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Lightoler Architectural Drawing of Burton Constable
Thu 20 Feb 2020
Sylvia Gallagher
Sylvia Gallagher
Timothy Lightoler trained from an early age as a carpenter and joiner. His journey from these humble origins to his later status as "the gentleman and farmer's architect" is a fascinating story.



Introducing Timothy Lightoler

The second of three sons born to joiner Thomas Lightoler (or Lightowler) in Walton-on-Dale in Lancashire, Timothy Lightoler trained from an early age as a carpenter and joiner. His journey from these humble origins to his later status as "the gentleman and farmer's architect" is a fascinating story. 

Georgian craftsmen often doubled as architects; Timothy worked on many architectural projects during his lifetime, often in earlier years with his brother Thomas. His first documented work was carried out with Thomas at Warwick Castle in 1750, remodelling the castle chapel to the designs of Daniel Garrett (work described by one viewer at the time as "very curious"!)

Clearly pay was not high; Thomas turned to the crime of "coining", becoming somewhat notorious, and having escaped prison fled the country.


Building a Reputation

Timothy remained in Warwick, marrying carpenter’s daughter Mary Smith in January 1751 and welcoming their first child 11 months later. Amid this domesticity Lightoler settled down to carve door frames, ornamental chimney pieces and the like, often in the Rococo style.

Slowly, more prestigious commissions began to arrive – by the 1760s Lightoler was making moulds for decorative work for Lord Dacres at Belhus in Essex and designing the Gothic altarpiece for Beauchamp Chapel in Warwick. Other commissions escaped, however - in 1758 Lightoler gave an estimate for carving the tympanum in the pediment of the newly built Shire Hall in Warwick but was unsuccessful in securing the work.


Lightoler the Author

Amid his other employments, in 1757 Lightoler was commissioned to complete The Modern Builder's Assistant by publisher Robert Sayer after the death of its two authors William Halfpenny and Robert Morris. He added further plates to the edition (chiefly of a decorative character) and included plans and elevations for a country house; this paved the way for his most successful decade.

Turning his hand to yet another trade as an architectural salesman, Lightoler embarked on a speculative tour of England hawking his wares in 1761. He issued a prospectus announcing that "Mr Lightoler is at this time making a Tour of England to take Perspective Views and Plans of the Chief Seats of all the Peers". He followed this with some of his drawings being engraved with elegant Rococo frames, illustrated in William Guthrie’s Complete History of the English Peerage (1763). In 1762 he published his own pattern book, allowing him to build up a very lucrative clientele.

In 1762, with Sayer again as publisher, Lightoler also produced The Gentleman and Farmer's Architect with twenty-five plates; it sold well, with two further editions released in 1764 and 1774.  This collection of designs for parsonages, farmhouses and farm buildings were both practical and ornamental. The book also included hot houses, cowsheds and Dutch barns, the latter in the style of a Chinese farmhouse. It also included decorative features such as "facades to place before disagreeable objects", such as artificial ruins. In the same year Lightoler still found time to patent a machine for cutting files.


Lightoler Architect Burton Constable
Burton Constable Ground Floor Plan 1760s
Lightoler the Architect

During the 1760s Lightoler developed a considerable practice as an architect. He was engaged on five houses, six churches and five industrial projects. His most important works in this capacity were Platt Hall (a substantial country house in the manner of John Carr), the Octagon Chapel at Bath and Bidston Hall in Cheshire.  He designed the churches of St Paul and St John in Liverpool, both domed buildings of considerable merit, and the church of St Mary in Manchester.

Although more law-abiding than his jailbird brother, it seems Lightoler was "prepared to use unorthodox, even underhand methods to gain a commission". In 1761 he began construction of a new factory near Birmingham for Matthew Boulton to be built by William Wyatt; by 1763 Wyatt had dismissed Lightoler as architect, describing him as "the greatest Lyar I ever yet met with for during the half hour he stay'd with me I verily believe he did not say one true thing"

Lightoler Architect Burton Constable
Design for the Great Hall
Lightoler at Burton constable

Lightoler at Burton Constable

In 1746 William Constable inherited Burton Constable upon the death of his father Cuthbert Constable (1680-1746), a man of considerable learning. William immediately began planning improvements to both house and estate, writing to his step-mother Elizabeth that he was “making great and Expensive alterations about my house and Park.”

William employed the best designers and architects of the Georgian age. At Burton Constable, Lightoler's work in the Great Hall is remarkable for the introduction of Jacobethan motifs, an unusual style at this time. The Architect-Designer seems to have been a favourite with William, with no fewer than 41 designs for varied commissions. These drawings show intricate ceilings, pedestals, doorways, chimneypieces and gardens – and of course Lightoler’s most ambitious project of all on the site, the classical Palladian stable block.

Stable Block 1760s
Building Burton Constables Stables

Lightoler was at the height of his career when he designed the grand Palladian stable block for William Constable. Lightoler’s design and that presented by prominent architect John Carr of York at the same time are still held at the house today. William very likely chose Lightoler’s plans because of the architect’s adaptability and his ability to design in the Palladian and New Classical style. As William was an astute man who liked looking after the pennies, however, Lightoler’s very competitive price of only £63 for his drawings and attendance at the Hall may also have been a key factor in undercutting Carr’s work. As Carr was in fact the more prestigious of the two, William may even have favoured Lightoler as being the architect he could influence most - the plans show several alterations, which were very possibly made at William's behest. No notable qualified professional architect of the day would have seen need for modification to their work.

Lightoler died in 1769, before the stable block was completed, and was buried in the graveyard of the prestigious church of St Paul, Liverpool - the church he had designed to compete with the church of St Paul in London.

Thomas Atkinson (1729-1798) of York was commissioned to complete the stable block. Atkinson interestingly converted to Catholicism in order to obtain contracts from Catholic gentry, a path which Lightoler (for all his finagling for commissions) never seems to have resorted to.


Author: Sylvia Gallagher

Editor: Philippa Wood

Colvin, Howard A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, pages 78-79, 617-618

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 2, page 847

Hall, Ivan Furniture at Burton Constable I Country Life, June 3, 1976

Hall, Ivan William Constable and Burton Constable III Country Life, May 6, 1982

Hall, Ivan William Constable and Burton Constable IV Country Life, May 13, 1982

Hall, Ivan Some of Lightoler Designs for Burton Constable Family History, 1985

Lane, Joan The Craftsman Architect Timothy Lightoler of Warwick 1727-? Country Life, March 19, 1987

Hall, Ivan Burton Constable Hall: The Property of the Burton Constable Foundation Country Life, August 6, 1992