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Mystery of the Bluecoat Architect

Who was the architect of the Bluecoat?

The Bluecoat is the oldest building in central Liverpool, dating from the early 18th century. Now Britain’s oldest arts centre, it began life as a charity school, built in the Queen Anne style. The award-winning refurbishment of this Grade One listed building for Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture in 2008 was by Rotterdam-based practice, Biq Architecten. But who was the architect of the original building?

Little is known of local architects at the time, however the design of the Bluecoat is so confident architecturally that it is unlikely to have been designed by a local mason-builder. There are three contenders, all having some claim to the title:

Thomas Ripley (c1683-1758)

The architect most likely to be present in relevant spheres of influence in the second decade of the 18th century, Ripley had connections to Liverpool MP, Sir Thomas Johnson, a Blue Coat school Trustee and potentially involved in the procurement of the building. However, despite some stylistic similarities between Liverpool’s Customs House, which Ripley designed, and the Bluecoat, the latter design is more confident and satisfying and was completed before Ripley’s documented involvement with Liverpool.

Thomas Steers (c1670-1750)

Steers appears a strong candidate, being in Liverpool at the time working as the city’s dock engineer (he designed Old Dock, the world’s first wet dock). He’d lived and worked in Holland and London and seen works by baroque architects including Wren. Commentators have remarked on the Bluecoat’s ‘Wrenish’ style. The school’s account book shows payments to Steers during the building’s construction, though the reference is not specific and could have been for procuring specific construction items (for instance he owned a local foundry).

Henry Sephton (1686-1756)

A regionally significant architect, Sephton’s buildings include the house of Ince Blundell (1720), closest in date to the Bluecoat (1717) but a more self conscious and serious architectural study that doesn’t employ the latter’s round-arched windows, prominent keystones and decoration. Sephton also designed the east wing of Knowsley Hall (1731) however, which has similarities to the Bluecoat and, like it, was illustrated in a painting by the artist, J. Mollineux. Sephton was paid £10 for plans for St George’s (1720), which though not used, indicates he was closely involved with early 18th century architectural developments in Liverpool.

The Bluecoat’s architectural style was somewhat old-fashioned when built, but it was common for charity establishments to be designed in a conservative style. However, the building is also inventive, its design full of life and energy, and could be the work of a young designer not in tune with the latest architectural thinking.

Through our My Bluecoat research, we finally solved the mystery of who was the architect of Bluecoat, click here to find out more.





About the Bluecoat

Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, Bluecoat showcases talent across visual art, music, dance, live art and literature. As the most ...

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Sun 11.00am - 6.00pm

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