Harvey Lonsdale Elmes (1813-47) was only in his mid-twenties when his design for St George's Hall, Liverpool, was selected from amongst seventy-five competition entries. This is a little less astonishing when his background is taken into account. Born in Oving, West Sussex, just to the east of Chichester, Elmes was the only son of the architect James Elmes (1782-1862). His father was a friend of Sir John Soane, C. R. Cockerell and others. Like his father, Elmes attended the Royal Academy Schools, where he was further imbued with Soane's influence, and classical ideals. Soon after the original competition, Liverpool's corporation held another one for new Courts of Assize, and again Elmes won, this time from among eighty-nine entrants. As Neil Sturrock has pointed out in his essay on St George's Hall, the two designs were then adjusted to produce the current complex, so the final plan was the work of a rather more mature hand than either of the original ones. Indeed, it could be that Cockerell played some part in this plan (see Watkin). Be that as it may, it produced a masterpiece which has since been compared to London's St Paul's and the British Museum in monumental grandeur. Reginald Turnor describes it as having "a greater monumental scale than any other nineteenth-century building." Turnor continues, "It might seem that any architect of taste could have combined splendour with simplicity in the Corinthian medium with as much power; but in fact none of Elmes' time would have been at all likely to do so" (39). A more recent architectural historian, James Steven Curl, also considers it "perhaps the finest Neoclassical public building in England" (76).

Sadly, less than ten years later, and without having achieved anything else on this scale, Elmes died of consumption in Spanish Town, Jamaica, where he was trying to regain his health. He was thus prevented from having the kind of career promised by this early and celebrated double commission. The only other building of note that he produced was the Liverpool Collegiate Institution, the execution of which was given over to a local surveyor. Yet to leave behind one "internationally renowned" building (Lewis 105) is no mean legacy . Turnor feels that Elmes's sad story may have made St George's Hall seem all the more remarkable, but concludes that "it is fine by any standard" (39). He also points out that with Elmes's and George Basevi's tragically early deaths, neo-classicism lost two of its finest exponents, leaving the Gothic Revival an open field. — Jacqueline Banerjee.



Curl, James Stevens. Victorian Architecture. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1990.

Lewis, David. Walks Through History: Liverpool. Derby: Breedon, 2007.

Turnor, Reginald. Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford, 1950.

Watkin, David. "Elmes, Harvey Lonsdale (1813-1847)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 3 January 2011.

Last modified 2 January 2012