.

Blackfriars Bridge from the Salford side of the River Irwell in 2018

Today Blackfriars Bridge is a listed structure, designated Grade II by Historic England. The listing details include ‘Public road bridge. c.1820. Sandstone ashlar. Three spans. Classical style. Three semicircular arches (east end partly embedded in river bank), with vermiculated rusticated voussoirs, triangular cutwaters and low piers with rounded ends from which rise pairs of Ionic semi columns; plain frieze and dentilled cornice breaking forward over the columns. C20 parapet with tubular iron railings replaced with stone clad reinforced concrete in 1991’.

The listing excludes any mention of the original balustrades, still visible behind the cladding and the later Blackfriars House, built for the Bleachers Association in 1925, which truncates the third arch of the bridge on the Manchester side.

New Bailey Prison 1821 In June 1821 the Manchester Mercury carried an advert entitled ‘House of Correction, Salford’ calling for tenders for the building of workshops at the prison. Plans for these were provided by Thomas Wright, architect at his New Bailey office.

Salford and Pendleton Dispensary 1830 Thomas Wright was the architect of the dispensary in 1830 waiving his fees and also making a sizeable donation towards the cost which was acknowledged in the report of the celebratory dinner. The Manchester Mercury of 27 April 1830 gave a full report of the laying of the foundation stone on land leased from the Crown adjacent to St Philip’s Church. The building was ‘a simple neat brick’ structure on the corner of what are now Adelphi and Chapel Streets. 1832 Dispensary Reports record that ‘the whole is completed in such a manner as to constitute an honour to the Town and an ornament to the neighbourhood’. Later extensions and additions have enveloped Wright’s original building. The iron palisade and stone boundary wall was added later by subscription.

The hospital in 1890. Wright’s original facade and entrance portico can be seen between the two later extensions of 1865 and 1885.

The Church of Our Saviour Christ – commonly known as Christ Church, Acton Square 1830 Thomas Wright designed Christ Church for Robert Gardner who stumped up most of the money. The church had been originally intended for the Islington area of Salford but legal issues prevented this and the Acton Square site, probably provided by Wright who owned land in the area, was chosen.

The final account for Christ Church, Acton Square shows that it cost £6075,16s,4p.

The report from the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of 1 May 1830 gives an account of the laying of the foundation stone by Gardner and a description of the church and its unusual design.

Interior of Christ Church looking east, showing the central pulpit, lectern, monument to Hugh Stowell (left) and the mosaic war memorial installed above the altar in 1920. The building was demolished in 1959.

The plan of the proposed church is worthy of particular notice, from its originality, being totally dissimilar to any we have ever seen. The object of the architect has been to render this place conformable, in as great a desire as possible, with the expansion of the voice; whilst at the same time, avoided any curvilinear enclosure…… ample accommodation will be provided in the church tor no less than 1550 persons, while a much smaller proportion of the hearers, than usual will placed behind the pulpit. The committee were induced to make choice this plan, in preference to that generally adopted churches, from its capability of accommodating a greater number of persons, on a smaller area. The ‘present instance the saving space thus effected, as compared with the generality of churches, amounts to at least one fourth. The whole the pews open into spacious aisles, all having direct communication with the entrance vestibules, thus affording great facility of ingress and egress. The interior of the church will be formed into nave and two aisles, divided by columns in the Grecian style, after the example of Andronicus Cyrrhestes. On the nave side they will be crowned by appropriate entablature, from which will spring a cove, forming elegant canopy to the nave—The external appearance of the church approaches very much to the form of our ancient cathedrals having an intersecting cross, which is connected with the main body by “circular angles.” The principal entrances will be approached under tetra style portico of fluted columns, two feet six inches in diameter, after the beautiful example the church Vesta at Tivoli. The front will consist of a centre part and two wings, both crowned with the attic order, adding greatly to the elegance of the composition. The adoption of this plan was partly owing to the peculiarity of the situation, the front occupying the whole width of the head of Acton Square. We understand it is the intention of the committee to erect over the centre part of the vestibule an elegant spire. The base will be formed of sufficient strength to support a spire of the height of from 180 to 200 feet; but, we believe, the precise height to which the spire may be carried is not yet determined on. The estimate for building the church amounts, we are informed, to £5,400, a sum which is not large, considering the accommodations provided, and the chasteness & elegance of the design. The front and portico will be of the finest free-stone. The building is to be immediately proceeded with, and is expected to be completed within about sixteen months from the present time. When finished it will form a splendid ornament that genteel and improving quarter the town of Salford. It is almost needless to add, for we believe most of our readers are already aware of the fact, that the incumbency is intended for the Rev. Hugh Stowell.

Wright’s Ground floor plan of Christ Church shows the unconventional layout. The seating plan gives details of the pew rents.

In 1955 a survey of Christ Church estimated that £15,000 was needed to address structural issues, dry rot and the repair of the external stucco, caused by lack of maintenance. Unable to take on the financial burden required, the Parish petitioned for demolition. Inclusion of Christ Church in the National Monuments record from1947 which acknowledged ‘the considerable architectural interest’ and ‘important contribution to its surroundings’ ‘in a distinguished Georgian Square’ failed to stem the tide and in 1958 tenders for demolition were sought.

Christ Church was demolished in 1959. Many of the interior fittings were destroyed during demolition, including the pulpit, font and pews, the unique mosaic war memorial (1920) and mahogany altar which ‘was burnt to ash’. The altar rails and 15 cwt, bell were melted down. The Gardner and Stowell memorials were removed to the Good Shepherd Mission on Liverpool Street along with the church plate, brass lectern and Bishop’s throne. The marble monument to Thomas Wright, his wife and daughters was ‘put into storage’, – current whereabouts unknown. In 1961 an application by Salford College of Advanced Technology to use the site as a car park required the levelling of the site and removal of the surviving graveyard monuments. The site of the church and graveyard is still a car park beneath which lie the remains of Thomas Wright, Robert Gardner, Hugh Stowell and their families.

Finale – John Betjeman’s English Parish Churches paid tribute to the loss of Christ Church in the frontispeice dedication.
Christ Church abandoned and awaiting demolition.

Summer Hill c1825 The land on which Summer Hill stands was bought by Robert Gardner in 1825, part of the 35 acres he purchased in Pendleton from the Fitzgeralds. The date at which Summer Hill was built requires further research but it possibly dates from between 1825 and 1830. Neither is there any indication of who designed Summer Hill in the ’castellated gothic style’.  With its crenellations and four-centred  arched entrance and window details it is certainly not in Wright’s preferred Classical style. It would be unusual, however, if Wright hadn’t designed this building given his profession. One element in the building also perhaps points to Wright as the designer of the building. Over the entrance door is an heraldic device of three axes carved in the stonework (see below). This possibly references Wright’s surname which comes from the old English ‘wryhta’ or ‘wyrhta’, meaning worker or ‘shaper of wood’ later known by the more familiar term of ‘carpenter’. The carpenter’s emblem is an axe.

Summerhill and surrounding landscaped pleasure gardens in 1848. The house is still in its original symmetrical form at this date. Later additions included a billiard room and library.

Thomas Wright’s ‘stone built mansion’ mentioned in his will. When initially built around 1830 Summerhill had a symmetrical facade as above. The glazing of the porch and that directly above are probably later. Photograph courtesy of Garnet Hoyes
The three axes possibly refer to Wright’s occupational surname. They were hidden from view for many years and only revealed when the conservatory-type structure was removed.

Pendleton Sunday school 1836 In 1836 ‘a design voluntarily given by Mr. Thomas Wright, surveyor’ was provided for a new ‘Gothic’ style Sunday school attached to St Thomas, Pendleton.  ‘The school will hold from 6 to 700 children with suitable rooms for the visitors, etc. The want of accommodation has been long felt in this increasing township, and will, we trust, be liberally supported by the collection to-morrow’.  Although a small project the design indicates that Wright was open to using alternatives to the classical style.

St Thomas school, Broughton Lane, Pendleton dates from 1836.

Thomas Wright died in 1843 leaving an estate valued at £12,000. Martha Wright and their three children were the main beneficiaries of the will which included shares in the Manchester Assurance Company. The will also revealed Wright’s extensive property portfolio including his ‘offices, messuage and warehouse on New Bailey Street’, property and land in Broughton and also in Cook Street and Bury Street in Salford, three houses on the Crescent and a house in Albion Place. The will also mentions ‘Land recently purchased on the north side of the Bolton Road’, on which he had built two houses and his ’stone mansion and land in Pendleton’. The two pews in Christ Church were left to his wife ‘to enjoy’ but with the proviso that she could ‘let them out’ if she desired. Finally he directed that his Trustees should ‘sell his business of an architect and surveyor and all my maps, plans, fixtures and instruments used by me in my said business.’

Mary Ann Wright’s will 1874 Martha Wright died in 1872 followed in 1874 by her remaining unmarried daughter Mary Ann whose will devised her real and personal estate to her trustees, giving them the discretion to sell her estate and pay a series of legacies when they thought fit. Legacies included those to her aunt Eliza Casson and friends Jane Dobson, Eliza Barker, Ellen Walker, Ann Gould and housekeeper Jane Wilson. The residue of the estate was left to her neice Edith Smallwood, Elizabeth Jane’s daughter and only surviving child. In 1880 Thomas and Mary Ann Wright’s trustees decided to sell the full portfolio of holdings which included the FREEHOLD MESSUAGE or MANSION HOUSE, known as Summer Hill, on the Eccles Old-road, Pendleton, in the county of Lancaster, and the gardens, pleasure grounds, hothouses, coachhouses, four stalled stable, loose box, harness-room, coachman’s house, and other outbuildings thereunto in the occupation of William Agnew, Esq., M.P.

Meanwhile Thomas Wright junior lived out his life as a gentleman at Yealand Conyers with his wife. Thomas and Martha Wright’s granddaughter Edith Smallwood died unmarried in 1928 aged 69. There does not appear to have been any Wright descendants.