George Gordon Hoskins, architect. (1837-1911)
We are delighted to welcome Shaun Marshall as guest blogger today. Shaun is a Local History Research Volunteer for the Town Hall Refurbishment, Heritage Lottery Funded project.
George Gordon Hoskins was the man who designed Middlesbrough Town Hall. He won a design competition to become the architect for the building and he supervised its construction.
He was born in Birmingham in 1837 and was the eldest son of a former Captain of the 1st Foot Regiment. The Hoskins family had, until just before George’s birth, owned a large estate and mansion near Burton upon Trent, but an ill-judged property venture and poor handling of finances meant they lost them both.
George’s father Francis became a wine merchant after leaving the army but, despite being able to set up his own business with his own premises, the business was ultimately unsuccessful. Francis took the family to Paris where he trained to be a surgeon dentist. After a couple of years the family were back in England with Francis plying his new trade in Nottingham. The family would move again to London where George met his first wife and had his first child. He would later be widowed, be married again and have more children. It was in London that George trained to be a surveyor and architect and got his earliest work experience in the field.
In his mid-20s George came up north in the employ of architect Alfred Waterhouse to be clerk of works for a number of Waterhouse’s projects, including what is now Barclay’s Bank on Darlington High Row and also Rockcliffe Hall. Through this work George was able to make connections in the area and subsequently set up a practice in the town and resettle his family here.
A lot of George’s works in the North East were done for important Quaker families of the time – the Pease and Backhouse families in particular. Alongside this George also designed a good number of other public institutions and private properties and became perhaps the most famous architect in the Darlington area, if not the most famous in the wider region. His most well-known work is Middlesbrough Town Hall.
It seems to have been quite common in the Victorian era for tenders to be awarded to local contractors, with the definition of local here being a town and its immediate vicinity. Therefore most of George’s work was done in the Darlington area. (He came 2nd or 3rd in a number of competitions further afield where the 1st prize went to a more local architect). Notable buildings in this town include Darlington Technical College, the King’s Head Hotel and a number of schools, hospitals, hotels, shops and private residences. Buildings of note often had separate ceremonies for the laying of their foundations stones and the opening of the buildings. Often well-known people of the town would gather for the occasion and the events were usually reported in the local newspapers.
His two most notable buildings in Middlesbrough were the Town Hall (whose design competition was judged by his former mentor Alfred Waterhouse) and what is now Spensley’s Emporium, a night club next to the train station, which was originally built for the Middlesbrough branch of Backhouse Bank. He designed Backhouse Banks for a number of towns in the North East with perhaps the most notable design of the lot being in Sunderland.
George retired due to ill health after having made the initial designs for the Darlington Hippodrome which, like Middlesbrough Town Hall, has recently undergone renovations. He died in 1911 having made his mark with many buildings in Darlington and the North East of England. His grave is in Darlington’s West Cemetery.
Thank you to staff at the Reference Library, Middlesbrough for providing the images used in this post.