George Corson (1829-1910): Leeds Architect

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Scottish-born architect George Corson (1829-1910) was responsible for some of the most impressive municipal buildings of the Victorian era in the city of Leeds - including the magnificent Grand Theatre, the Central Library building with its spectacular Tiled Hall, and numerous distinguished houses, offices, and commercial buildings. 

The pictures in this collection span some forty years of Corson’s life and evidence an enduring interest in both the man-made environment and the natural landscape - from his early interest in architecture in his native Dumfriesshire, to observations around Yorkshire, views in the Lake District, and further afield around the south of England and Brittany in France.

Born in Dumfries in Scotland, George Corson is thought to have descended from the medieval Italian architect Corsini (the name changing to Corsane). His ancestor John Corsane was Provost of Dumfries 1618-21 and was one of the richest commoners in Scotland. George Corson’s parents were James Corson of Cassylands and Stakeford, Provost of Dumfries 1831-22, and his wife Janet Reid from Kirkennan, Kirkcudbrightshire. His maternal great-uncle was the artist Alexander Reid of Kirkennan (1747-1823), who is most famous for his portrait of Robert Burns (in the National Galleries of Scotland), believed to be the best likeness of the poet. It appears that Reid’s topographical accuracy and exacting style had some influence on Corson (there is a watercolour view of Edinburgh after Reid in this collection) and perhaps through Reid and his association with the Romantics, Corson was inspired to complete a number of Lake District subjects.

After an education at Dumfries Academy, George joined his brother William in the offices of the architect Walter Newall around 1844. In 1849 he moved to Leeds where William had established a partnership with Edward La Trobe Bateman, which in 1860 passed into George’s full control after William and Bateman both moved on to other practices.

George Corson had a hugely successful practice in churches, warehouses, insurance offices and breweries proving himself equally adept in Ruskinian Romanesque, gothic, Italian Renaissance and Scottish baronial. He won some of the most important and recognisable public commissions in Leeds - including Roundhay Park (1873), Leeds Municipal and School Board offices (1876) and the Leeds Infirmary extension (1891) - and became the first president of the Leeds Architectural Society when it was founded in 1876.

His greatest success came in 1880 when he won the competition for Glasgow Municipal Buildings, in association with his brother, and on the assumption that he would be commissioned to build it and open a Glasgow office, he built a Scottish holiday house Carn Dearg at Gairloch, Wester Ross in that year - paintings of which are in this collection.

Interestingly, this collection also evidences a friendship between George Corson and the Yorkshire watercolour artist Thomas Sutcliffe (1828-1871) - and includes pictures of Sutcliffe sketching. Sutcliffe lived at Headingley in Leeds, and later Whitby, and his eldest son was the pioneering photographer Francis Meadow Sutcliffe.

Corson lived at various imposing Victorian residences in Headingley, where he died in 1910 aged eight-one.