Made in North Yorkshire: John Carr

Our next Made in North Yorkshire feature is on the renowned Georgian architect, John Carr. Carr served as the North and West Riding ‘bridgemaster’, and built or altered over sixty bridges across North Yorkshire, alongside hundreds of extravagant halls and buildings that have made North Yorkshire’s architectural heritage what it is today. 

QSB John Carr’s signature, from 4th July 1795, Buxton. Carr designed Buxton Crescent in Buxton, Derbyshire.

Early life

John Carr was born on 28 April 1723 in Horbury near Wakefield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Carr was the eldest of nine children, and came from a humble, yet skilled, family of masons. John Carr’s father, Robert Carr was described as a ‘master mason’, and held the role of the County Surveyor for the West Riding, a role which John would later hold himself. John received formal masonry training via an apprenticeship with his father which gave him a sound understanding of classic design, but it soon became clear that John wanted to apply these theories beyond just masonry.

ZN John Carr’s elevation drawing for Thornton Hall now a nursing home in Thornton le Dale in Pickering.

Architectural career

It is believed that Carr’s first commissioned building was Huthwaite Hall, not far from Carr’s birthplace of Horbury. It was built in 1748 for John Cockshutt, whose family owned the local ironworks. 1748 was also the year that Carr set up his own architectural practice, and from this point onwards, Carr began to establish himself as one of the most skilled up and coming architects in the North of England.

We spoke to Dr Ivan Hall, architectural historian, North Yorkshire resident, and author of ‘John Carr of York, architect – A Pictorial Survey’ (2013) who notes that Carr built up a reputation for very consciously fulfilling his clients’ briefs.  He explained:

‘Carr wanted to ensure his clients received what they wanted, and within budget; he was a cautious and methodical designer, well versed in traditional styles and very adept at drawing up a specification which ensured he didn’t overspend whilst also providing a good set of drawings for builders’.

Carr’s dedication to his commissions meant that he was able to build up his portfolio to over three hundred buildings, located mostly across the North of England. An example of one hall for which he supplied designs was Busby Hall, near Little Busby in North Yorkshire. Busby Hall was commissioned by Jane Turner, daughter of George Marwood of Little Busby. In around 1757, Carr designed some alternations to the property, including the introduction of a grand staircase.  Some of Carr’s proposed designs for renovations to Busby Hall from collection ZDU can be seen below.

Carr’s designs for Busby Hall weren’t selected by Jane Turner, but the plans show the precise detail of Carr’s work.

From around 1763 to 1769, Carr worked on alterations and extensions to Aske Hall, near Richmond. The designs were requested by Sir Lawrence Dundas, after he purchased Aske Hall in 1763. The plans were vast and included additions such as several new family rooms, a brewhouse, a wash house and stables. Some of Carr’s plans for Aske Hall can be seen below.

John Carr’s architectural designs were not just limited to grand country houses.  Around 1784, Carr was commissioned by the North Riding Magistrates to design a new Court House and County Gaol in Northallerton. The court house Carr designed was demolished in 1972, and the original gaol became integrated into Northallerton prison which was in operation until 2013.

The Bridgemaster

In 1772 Carr was appointed as the principal surveyor of bridges (the ‘bridgemaster’) in the North Riding, with a salary of £100 a year. The Record Office holds a letter written by John Carr in around 1775, where he describes the role of a bridgemaster.  

QSB 1775 Letter written by John Carr describing the role of the bridgemaster, c.1775.

“The principal surveyor should once a year view all the bridges in the Riding, and at every Easter sessions he should lay before the Justices in writing the state of every bridge and the nature of every repair wanted to be done to keep them in proper order and prevent accidents, (A copy of which should then be given to the Deputy Surveyor for his instructions) and at the same sessions he should examine the disbursements made by the Deputy Surveyor in the repair of the several bridges the preceding year, he should also make the plans, elevations and give the directions for the proper execution of all the new bridges, as well as the additions necessary to be made and the old ones, together with estimates of their several expences and he should also assist the Justices in making contracts with workmen for the execution of such plans upon a day fixed at Easter sessions for transacting the business of the bridges. And in case any material accident should happen and any of the bridges the surveyor should immediately view the same and give proper directions for the repairing such damages. John Carr”

Planning

Carr recorded his plans and repairs of bridges in the North Riding in an annual report which he would present to the Quarter Sessions. The Record Office holds Carr’s ‘Book of Bridges’ from c.1805 which includes plans and elevations for over 85 bridges in the North Riding (Ref: QAB(P)). The first bridge Carr designed was at Masham in North Yorkshire and the last at Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire. His bridge designs were primarily classical, with rounded arches, and built as features of the landscape.

Many of Carr’s bridges still exist today and remain a crucial source of infrastructure that connects the rural county of North Yorkshire.

Legacy

Beyond architecture, John Carr also served as the Lord Mayor of York in 1770 and 1785. In his later years, Carr purchased an estate in Askham Richard near York, where he died on 22 February 1807, aged 83. Carr’s legacy can be seen across the county in the designs and architecture he left behind. He also inspired the next generations of architects, including Walter Brierley, whose firm originated in the eighteenth century from John Carr’s practice. Walter Brierley became an established architect across the North Riding and designed buildings including the Brierley building, at County Hall, now the Northallerton headquarters of the North Yorkshire County Council.

Dr Ivan Hall best sums up John Carr’s legacy:

‘Carr generated an enormous output, most of which remains today, which is an outstanding achievement. None of Carr’s buildings collapsed due to lack of skill (although some owners may not have maintained them adequately); his work has stood the test of time and can still be enjoyed today.’

Further information

If you would like to find out more about John Carr and his work in North Yorkshire, the North Yorkshire County Record Office holds several records relating to his designs, including his ‘Book of Bridges’ (Ref: QAB) more information can be found in our online catalogue.

Dr Ivan Hall’s book entitled ‘John Carr of York, architect – A Pictorial Survey’, (2013)

‘The Life and Works of John Carr of York’ by Brian Wragg, edited by Giles Worsley, (2000)

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