A Quaker, Richard Lane was born in London on 3 April 1795, the son of Richard Lane. His mother's sister was the wife of the engraver-artist SW Reynolds and the young Richard Lane began as his pupil. After studying the rudiments of architecture, Lane went to complete his education as an architect in Paris in 1816-17, returning to London in 1818. About this time he accepted an invitation from Mr John Ditchfield of Leigh Place, Ardwick, through the recommendation of Joshua Corry, to supervise the erection of a house for which Lane's plans had been approved. Corry had previously urged him to set up practice in Manchester.
In Manchester he established himself as the leading architect of the 1820s and 1830s. In 1821 he was appointed Surveyor to the Manchester Police Commissioners. At this time the role of the architect had still to be established and Lane obtained employment where he could. Such early work included alterations to the staircase of Goodwin's Town Hall in King Street, alteration to the ventilation system and bookcases at the Portico Library, and proposals for the development of land owned by the Rochdale Canal Company. However, in 1822 he was elected to The Manchester Lit & Phil. In 1825 he was practising from 11 St. Ann’s Street before moving to 1, Chapel Walk, at the corner of Cross Street (Piggot's Directory, 1841). House in Victoria Park Moved to a small villa in Sale in 1842. Director of Union Plate Glass, St. Helens. He retired in 1859 and after spending two years travelling on the continent, settled at Fir Bank, Sunninghill where he died on 1 May 1880(1). On 20 August 1827 he married Emma, the second daughter of Mr Thomas Fagg of Bedfont, Middlesex, by whom he left a son and daughter.
Commercially, Lane was the most successful of the early Manchester architects and he dominated the profession in the 1820s and 1830s. Predominantly a Classicist, he obtained a significant number of important commissions for public buildings and institutions demanded by the rapidly expanding town. Stylistically his reputation is rather less secure. Although he was an able and competent architect of some distinction, his work has been described as "chaste, Classical and rather dull" and his repertoire limited (2). His Greek Revival buildings were all restrained and finely proportioned with careful attention to detail. While the Greek Revival style was one which offered little opportunity for individual flair, his work tended to display a textbook correctness. His designs became increasingly archeological in approach as he matured and the influence of published sources and the example of Thomas Harrison become increasingly apparent in his work. Having found a successful formula for the elevational treatment of public buildings, Lane continued to repeat the same basic design with only subtle variations long after the Classical Revival had ended. Alfred Derbyshire noted that: "His practice was almost exclusively devoted to an attempt to force upon a commercial nineteenth century town with a sunless and humid climate, the refinement and perfect beauty of the art of the Greeks in the golden age of Pericles." Somewhat unkindly, Stewart commented that "Manchester was still far behind Athens. Cheetham Hill was singularly unlike the Acropolis and it was very doubtful if Richard Lane was among her greatest artists"
In 1837 Richard Lane became president of the first Architectural Society in Manchester with rooms in Cooper Street. The Society, which survived until 1842, had as its purpose "the diffusing of a general taste for architecture and the fine arts as well as affording members of the profession opportunities for friendly intercourse and material improvement; and to the younger members, facilities for pursuing their studies by the establishment of a library; periodic meetings for reading papers and discussions, and occasional exhibitions and conversazione." In founding the Society, Lane was obviously concerned to improve the general standards of architecture in Manchester. In his opening address to the Society he noted his disappointment at the contemporary. "It affords little scope or encouragement for architectural display ... If we look back to the departed glories of Grecian magnificence, when Athens possessed her greatest painters, sculptors and poets, we find it was precisely at that period when her architectural splendours were at their zenith".
In the mid 1840s Lane took as pupils Alfred Waterhouse (qv), the son of a Liverpool Quaker; Richard Popplewell Pullan (qv); and John Lowe (who would subsequently take over the practice). This may in part explain Lane’s apparent success in embracing the new Gothic style at least in the churches he was commissioned to design during this period. These included St. Simon’s, Salford; St. John’s, Isle of Man; and St Thomas's Church, Henbury, Cheshire (1844B5), described as "the model of ecclesiological rectitude, so different from the early churches that it could have been designed by another man” [Dictionary of National Biography]. Peter B Alley was also employed by Richard Lane c1842-1850, although there is no contemporary evidence that a partnership existed between the two men. Claims for such a partnership seem first to have appeared in Alfred Darbyshire’s "An Architect’s Experiences” of 1897. Although such claims were withdrawn in the Manchester press a few days after publication, and were not included in Alley’s subsequent obituary, they still persist in the numerous biographical descriptions of Alfred Waterhouse which continue to state that he was a pupil of Lane and Alley. It should further be noted that Darbyshire was never employed by Richard Lane in his Chapel Walks offices. Peter Alley had commenced independent practice in Manchester about 1850 with offices in Cross Street and later Princes’s Court, off Market Street, and it was to him alone that Darbyshire was articled in 1855.
His last recorded work before retirement was the supervision of construction of the Smedley Viaduct, following the dismissal of George Shorland as borough surveyor