Francis Thompson (architect)

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Francis Thompson (1808–1895) was an English architect particularly well known for his railway work.

Life and work[edit]

He was born in 1808 in Woodbridge in Suffolk, England, to a family of builders. He married Anna Maria Watson in 1830 at Woodbridge church and emigrated to Montreal in British North America (now Canada). Their son Francis Jacob was born in 1831. Anna died the following year during the cholera epidemic which claimed 4000 lives in Montreal.

Having an interest in and understanding of architecture gained from his relatives Thompson designed houses, commercial buildings, court facilities and a church. With John Wells he designed St Ann's market hall, which later became the Canadian parliament house.

After the death of his wife, and because of the increasing political unrest between the French and the increasing number of British settlers, he returned to England in 1837.

Railway mania[edit]

The first "railway mania" was in full swing and, although at first sight young and inexperienced, Robert Stephenson appointed him to be the architect for the North Midland Railway then under construction.

He designed many publicly acclaimed buildings, major and minor railway stations, and warehouses. One of the most representative of his surviving work is the Midland Hotel, Derby.[1]

This was part of a complete railway complex, the world's first, comprising one of the most magnificent station buildings of the time, attached to which was a large three-bay glazed train-shed, together with workers' houses, and a locomotive roundhouse and workshop.

Notable for his criticism of the extravagant nature of the railway architecture of the day, Whishaw was nevertheless full of praise, writing: "The admirably contrived and elegant roofs, the spacious platforms, the great length of the whole erection extending to upwards of a thousand feet. All unite in rendering it the most complete structure of the kind in the United Kingdom or perhaps the world."[2]

Though the original station has been rebuilt the hotel survives along with the Cottages and the original workshop.

Thompson continued to work with Robert Stephenson and assisted with the Chester and Holyhead Railway and with the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait. His building at Chester still exists.

Canada again[edit]

Thompson had remarried in 1840. His second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1852 and in 1853, he married Mary Ann Groves and returned to Canada.

He was appointed architect for the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada and the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, designing the masonry for the Victoria Bridge in Montreal, and the terminus at Portland, Maine. The latter opened in 1855 and was claimed to be the largest station in America at that time.

He and his wife returned to London in 1859 and in 1866 he retired to Hastings, moving finally to Bredfield, where he died on 23 April 1895.


  1. ^ Pevsner, Nikolaus; Williamson, Elizabeth (1979). The Buildings of England. Derbyshire. Penguin Books. p. 176. ISBN 0140710086.
  2. ^ Whishaw, F., (1840) The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland: Practically described and illustrated London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co.
  • Billson, P., (1996) Derby and the Midland Railway, Derby: Breedon Books
  • Carter, O.F.J., (1977) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Whishaw, Francis (1842) [1840]. The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland practically described and illustrated (2nd ed.). London: John Weale (1840 publisher - Simpkin, Marshall & Co.). OCLC 36383414.
  • Whishaw, Francis (1969) [1840]. The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland practically described and illustrated (3rd ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-4786-1.