J. A. Hansom

The architect and inventor Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-82) was born into a Roman Catholic recusant family, a long line of builders and carpenters, many of whom were Freemen of the City of York. Having trained there with Matthew Philips, Hansom briefly worked for John Oates (1793-1831) in Halifax before founding an independent partnership with Edward Welch (1806-68). Early work in the North was followed by a brief spell on the Isle of Man and Anglesey. Between 1831 and 1842, he won the competition to build Birmingham Town Hall, one of his most famous works, patented his design for the hansom cab and founded The Builder. This phase of his long and prolific career was turbulent. The financial burden placed on him by the Birmingham Street Commissioners led to his bankruptcy in the final stages of building the Town Hall, the sum promised when he sold the rights to the cab did not materialise, and on-going lack of capital led him to relinquish his editorship of The Builder, even though the journal continues to flourish. Nevertheless his York upbringing, his brief foray into national politics with Thomas Attwood and Robert Owen, for whom he built Queenwood College (or Harmony Hall, Owen's final attempt to establish a co-operative community), and the reputation all these generated, provided a solid and multi-faceted basis for his future work.

With emphasis on Yorkshire and Lancashire, his commissions spanned the British Isles, from Scotland to the South West. Post Birmingham, Hansom's career was increasingly for Catholic patrons, particularly the Jesuit Order. Earlier attempts at the design of the Sussex Memorial and the London Metropolitan Hall had been too innovative for their time and were rejected. However even his Gothic churches invariably incorporated idiosyncratic features peculiar to Hansom. No longer resident in York he had to fight to re-establish himself as the designer of the new church there, whilst simultaneously building his iconic St Walburge's in Preston, with its controversial hammerbeam vaulting and exceptional spire. He continued to build churches, often with associated presbyteries and schools, but also extended several country houses for members of the Catholic gentry. Later in life, when joined by his youngest son, Joseph Stanislaus, he followed a trend towards the French Gothic, as evidenced in Holy Name in Manchester and St Philip Neri in Arundel. Prior to this he had been in partnership with his brother Charles Francis Hansom, his eldest son Henry John and, briefly with Edward Welby Pugin. He died in 1882 in Fulham Road, London, close to one of his final works, Our Lady of Dolours.


Boase, George Clement, "Hansom, Joseph Aloysius (1803-1882)," rev. Denis Evinson. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

British Architectural Library, Directory of British Architects 1834-1914. Vol. 1 (2001).

The Builder, 8 July 1882: 43-44.

Curl, James Stevens. Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Oxford University Press, 2006. 346.

Dixon, Roger, and Stefan Muthesius. Victorian Architecture. 2nd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985.

Evinson, Denis. Joseph Hansom. Unpublished MA dissertation. University of London, 1966.

Harris, Penelope. The Architectural Achievement of Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-1882), Designer of the Hansom Cab, Birmingham Town Hall, and Churches of the Catholic Revival. New York and Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 2010.

____. 'Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-82): His Yorkshire Works, Patronage and Contribution to the Catholic Revival', York Archaeological and Historical Journal. 85. 1 (2013): 175-193.

"The Late Mr. Hansom." Illustrated London News, 15 July 1882: 56. [Source of the likeness of Hansom shown above, reproduced from a wood engraving by R. & E. Taylor, added by the editors of the Victorian Web.]

Little, Bryan. Catholic Churches since 1623. London: Hale, 1966.

Last modified 26 June 2014