The architect and topographer Thomas Allom (1804-1872) was born in Lambeth, south London, the son of a coachman. Both his parents came from Suffolk, something that might have influenced his sensitive appreciation of the countryside. He set out first on a career as an architect: he was articled to the architect Francis Goodwin, spending nearly eight years with him (see Brodie 34); from 1828, he also studed architecture at the Royal Academy Schools. In 1834 he was one of the founder members of the Institute of Architects, later RIBA, becoming a fellow of the institute in 1860 (Brooks). He was also for some time a partner of Francis Henry Lockwood.
However, although he achieved some distinction as an architect, and designed a range of buildings in a variety of styles — notably the neo-classical William Brown Library in Liverpool — he became better known as a topographer, touring and sketching not only in England, Scotland and on the continent, but, like a number of his contemporaries who were drawn to oriental themes, in Turkey as well. Despite never having visited China himself, he also produced a popular four-volume set of views of the country, based on those of other artists. An early biographer writes:
He was as much artist as architect, and, in Ihe employ of Messrs. Virtue & Co. and Messrs. Heath & Co., he furnished the drawings for tbe series of illustrated works upon which his reputation rests. Amongst these may be named his Cumberland and Westmoreland, Devonshire and Cornwall, Scotland, France, Constantinople, Asia Minor, and China. He exhibited for many years at the Royal Academy, " where his charming pencil usually gained a place of honour." [Radford 335; quotation from Allom's obituary in The Builder, 26 Oct. 1872, 840]
Allom's two careers, as artist and architect, came together in his perspective work, and this same biographer concludes with another quotation, presumably also from his obituary: "He was frequently called upon to assist his professional brethren, and there are few artists who forget the vigour and beauty of the drawings, made for the late Sir Charles Barry, of the new Houses of Parliament" (Radford 336).
Allom and his family settled in Barnes, Surrey (now a part of London), and prints of his illustrations for E. W. Brayley's Topgraphical History of Surrey (1850) ares till popular in Surrey today. He also built the pretty Holy Trinity Church, Castlenau, Barnes. He died of a heart condition at the age of 68 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. — Jacqueline Banerjee.
Topographical and Architectural Illustrations
- Druids' Grove, Norbury Park, Surrey
- St John the Divine, Richmond
- Lymington Iron Works, on the Tyne
- Claremont, Esher
Brayley, E. W. Radford. Topographical History of Surrey. London: G. Willis, 1850). Internet Archive. Web. 16 July 2012.
Brodie, Antonia, et al., eds. Directory of British Architects: 1834-1914, Vol. I: 1: A-K. London: RIBA, 2001.
Brooks, Diana. "Allom, Thomas, 1804-1872)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 16 July 2012.
Radford, Ernest. Dictionary of National Biography, Vol I, Abbadie-Anne. Ed. Leslie Stephen. New York: Macmillan, 1885. Internet Archive. Web. 16 July 2012.
Last modified 3 August 2012