William Russell was born 27th January 1820 and was active in Leamington Spa from about 1849 to 1874. He was a son of the John Russell who owned the Bath Hotel (there is no known relationship with the architect with the same name, John Russell). He served his time with the architect, John George Jackson. In 1851 William Russell was listed as ‘Architect and Surveyor’, still living at the Bath Hotel. His brother George (34) was given as the head of the family. He also had two sisters, Sarah (34) and Ann (22).
In 1849 his office was listed at No 3 Spencer Street (just around the corner from the Bath Hotel). Later he lived at Newbold Lodge in the Jephson Gardens from 1861 after JG Jackson left; he moved to No 5 George Street in 1866 and then removed to No 15 Portland Street in 1869. Because of ill-health he announced his retirement in 1874. After his death, it appears that C E Wontner took over the business at the Portland Street address.
His main achievements were designing houses of various sizes pretty well all over Leamington. In 1859 he produced a plan for a street of houses from Russell Terrace to Willes Road (probably Forfield Place).
in 1861 he designed several houses in Beauchamp Terrace (later Avenue), a house in High Street and several shopfronts in Lower Parade, including Nos 20 and 21 (now numbered around No 138 Parade). His design for the extension of No 10 Lower Parade led to a dispute about dimensions amounting to seven inches (17 cm). The illustration of the Parade below shows a selection of shopfronts from different eras. He also designed a brewhouse at the rear of a house in Queen Street.
In 1861 he was listed as ‘Architect, Surveyor and Auctioneer’ at No 3 Spencer Street with his sister Sarah as his housekeeper and one servant. In this year he designed houses in the area of St Mary’s Place and Waterloo Street and, in the next year, more houses in Beauchamp Terrace, and houses in Court Street, Charles Street and John Street. He also built three houses in the Mews Road at the rear of St Mary’s Place, which was later named Chesham Street.
Designs for houses in Adelaide Road, Archery Road, Comyn Street and Queen Street followed in 1862 and 1863. Another list in 1862 included 21 cottages in Althorpe Street, near the Ladder Bridge and houses in the street from Queen Street to Holly Street (possibly Earl Street or Vincent Street; note that houses in Duke Street were by William Thomas). There was also an extension to the Ivy Tree pub in Queen Street in the same year and houses on the north side of Radford Road. There were somewhat grander houses in Beauchamp Terrace East (later Avenue). He then designed the smithy next to Radford Cottage in High Street. Houses in Waterloo Street and Plymouth Place, Princes(s) Street, Springfield Street (later Shrubland Street), Russell Terrace and St Marys Place followed in 1864. He also drew out the shopfront for No 36 Bath Street.
Despite this apparent success he had to consider filing for bankruptcy in 1866 but did not complete the process. It appears that his building design work was much reduced and he then expanded his role as an estate agent to supplement his income. It is also likely that by this time his health was deteriorating.
In 1869 he wrote a letter about rebuilding the Golden Lion pub in Regent Street but it is not yet clear what changes were made, if any. In the same year he designed the swimming pool in the river at Oldham’s Mill. He was appointed as surveyor for the estate of Mr Wise before 1866 and was criticised for delay in setting land levels for the building of Victoria Road in 1871. He conducted a survey of the main sewers in Lillington in 1870. He drew out improvements to the churchyard at the Parish Church, including new railings and lighting in 1873.
By 1871 he was listed as ‘Architect & Surveyor’ and living at No 15 Portland Street with his wife Mary (54) and daughters Elizabeth (17), Fanny (16) and Helena (14). He retired in 1874 and died soon afterwards, aged about 54; his lifetime’s work of 24 years in Leamington is impressive in the wide range, rich and poor, and scale of houses, from peasant terraces to grand villas, he helped to add to the town.
NOTE. Many of the workers’ houses from this period have disappeared in purges of the slums but many grander houses survive. It has not yet been possible to pinpoint the exact houses he designed but the illustrations are intended to indicate the possible range of his designs.
Michael Jeffs, May 2021
Special thanks to Janet Ainley for researching family history
Courier 1 December 1949
Courier 7 October 1865
Courier 8 April 1871