John Loughborough Pearson was born in Brussels on 5 July 1817, the grandson of William Pearson, topographical artist and son of a Durham lawyer. He was educated in Durham and articled to Ignatius Bonomi, the County Surveyor in 1831 with whom he remained until September 1841 when Bonomi took John Augustus Cory into partnership, ending Pearson’s hope of inheriting Bonomi’s practice. Pearson then commenced practice on his own account in Durham but had little work and in January 1842 he left for Sunderland to assist George Pickering on a short-term basis. In the following month he moved to London first as assistant to Anthony Salvin for six months, and then as assistant to Philip and Charles Hardwick, both of whom became ill, leaving him with the responsibility of building New Hall, Lincolns Inn.
Having made some Tractarian connections he commenced independent practice at Delahay Street, London in 1843. He made his reputation with Holy Trinity, Bessborough Gardens, Pimlico in 1849 but at that date his clients were mainly in Wales and the East Riding of Yorkshire. In the 1850s he resumed travelling on the continent, having made an early visit to Hamburg in 1836, his studies there having a marked effect on his practice, particularly in the design of vaulting. He was admitted FSA in 1853 and FRIBA on 5 March 1860. On 5 June 1862 Pearson married Jemima Christian at Hampstead. She was the sister of the architect Joseph Henry Christian and cousin of Ewan Christian, a close friend of Pearson’s. They lived in a combined house and office at 22 Harley Street to which he had moved in 1855 or 1856. They had one son, Frank Loughborough Pearson, born 14 January 1864. Jemima died of typhoid fever on 25 March 1865, their son being then sent to Cronkbourne, Isle of Man, to be brought up by her unmarried sister Sarah in the household of their married sister Hannah Moore.
In the aftermath of Jemima’s death Pearson found it difficult to concentrate on work and the Sykes connection in the East Riding was lost to Street. In 1867 he moved house and office further along Harley Street to number 46. But in 1870 his practice picked up dramatically with his appointment as architect to Lincoln Cathedral, inaugurating a somewhat controversial career as a restorer of major churches, and in 1874 he was elected ARA. The commission for Truro Cathedral followed in 1878, and in the same year he was awarded the Gold Medal at the Paris International Exhibition of 1878 and made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. In the following year he was awarded a bronze medal at the Sydney International Exhibition, and in the year after that (1880) he was made Royal Gold Medallist and elected full academician. In May 1881 Pearson moved to 13 Mansfield Street, a house by Robert Adam, but his health was severely affected by the deaths of William Andrews Nesfield, Dr Spreyers, Salvin and George Edmund Street with whom he had recuperated at St Gervais and Aix-les-Bains, and he began to depend increasingly on his assistant William Douglas Caroe to see his designs carried out.
Frank Loughborough Pearson joined the office in 1881. He had been brought back from the Isle of Man in 1871 to attend Dr Spreyers’ school at Halstain Lodge, Weybridge prior to being sent to Winchester. He had hoped to go to Cambridge and become a civil engineer, but was persuaded to become an architect because of the very long timescale of the building of Truro Cathedral. He had to undertake exceptional responsibilities very early as Caröe left in 1883 to become the partner of Pearson’s brother-in-law Joseph Henry Christian, leaving John Ernest Newberry, only two years older than Frank, as the most experienced person in the office. Frank was formally taken into partnership in 1890. The elder Pearson died of asthenia following an operation at Mansfield Street on 11 December 1897, leaving moveable estate of about £52,000. His only known Scottish assistant was William Leiper who was with him for about twelve months about 1861; John Thomson worked on the drawings for Truro, but apparently on a fee-paid part-time basis only. Pearson’s practice was continued by his son Frank who was admitted FRIBA on 11 June 1900, his proposers being Sir William Emerson, Caröe and Aston Webb. He subsequently moved the practice to 22 Ashley Place Westminster and died in retirement on 8 October 1947