Culshaw & Sumners: a Victorian architectural practice and its impact on Liverpool's built environment.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Architecture


The project will study the archive of about 10,000 drawings by the Liverpool architects Culshaw & Sumners, held by the Lancashire Record Office. Culshaw & Sumners were a busy mid 19th-century practice, working in a period of intense building activity and urban growth. The project will use the archive to increase our knowledge and understanding of Culshaw & Sumners in particular, of Victorian architectural practice in general, and of the built environment of Victorian Liverpool, much of which is a World Heritage Site.

Scholars have tended to focus on 19th-century architects of exceptional talent and established reputation, and have neglected the more representative, mainstream figures who were largely responsible for the appearance of Victorian towns and cities. The project will give new insights into the 19th-century architectural scene by concentrating on a well-documented provincial practice whose work embraced a wide range of building types, and who met the day to day needs of one of the largest commercial towns in the country.

It will investigate the development of Culshaw & Sumners in relation to national and local architectural trends. It will identify the range of building types they worked on, and show how they responded to the special demands of mercantile, maritime Liverpool, particularly in the design of offices, warehouses and industrial premises. It will also explore the use they made of new and traditional technologies, such as cast iron and fireproof construction.

It will use their drawings to clarify aspects of Liverpool's growth that have been obscured by later waves of demolition and rebuilding. These include the spread of suburban villas, the rise of high-class shopping areas, and the distribution of warehouses and industrial buildings. These topics cannot be studied in detail from maps alone, and Liverpool's building control records for this period have not survived. The Culshaw & Sumners drawings, a high proportion of which are dated, are therefore a uniquely valuable source for understanding the growth of the 19th-century town.

The project will also examine the market for new buildings in Victorian Liverpool, by investigating clients whose names are inscribed on the drawings, and by examining the relationship between clients and architects. It will look for links between clients, as evidence of how Culshaw & Sumners may have obtained commissions. Comparisons will be made with architectural practices elswhere, to show how far Culshaw & Sumners can be regarded as typical, and how far they - and Liverpool - represent a special case.

The project results will be shared by publishing articles in scholarly journals, and by holding a symposium where scholars investigating the Victorian architectural scene in other towns and cities can meet in Liverpool to compare their findings. This will allow the work of Culshaw & Sumners to be seen in a wider context. The research will also form the basis of a public exhibition of selected drawings, accompanied by photographs showing the same buildings today, to be held in a prominent location in Liverpool. Reproductions of the drawings will be displayed in the buildings to which they relate, including schools, shops, offices and churches. This will increase awareness and understanding of Liverpool's Victorian architecture, and highlight the value of the Culshaw & Sumners archive as an educational resource. The project's findings will also be shared with the Lancashire Record Office and added to their online catalogue, making them available to a worldwide audience.

The research will be of interest not only to architectural historians, but to urban, social and family historians too, and will open up the Culshaw & Sumners archive to wider use by scholars and members of the public. It will add greatly to our knowledge and understanding of Liverpool's historic built environment, and will be of practical use to architects working on refurbishment schemes.


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