A Family History Newsletter

Volume 2, Number 4

4th Quarter 2003


The Tullis Brothers of Preston, England: Master Builders


By Derek Wrathall, 14, Yew Tree Close, Bradley, Keighley, West Yorkshire, BD20 9HZ, England, UK (DWrathall@Totalise.co.uk)

Author’s Acknowledgements: Research into the Tullis family in the Preston area has been a joint effort. The great-grandchildren of Alexander involved are Pat Christopher and Peter John Tullis in Australia, Myra Tullis and myself, Derek Wrathall an in-law married to a great-granddaughter, in England. Pat Tullis, the one remaining Tullis in the Preston area and a great-granddaughter of David Tullis, liaised with Pat Christopher on her research visits to England.


Whilst the architects of many of our historic buildings are well known and well recorded, the men who brought the architects’ dreams to reality are unsung, and yet without their skills, knowledge of the materials with which they worked and organisational ability, the plans of the architect could not have been translated into the fine buildings which are still with us today. Three Tullis brothers, Alexander (1819-1891), David (1822-1902), and James (1824-1901), played a significant part in the creation of the Preston townscape – now cityscape.

All the Tullis children were born at Cupar, Fife, Scotland. Following the death of their father, William Tullis, a weaver, in 1833, their mother, Janet (née Fitchie), moved to Preston in 1834, it is assumed to be near her brother, David Fitchie, at that time a master mason working and living in Preston. The three brothers all served apprenticeships as stonemasons and so it would have been an understandable move. In the obituary for David Tullis it states that he was "bound apprentice" to James Huddleston, and there is also reference to James Tullis "not being quite out of his apprenticeship when the firm of Cooper & Tullis was formed in 1845".

Alexander Tullis (1819-1891)

David Tullis (1822-1902)

James Tullis (1824-1901)

The Early Years

All the obituaries are lengthy but quotes from that for David Tullis perhaps best give some background to the times in which they lived. Before joining his mother in Preston he worked on a farm for 18 months and his journey in 1835 is described thus:

"He sailed by canal from Edinburgh to Glasgow, and proceeded from Glasgow to Liverpool by the steamer John Woods, completing the journey to Preston by coach"

Not just the journey of a few hours as it would be today. The obituary then goes on to say:

"At Preston Mr. Tullis commenced work with an uncle, David Fitchie, a master mason, and remained with him until his death, which took place in about two years. He was then bound apprentice with James Huddleston, mason. Trade was very quiet, and Huddleston became very slack, and was at length unable to keep any journeymen going. The operative masons blacked his shop for employing David Tullis and no journeymen, but when Huddleston had the good fortune to secure several jobs the operatives rescinded their resolution and opened the shop to their members. Huddleston subsequently removed to Fleetwood, taking David Tullis with him. A few years later the Mormons caused quite a stir in the district. Huddleston fell under their influence, and, becoming an enthusiast, went to America with the Latter Day Saints. He tried to persuade David Tullis to go, but was unsuccessful. He accordingly handed over his indentures, and Tullis got work on the Euston Hotel and the Baths at Fleetwood. Returning to Preston he worked in this town for some time, but trade becoming bad it was necessary to seek work elsewhere. In the forties the operatives had to make use of their legs, and David Tullis came in for a fair share of tramping. On New Year’s Day, 1843, he and another youth left Preston, and did not succeed in obtaining employment till Easter Monday, when they started at Eton College. Their work here, however, was of short duration, and they resumed their tramp, getting work here and there and seeing a few jobs through, for, being strong, steady, and competent young men, they had no difficulty in keeping their shops when once they got in. In this, his longest tramping spell, David Tullis covered upwards of 1,600 miles before returning to Preston. His elder brother, Alexander, did some tramping, but not so much as David, and James, the other brother did none."

A reference has been found to James Tullis working on the construction of Fulwood Barracks, and on the keystone of a bridge over the Preston to Longridge railway at Higher Road, Longridge, there is a mason’s mark with a C & T inscribed and the date 1839. It is thought that these initials refer to William Cooper and Alexander Tullis whilst they were working together as stonemasons before the formation of the firm of Cooper & Tullis in 1845. The railway served the stone quarries in Longridge and was opened in 1840. Gravity was used for the journey down to Preston and horses used to pull the wagons back up to the quarries.

Cooper & Tullis

In 1845 Alexander and James Tullis joined up with William Cooper, taking over the business of a Mr. Bond who had been their employer. William Cooper died in 1859, leaving Alexander and James to carry on the business, still in the name of Cooper & Tullis. In the trade directories for Preston and District from 1851 to 1889 the firm figures regularly, first as Stone Masons of Liverpool St., Chadwick’s Orchard, then as Slate Merchants, Ormskirk Rd., and Stone Masons, Contractors, Vicarage, and then finally as Contractors, Vicarage. From a trade directory of Preston published around 1890, and quoted by Stephen Sartin in his book "Preston A Century Ago", there is a description which summarises the firm at that time very well. The introduction states:

"The following pages contain sketches of Mercantile Houses, Firms, and Companies, depicting facts connected therewith, which will be of mutual advantage to both buyer and seller".

The entry for Cooper & Tullis is as follows:

"This old established and first-class concern was founded in the year 1845 by Mr. William Cooper and Alexander and James Tullis. In 1859 Mr. Cooper died, leaving Alexander Tullis and James Tullis in full control, but the business was still carried on under the original designation of Cooper & Tullis. The land occupied by this firm covers an acre and a quarter, and the offices were formerly the residence of the vicar of the town; hence the name Old Vicarage, and the yard was used as the garden of the vicarage. In this yard are set up large traveling-cranes, mortar and provender mills, which are worked by an eight horsepower steam-engine. A large quantity of dressed stone is always kept in stock to meet any emergency. The firm undertake very large contracts, and employ at the present time something like three hundred men. They have executed some very heavy jobs recently. The principal buildings being St. Walburge’s Church [see below] in 1851 and 1852, St. Mark’s Church in 1860 [see below], Preston Town Hall [above right], Preston New Railway Station [below], Harris Free Library [see below], also in Preston. They finished the extension of the Preston Railway Station in 1888. They built the Bolton parish church [see below], and Whittingham Asylum [see below], and afterwards a large extension to the same, and at the present time the firm hold the contract for the making of the Churnclough reservoir for the supply of Padiham and Hapton. All these completed operations have been carried out most successfully and reflect the very highest credit on the splendid abilities of the partners of the firm of Cooper & Tullis. Their long experience in constructive work gives them many advantages, and the means and facilities at their disposal enable them to undertake building contracts of any magnitude. Messrs. Tullis have for many years been intimately associated with the prosperity of Preston, and are well known for their high integrity and their unlimited enterprise".

St. Walburge’s Church in Preston: The main part of the church was built in 1851 and 1852, with the 309.5 ft spire completed in 1866. The photo on the left is from 1897 and on the right from 2000.

St. Mark’s Church in Preston, built in 1860. Photo from 2002.

Preston’s Town Hall, whose foundation stone was laid in 1862, shown here in an old postcard. It was destroyed by fire in 1947.

Preston Railway Station, about 1882.

Preston’s Sessions House (court house) (left) and Harris Free Library (right), in a photo from 1913. Today the Harris is the Harris Museum and Art Gallery.

Bolton parish church, in a present-day night-time photo.

Whittingham Hospital (formerly Asylum) in a recent photo.

The above works are mentioned in the obituaries for Alexander and James, with the additional mention of Fulwood Barracks in the obituary for James.

In a book, "Longridge - The Way We Were", compiled by the Longridge & District Local History Society to celebrate the Millennium, there are details concerning the construction of the buildings at Whittingham which give an idea of the value of the contracts undertaken by Cooper & Tullis. In 1870 "a further six cottages were erected by Cooper & Tullis of Preston , costing £1,130. ... In March 1870 the contract for the erection of the asylum buildings, "The Main", later known as St. Luke’s, was awarded to Cooper & Tullis, their tender being the lowest at £78,550. …In September 1871 the same contractors won the contract for the erection of a Church and Chaplain’s house for £4,632 and £ 1,597.8s.2d. respectively, but the Chaplain’s house was subsequently cancelled and was not erected until 1881 when the cost had increased to £2000. …and the tender of Cooper & Tullis amounting to £49,000 was accepted (in 1878) for the construction of a building to accommodate 700 patients. This building later became known as St. John’s." …By now (1878,) the final cost of "The Main" – St. Luke’s – had risen to £179,973, with furnishings accounting for a further £21,000 although these figures included certain ancillary buildings and stables in which the medical officers accommodated their horses.

As senior partner Alexander appears to have been the driving force of Cooper & Tullis, but James must have made a valuable contribution in organising the quarrying, dressing and transportation of the stone from the quarries in Longridge which, it is understood, they leased. In the obituary for James it states:

Mr. Tullis often used to tell of the time and labour involved in finding the right colour and texture of the stone required for the Harris Free Library."

It has recently been learned that the Albert Dock in Liverpool is constructed of Longridge stone and there may be works carried out in Liverpool by Cooper & Tullis still to be discovered. Alexander’s first wife died there and his eldest son, William, met and married his second wife there. For some years David Tullis managed the yard for his brothers and, from Cooper & Tullis billheads, his second son, Alexander, also worked for the firm as a clerk or accountant (Book Keeper in the 1881 census). Ashton Alexander Tullis, a son of Alexander senior, also worked on a contract at Sabden, presumably the Churnclough reservoir.

David Tullis & Son(s)

In 1871 David Tullis and his eldest son, William, commenced business as David Tullis & Son in St. Paul’s Road. "They were at first contented with small contracts, but they made the best of their opportunities. Business increased and they extended their contracts from mason to general building, and accomplished some of the most important works in the district." Later his second son, Alexander, joined the partnership and the firm became David Tullis & Sons. The firm then enlarged their sphere of operations and at the time of David’s death the firm were completing the construction of the Sessions House in Preston.

The Preston Master Builders Association

In 1890 Alexander Tullis became the first, and presumably founding, President of the Preston Master Builders Association. From minute books found for the "General Committee" covering the period from March 1892 to October 1906 it is recorded that William Tullis, the eldest son of David Tullis, was an active member from 1892 to his death in 1902. He was always a member of any sub-committee set up to deal with stonemason’s matters or with quarries on the issue of worked stone. In 1897 Alexander, William’s younger brother is recorded as attending meetings. In 1901 he was appointed as Honorary Auditor and in 1902 was appointed to the Committee. He also dealt with stonemason matters. In October 1902 he was elected Senior Vice President. During 1903 the Preston Master Builders Association became the Preston and District Building Trades Employers Association. Alexander junior was re-elected as Senior Vice President in 1903 and then, in 1904, the death of the then President, Mr. T. H. Kellett, was reported. In April Alexander was elected as President and continued as such until the Annual General Meeting in October. At that meeting it was proposed and seconded that he should continue in office for a further year but, surprisingly, he refused to accept the office. He continued to attend meetings until June 1905 and then there is no further mention of him in any of the proceedings up to the last records found for 1906. It is surmised that the firm of David Tullis & Sons was wound up in 1905 and that Alexander knew this was to happen. As he would no longer be an employer he would not be eligible to be a member of the Association.

The Preston and District Building Trades Employers Association eventually became The Building Employers Confederation and amongst their archives were found photographs of Alexander Tullis senior and junior. These had obviously been framed and hung in an earlier Boardroom amongst those of other former Presidents. In the present Boardroom there is a roll of all past Presidents with Alexander Tullis at the head for 1890.

Alexander Tullis (1854-1924), son of David Tullis.

Left: The Boardroom of the Preston Building Employers Confederation, with the roll of past Presidents on the wall. Right: The beginning of the roll, showing Alexander Tullis as the first President, in 1890, and David’s son Alexander Jr. as President in 1904.

The Nature of the Men

Obituaries of the time were somewhat effusive but for all three brothers there is a consistent theme in praise of their industry, honour and integrity.

For Alexander:
"He may almost be said to have been the very embodiment of honour, and this fact was so well recognized that he commanded general esteem."

For James:
"…in private life he was helpful and generous to a fault, in the old fashioned way, however, for it was his habit to give largely in such a way that no one should know…He was the last, or nearly the last, of the old school of men who have made Lancashire what it is today."

For David:
"Mr. Tullis …was respected on all hands for his conscientiousness and strict integrity."

They were also supporters of their local churches. Alexander was a member of the Moor Park Wesleyan Chapel and "a liberal supporter of all its institutions. He was also a trustee of Moor Park and several other Wesleyan chapels, in which capacity his special knowledge as a master builder was of great value in the voluntary service he cheerfully rendered." James was a Congregationalist and "…… a ready friend to the poor, and a staunch supporter of the Congregational cause." David "…was for 30 or 40 years connected with St. Paul’s Church, having filled the offices of churchwarden and Sunday school teacher."

In the Centenary Handbook 1865 – 1965 of the URC (formerly Congregational) Church, Longridge, there is reference to James Tullis and his wife. "Secondly, Mr. & Mrs. Tullis and their daughters were very hard workers for the Church during the ministry of Mr. Archibold. In May 1890, Mr. Tullis erected in the Church a stained-glass window in memory of his late wife. The subject of this window was the Good Samaritan and bears the words "Go and do thou likewise" in memory of Alice, wife of James Tullis; died May 1889, aged 68 years. This window was re-located in the church (Christchurch) when the building was refurbished around 1990."

Stained glass window in Christ Church (Methodist) in Longridge donated by James Tullis in memory of his wife Alice.  See close-up of inscription below.

Close-up of inscription.

In the Harris building (Museum, Library and Art Gallery), there is a bust of Mrs. James Tullis which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1882.

Bust of Mrs. James Tullis in the Harris Museum and Art Gallery.

Whilst the three men had attained eminence locally as builders they apparently shunned any public office. Alexander "……a firm and staunch Liberal in politics, though he never took any part in public meetings." James "…….and in politics a Liberal……For public life he had a strong dislike." David "He was a Conservative in politics, but took no active part in public affairs."

The picture one gets is of very hardworking and principled men.

Their Homes in Preston

In the 1841 census Alexander and James are with their mother, Janet, in Mason Street, but there is no mention of David who may have been working in Fleetwood at the time. In 1851 Alexander is still with his mother, now at 119 Friargate, and James , now married, is at Back Lane. A trade directory for 1854 shows James to then be at 25 Dover Street. David appears at 4 New Hall Lane in 1861 and also has a drapery business there. Alexander is then at 4 St. Ignatius Square but later moves to No 1 Moor Park, a most prestigious address for that time. By 1891 the family had moved to No. 9 Moor Park but the census was taken just after Alexander’s death. James lived at 6 Stanley Place in 1871 but later had a house in Longridge, firstly Rock Cottage and then Well Brow, and a house in Preston, 16 Winckley Square. David settled at 35 St. Ignatius Square and his eldest son, William, lived next door at No. 37.

Alexander and David are buried in the Preston Cemetery and James is buried in the churchyard of the Parish Church, St. Lawrence’s, at Longridge.

Grave of Alexander Tullis in the Preston Cemetery. Close-up of the inscription on right.

Grave of David Tullis in Preston Cemetery. Close-up of inscription on right.

Grave of James Tullis in the churchyard of the Parish Church, St. Lawrence’s, at Longridge. Also James’ wife and son.

The Tullis Gathering and Award

In September 2002 a gathering of descendants was organized to coincide with a visit from Australia of Peter John Tullis, a great-grandson of Alexander. Happily this also coincided with the visit of another Australian relative, this time a great-great-granddaughter of William Burnett Tullis, a younger brother of Alexander, James and David. Whilst descendants of Alexander and David were represented, there has, as yet, been no success in finding descendants of James.

The gathering was reported in the Lancashire Evening Post, with photographs, and after publication a request was received from the Head of the Department of Built Environment of the University of Central Lancashire for the family to consider putting the Tullis name to an award to be made to a student on one of their courses. The great grandchildren agreed and the first presentation was made to a student on the Foundation Degree Course in July 2003.

By coincidence, in the newspaper recording the gathering there is also an article on the inclusion of Preston’s historic centre in the Good Place Guide, said to be "the architect’s equivalent of the Egon Ronay’s Good Food Guide … which celebrates urban design in Britain and Ireland. It now ranks with Westminster Cathedral piazza and Leicester Square, places which "have a delightful combination of landscape and buildings ."

The Tullis gathering, September 2002. Also see the article about the gathering, and the Tullis Brothers, online at the Lancashire BBC site.

At the Tullis gathering: The author, Derek Wrathall (left), with Peter Tullis and his wife Doris of Australia. They are holding photos (L-R) of Alexander Tullis (1854-1924), son of David Tullis, and Alexander Tullis (1819-1891).


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