John Burlison began work for his father William, a Durham joiner, before becoming clerk of works for the architect Bonomi of Durham. An expert on ancient structures, he was the head man in the ground floor front room of Spring Gardens, making estimates and surveys for projects. He was clerk of works at Chesterfield and in 1845, stayed in Hamburg to obtain practical information for Scott and learnt German, directing Scott’s office in Hamburg to oversee the building of St Nicholas. He was a clerk of works and Scott’s chief assistant for over 25 years.