William Railton

William Railton

Monumental work at Trafalgar Square.

William Railton (1800–77) was an English architect, best known as the designer of Nelson's Column. He was based in London with offices at 12 Regent Street for much of his career.


He was born in Clapham (then in Surrey) on 14 May 1800, the son of Isaac Railton and his wife, Margaret Maria Railton, née Scott.[1]

He was a pupil of the London architect and surveyor William Inwood.[2]

In 1825 Railton set off for a tour of Greece and Egypt. On his return to England he prepared drawings of the temple at Kardaki on Corfu which were published as a supplementary volume to James Stuart's Antiquities of Athens.[3]

In the mid-1830s, Railton carried out commissions for Ambrose March Phillipps, a Leicestershire landowner who had converted to Catholicism at an early age.[4] On his marriage his father, Charles March-Phillipps of Garendon Park, had given him one of the family's other Leicestershire estates, on which stood the ruins of the priory of Grace Dieu. At Grace Dieu, Railton built a neo-Tudor manor house, complete with chapel.[5] Meanwhile, Ambrose Phillipps bought - with borrowed money - a tract of land in nearby Charnwood Forest to build a monastery for a community of trappist monks.[6] For the new monastery - named Mount St Bernard - Railton designed a church, with monastic buildings in, once again a neo-Tudor style.[7] The church was consecrated in October 1837.[8] Railton's buildings were, however, soon replaced by a much more ambitious monastic complex to plans by Pugin.[7] For Charles March Phillipps, Railton designed lodges and gatehouses for Garendon Park, which have survived the demolition of the main house.[9][10] Railton also designed two identical Anglican churches in Charnwood Forest, at Copt Oak and Woodhouse Eaves, (consecrated on 3 September and 5 September 1837).[8][11] He went on to build churches nearby at Groby (c.1840)[12] and Thorpe Acre (1845), the latter on land donated by Charles March Phillipps.[13]

Also in Leicestershire, he designed Beaumanor Hall for the Herrick family[14]

At Ripon he designed a palace for the bishop. The foundation stone was laid at a ceremony in October 1838, and by the end of 1841 it was ready for the bishop to move in. Four years later, Railton was asked to add a chapel, slightly separate from the palace, to allow the local population to worship there. In deference to the Tudor style of the palace, he chose the perpendicular style,[15] battlemented like the main building.

Between 1838 and 1848 he was employed as architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners during which time he produced two standard designs for parsonages. During this time he also remodelled Riseholme as a house for the Bishop of Lincoln.[16]

In 1836 he won the fourth prize in the competition to design a replacement for the Houses of Parliament which had recently been destroyed by fire, and in 1839 came first in the competition to design a monument to Admiral Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square, London.[16] His winning design – a simple Corinthian column topped with a statue of Nelson – was constructed between 1839 and 1842; the lions on the base, although part of the original plan, were not added until 1867.[16]

Railton exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1829 and 1851.

He built nothing after 1850. For the last part of his life he lived at 65 Onslow Square, Kensington[17] and died on 13 October 1877, while visiting Brighton.[2]


  • Randalls, Surrey. House for Nathaniel Bland. (1830)
  • St Peter, Duddon, Cheshire (1835).[18]
  • Grace Dieu, Leicestershire. House for Ambrose Phillipps (1833)
  • Copt Oak church, Leicestershire (consecrated 1837).
  • St Paul, Woodhouse Eaves, Leicestershire (consecrated 1837).[8]
  • Two lodges and a gatehouse at Garendon Park, Leicestershire, for Charles Phillipps (1837–47)
  • Bishops Palace,Ripon (1838–41).[15]
  • Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London.[2]
  • St Philip and St James, Groby, Leicestershire (c.1840).[12]
  • Rebuilding of St Mary, Bromley by Bow (1842-3).[19] Destroyed.[20]
  • St Bartholomew the Less Bethnal Green (consecrated 1844)[21]
  • St Mary, Stafford Street, Wolverhampton [22] (consecrated 1845). Demolished.
  • Beaumanor Hall, Leicestershire (1845-7).[14]
  • Bishop's Palace Chapel, Ripon (1846).[15]
  • Holy Trinity, Hoxton (1848).[23]
  • Remodelling of Riseholme House as a palace for the Bishop of Lincoln (1840)[24]
  • Holy Trinity, Meanwood, Yorkshire (1848-9).[25]



  1. ^ F. M., O'Donoghue; Tyack, Geoffrey. "Railton, William (1800–1877)". rev. Geoffrey Tyack, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press,. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c  
  3. ^ [New Monthly Magazine 15: 13. 1829. 
  4. ^ Purcell 1900, p. 14
  5. ^ Purcell 1900, pp. 61-2
  6. ^ Purcell 1900, p. 66
  7. ^ a b White, William. History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Leicestershire. p. 520. 
  8. ^ a b c "Domestic Occurrences". The Gentleman's Magazine. 8 (New Series) (October): 644. 1837. 
  9. ^  
  10. ^  
  11. ^ Potter, Thomas Rossell (1842). The history and antiquities of Charnwood forest. London. 
  12. ^ a b  
  13. ^ White, William (1846). Gazetteer, and Directory of Leicestershire. Sheffield. p. 362. 
  14. ^ a b  
  15. ^ a b c  
  16. ^ a b c Oxford Dictionary of National Biography accessed 9 Jan 2009
  17. ^ "The Smith's Charity Estate: Charles James Freake and Onslow Square Gardens". Survey of London: volume 41: Brompton. 1983. pp. 101–117. Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  18. ^ "Duddon Chapel". British Magazine and Monthly Register 8: 31. 1835. 
  19. ^ "Restorationof Bromley Church". The Illustrated London News. 25 November 1843. 
  20. ^ Hawkins, Duncan; Phillpotts, Chris. "The Priory of St Leonard Stratford-at-Bow and Parish Church of St Mary Bromley-by-Bow". London Archaeologist. 
  21. ^ "Bethnal Green: List of Churches". A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11: Stepney, Bethnal Green. Victoria County History. 1998. pp. 217–226. 
  22. ^ "New Churches". The Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal 3: 399. 1840. 
  23. ^  
  24. ^  
  25. ^  


  • Purcell, Edmund Sheridan (1900). Life and Letters of Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle 1. London: Macmillan.