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Railton, William (1800–1877), architect, was born in Clapham, Surrey, on 14 May 1800, the son of Isaac Railton of Hertford Street, Mayfair, and Caldbeck, Cumberland, and his wife, Margaret Maria, née Scott (1775/6–1867). He became a pupil of William Inwood and enrolled as a student in the Royal Academy Schools in 1823. From about 1825 to 1827 he visited Greece and Egypt, and on his way examined the then recently discovered temple at Cadachio in Corfu, his description of which was published in the supplementary volume of Stuart and Revett's Antiquities of Athens in 1830. He went into architectural practice in Baker Street, London, and, from 1832 to 1851, at 12 Regent Street, and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy between 1829 and 1851, obtaining fourth prize in the competition for the new houses of parliament in 1836.

From 1838 to 1848 Railton held the appointment of architect to the ecclesiastical commissioners, specializing in the design of parsonages, and preparing two model designs which were criticized in The Ecclesiologist (The Ecclesiologist, 2, 1843, 145–7). He also designed a handful of country houses in the Gothic or Elizabethan styles, among them Randalls, near Leatherhead, Surrey (1830; dem.), Grace-Dieu Manor, Leicestershire (1833–4), and Beaumanor Park, Leicestershire (1845–7). He was employed upon restorations at Ripon Cathedral in 1843–4, and he adapted and enlarged Riseholme Hall, Lincolnshire, as a palace for the bishop of Lincoln in 1840–45, and built the residence of the bishop of Ripon (later Spring Hill schools) in 1838–9, along with the chapel in 1848. His churches, most of them in the Early English Gothic style, include Copt Oak and Woodhouse Eaves, Leicestershire (both 1837), Holy Trinity, Hoxton, London (1846–8), and Meanwood, Leeds (1849).

Railton's best-known work is Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London, his design for which was accepted after two competitions in 1839, and carried out in spite of strong opposition. The column itself, 170 feet high, was erected between 1840 and 1843 and is surmounted by a granite statue of Nelson by E. H. Baily (1842); the bas-reliefs which adorn the four sides of the plinth were added in 1849 and the lions at the four corners, by Sir Edwin Landseer, in 1867.

Railton designed no buildings during the last twenty-seven years of his life. On 21 June 1860 he married Amelia Knight (1821–1898), daughter of George Borrow, a civil servant at the War Office. They lived at 65 Onslow Square, South Kensington, and had at least two daughters. He died at 140 Marine Parade, Brighton, while on a visit to Brighton on 13 October 1877.

F. M. O'Donoghue, rev. Geoffrey Tyack


Colvin, Archs. · [W. Papworth], ed., The dictionary of architecture, 11 vols. (1853–92) · A. Savidge, The parsonage in England (1964) · Graves, RA exhibitors · J. Lever, ed., Catalogue of the drawings collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects: O–R (1976), 111 · baptismal records, St George, Hanover Square · m. cert. · census returns, 1851, 1861, 1871 · d. cert.


RIBA, nomination papers · RIBA BAL, drawings collection |  Leics. RO, plans and drawings for Beaumanor Park, Leicestershire

Wealth at death  

under £40,000: probate, 14 Nov 1877, CGPLA Eng. & Wales