Edmund Sharpe (31 October 1809 – 8 May 1877) was an English architect, architectural historian, railway engineer, and sanitary reformer. Born in Knutsford, Cheshire, he was educated first by his parents and then at schools locally and in Runcorn, Greenwich and Sedbergh. Following his graduation from Cambridge University he was awarded a travelling scholarship, enabling him to study architecture in Germany and southern France. In 1835 he established an architectural practice in Lancaster, initially working on his own. In 1845 he entered into partnership with Edward Paley, one of his pupils. Sharpe's main focus was on churches, and he was a pioneer in the use of terracotta as a structural material in church building, designing what were known as "pot" churches, the first of which was St Stephen and All Martyrs' Church, Lever Bridge.
He also designed secular buildings, including residential buildings and schools, and worked on the development of railways in north-west England, designing bridges and planning new lines. In 1851 he resigned from his architectural practice, and in 1856 he moved from Lancaster, spending the remainder of his career mainly as a railway engineer, first in North Wales, then in Switzerland and southern France. Sharpe returned to England in 1866 to live in Scotforth near Lancaster, where he designed a final church near to his home.
While working in his architectural practice, Sharpe was involved in Lancaster's civic affairs. He was an elected town councillor and served as mayor in 1848–49. Concerned about the town's poor water supply and sanitation, he championed the construction of new sewers and a waterworks. He was a talented musician, and took part in the artistic, literary, and scientific activities in the town. Also an accomplished sportsman, he took an active interest in archery, rowing and cricket.
Sharpe achieved national recognition as an architectural historian. He published books of detailed architectural drawings, wrote a number of articles on architecture, devised a scheme for the classification of English Gothic architectural styles, and in 1875 was awarded the Royal Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was critical of much of the restoration of medieval churches that had become a major occupation of contemporary architects. Towards the end of his career Sharpe organised expeditions to study and draw buildings in England and France. While on such an expedition to Italy in 1877, he was taken ill and died. His body was taken to Lancaster, where he was buried. Sharpe's legacy consists of about 40 extant churches; railway features, including the Conwy Valley Line and bridges on what is now the Lancashire section of the West Coast Main Line; and his archive of architectural books, articles and drawings.
William Whewell, Professor of Mineralogy when Sharpe was studying at Cambridge
Edmund Sharpe was born on 31 October 1809 at Brook Cottage, Brook Street in Knutsford, Cheshire, the first child of Francis and Martha Sharpe. His father, a peripatetic music teacher and organist at Knutsford parish church, came from Stamford in Lincolnshire. At the time of marriage his wife, Martha Whittaker, was on the staff of an academy for young ladies, Belvedere House, in Bath, Somerset. During his childhood in Knutsford, the young Edmund played with Elizabeth Stevenson, the future Mrs Gaskell. In 1812 the Sharpe family moved across town from Over Knutsford to a farm in Nether Knutsford called Heathside, when Francis Sharpe then worked as both farmer and music teacher. Edmund was initially educated by his parents, but by 1818 he was attending a school in Knutsford. Two years later he was a boarder at a school near Runcorn, and in 1821 at Burney's Academy in Greenwich. Edmund's father died suddenly in November 1823, aged 48, and his mother moved to Lancaster with her family, where she later resumed her teaching career.
Edmund continued his education at Burney's Academy, and became head boy. In August 1827 he moved to Sedbergh School (then in the West Riding of Yorkshire, now in Cumbria), where he remained for two years. In November 1829 he entered St John's College, Cambridge as a Lupton scholar. At the end of his course in 1832 he was awarded a Worts Travelling Bachelorship by the University of Cambridge, which enabled him to travel abroad for three years' study.[A] At this time his friend from Lancaster at Trinity College, William Whewell, was Professor of Mineralogy. John Hughes, Edmund Sharpe's biographer, is of the opinion that Whewell was influential in gaining this award for Sharpe. Edmund graduated BA in 1833, and was admitted to the degree of MA in 1836. During his time abroad he travelled in Germany and southern France, studying Romanesque and early Gothic architecture. He had intended to travel further into northern France, but his tour was curtailed in Paris owing to "fatigue and illness". Edmund returned home to Lancaster late in 1835, having by then decided to become an architect. In December he wrote a letter to William Whewell saying that he had "finally determined to adopt the Profession of Architecture". Some sources state that Sharpe was articled to the architect Thomas Rickman. Sharpe did visit Rickman for a few days in 1832 and corresponded with him later. He may have been "acting as a research assistant" while on the Continent, but Hughes states "there is no evidence to suggest that Sharpe spent more time with Rickman, or served any kind of formal apprenticeship with him".