A man whose legacy is threaded through North Yorkshire’s roads network is the latest subject of our Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters campaign.
Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters highlights and celebrates figures from the past who were immensely influential on the county’s history and heritage. It draws on County Record Office archives and the work of local history groups.
The latest nominee is renowned Georgian architect John Carr. Carr served as the North and West Riding “bridgemaster”, and built or altered more than sixty bridges across North Yorkshire, alongside hundreds of extravagant halls and buildings that have made North Yorkshire’s architectural heritage what it is today.
John Carr was born on 28 April 1723 in Horbury near Wakefield. He was the eldest of nine children and came from a humble, yet skilled, family of masons. His father, Robert Carr, was described as a master mason and held the role of the County Surveyor for the West Riding, a role John would later hold himself. John received formal masonry training via an apprenticeship with his father, which gave him a sound understanding of classic design, but it soon became clear that John wanted to apply these theories beyond just masonry.
He established a career away from his father to become an architect around 1748. He leaves a legacy of countless bridges, the majority of which still stand and serve the backbone of North Yorkshire’s road network.
The first bridge Carr designed was at Masham and the last at Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire. His other bridges covered huge amounts of the county from Catterick Great Bridge 1792 (River Swale), in County Council Leader Cllr Carl Les’ division, to Reeth 1772/3 (Arkle Beck), Thirsk Mill, Millgate, (over Cod Beck) 1789, Helmsley bridge, South Otterington (R.Wiske) 1776; and many more, all of which can be found in Carr’s Book of Bridges from 1805. This includes plans and elevations for more than 85 bridges in the North Riding. His bridge designs were primarily classical, with rounded arches, and built as features of the landscape, they serve as a poignant reminder of the value of this work.
Dr Ivan Hall, an architectural historian from Bedale, said: “Carr generated an enormous output, most of which remains today, which is an outstanding achievement. He was very conscious in fulfilling the brief provided by his clients to ensure they received what they wanted, and within budget.
“He was a cautious and methodical designer, well versed in traditional styles and very adept at drawing up a specification which ensured he didn’t overspend whilst also providing a good set of drawings for builders.”
John Smith, the County Council’s Bridges and Design Services Manager, added: “Many of the masonry bridges in use today throughout the county have been designed by John Carr in the 1800s. It is a testament do the original designs that they have lasted so long.”
Elsewhere in Yorkshire, his work included Ripley Castle, Thornton Hall, Castle Howard, Constable Burton Hall, Leyburn and Northallerton Prison.
His work across North Yorkshire was instrumental in making it the place it is today. The county has more than 5,000 miles of roads, many of which are connected through Carr’s designs and architectural work.
Beyond architecture, John Carr also served as the Lord Mayor of York in 1770 and 1785.
He also inspired the next generations of architects, including Walter Brierley, whose firm originated in the eighteenth century from John Carr’s practice. Brierley became an established architect across the North Riding and designed buildings including the Brierley building at County Hall, now the Northallerton headquarters of the North Yorkshire County Council.
The Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Councillor Carl Les, said: “The people we are highlighting throughout this campaign were extremely influential in making North Yorkshire the place it is today. We manage the second largest bridge stock of any English county, with over 1,400 bridges and other structures dispersed over 3,300 square miles. Many of these bridges are historic structures and an intrinsic part of our rural landscape.
“John Carr’s work was instrumental in connecting the county and we maintain the work he did today through constantly improving infrastructure of our bridges and keeping communities connected. It shows how his meticulous design and workmanship has withstood many years and he achieved great things.
“We would welcome further nominations of people who made a difference, so if you know someone who deserves to be celebrated, please contact us.”
Nominations can be sent to MadeInNorthYorkshire@northyorks.gov.uk
Ten life stories will be featured in the series, after which the public will be invited to vote to find the greatest son or daughter.