The Doric Columns
James Gibbs 1682~1754
London. Died 1754
John Smith - Architect 1781-1852
was born in
the son of
Architect and Builder, Aberdeen. Of the father little is recorded except
that he was known as 'Sink'em'; that he had his workshop in
that he designed and built
Gilcomston Chapel of Ease
and the houses at the bottom end of Marischal
Street, all in Aberdeen. It is not known exactly when he died but it
appears to have been between February and November
The son is said to have been sent at an early age to the office of
(or perhaps he assisted him in some junior capacity at the building of
Aberdeenshire, but neither the
diary nor the
Gordon muniments provide any evidence of it). He cannot have
worked long for Playfair who died in
and it is not known which London office he was in thereafter.
he returned to Aberdeen with an extensive collection of plans and was nearly
as his ship entered
in a storm. Circa
Smith designed his first major work in Aberdeen, a large house on
Two years later
as Engineer to the
King Street, Union Street and Union Terrace
works and laid out
St Nicholas Street
to connect it with
he had produced the 1st accurate survey of Aberdeen which was published in
the same year. Thereafter he built up the largest business both in
Architecture and Building and Cabinet-making in the North-east, with
Headquarters at his house at
142 King Street, Aberdeen.
He was associated with
on the Harbour improvements planned from
and was formally appointed Superintendent of Work for the
City of Aberdeen
in that same year. In that capacity he attended to such matters as
street lighting, cleansing
(which are said to have brought gloom to the
household for weeks). He was also agent for the
Imperial Insurance Company.
died after a long and painful illness at
a pleasant 18th-century Mansion with a large garden which he inherited from
his father-in-law. He had married
only child of Colonel
George Grant of Auchterblair
in Banffshire, a marriage which brought useful landed connections, their
1st home being at
adjacent to the elder
house and Builder's yard. Near contemporary accounts record that she was
tall, good-looking and aristocratic in demeanour which a family portrait
appears to confirm.
himself was 'a shy retiring man as well as an able and diligent official'.
Most members of their family died early but his son
joined the practice after graduating MA at
and subsequently sought experience in London with
Thomas Leverton Donaldson.
He appears to have returned to Aberdeen by
and was made a partner in
succeeding his father as
Aberdeen City Architect
on his death. His eldest daughter
Margaret Grant Smith
the civil Engineer, on 17 March
Some biographical details will be found in
Lettice Milne Rae's
of the Gibbs.'
work was in his early years almost exclusively refined
onwards most of his Churches and large Houses were
the latter sometimes with Scottish features as at
1830. These were closely modelled on
style with which he had become acquainted at
Fintray and Auchmacoy.
Brief biographical notices with short lists of principal
works compiled by John's son William appeared in the
in 'The Builder' and in the 'Architectural Publication Society's
Dictionary'. A great many informative references to his career in Aberdeen
will be found in G M Fraser's biography of
which appeared as a serial in the 'Aberdeen
A collected copy of these articles is available at
Aberdeen Public Library.
A fragmentary list of plans and some of his accounts (1807-1832)
are in the
National Monuments Record of Scotland.
Archibald Simpson 1790~1847
Aberdeen-based architect. The son of a clothier in the City, Simpson had trained in London and travelled to Italy. He returned to Aberdeen in 1813 to establish a private Architectural practice, living at Bon Accord Square. Along with his rival John Smith (1781 - 1852), Simpson was responsible for shaping much of the 'Granite City'. Together they worked on King Street, but Simpson is noted for work on Aberdeen Music Hall , the City's Union Street, the Old Royal Infirmary, Mechanic's Institute, the Medico-Chirurgical Society building (1818) and several Churches, including St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral. He was also noted for his work on country houses, including Stracathro (1827) and Letham Grange (1830).
"Genius, and taste, and talent gone For ever entombed beneath the stone!" SCOTT.
Obituary - The unexpected and premature decease of one whose professional talents have contributed so conspicuously to the improvement and adornment of this, his native city, imposes upon us the duty of paying some tribute, how inadequate so ever, to his memory, and of giving expression to the general feeling of regret which that melancholy event has occasioned. In the beginning of March 1847, Mr. Simpson paid a visit to Edinburgh, and afterwards to Derby, on professional business. Returning to Aberdeen, he was seized with symptoms of fever, the probable consequences of cold and over-fatigue. In this state he reached home on Tuesday, and was seemingly rather better on the day following ; but, on the Thursday, he became very much indisposed, erysipelas appearing in the right side. In vain was professional skill exerted to afresh the progress of this dangerous disease, or to support the powers of nature rapidly sinking under its virulence. On Sunday his medical attendants were compelled to intimate to the sufferer that his recovery was all but hopeless; and on Tuesday, 23d March 1847, between 10 and 11 o'clock at night, their mournful anticipations were realised. The latter stages of the malady were comparatively painless ; and their close was met in a spirit of calm resignation.
Mr. Simpson was born in Aberdeen in the year 1790, and, at the period of his decease, had nearly completed his 57th year. His father, a respectable merchant, gave him the benefit of a liberal education at the Grammar School and Marischal College. Evincing a decided partiality for the profession of an architect, he was apprenticed to the late Mr. Massie, builder, in this city, and was afterwards, for some time, under the tuition of Mr. Lugar, Architect in London. He subsequently visited Italy, where he spent some time in the study of the monuments of classic art, whether ancient or modern. These studies were accompanied by the careful perusal of the best writers on Architecture. His preparatory studies completed, Mr. Simpson resolved to establish himself as an Architect in his native City. Although latterly eminently successful, his professional career was by no means unknown to early struggles; but from the time he obtained an opportunity of displaying his taste and talents, his business progressively increased, and he at length reached the highest status of his profession. His genius was as versatile as it was refined. He succeeded in all styles of Architecture the Classic and Gothic; the Ecclesiastical, the Institutional, Baronial, and Domestic. Of these, numerous and splendid specimens are to be found in this City and County, and in various other parts of the Kingdom. To enumerate them all is impracticable; we give a list of the principal : In the City of Aberdeen : Marischal College; the Public Rooms; Royal Infirmary; Market, and Market Street, which gives an easy access to the heart of the City from the Quays, so long a desideratum; the Post Office; Mechanics Hall; East Church; Orphan Asylum at Albyn Place; St. Andrew's Chapel; Free Churches in Belmont Street; Athenaeum; North of Scotland Bank; Town and County Bank; (Now the offices of the Scottish Provincial Assurance Company) Medical Society Hall; Lunatic Asylum; North of Scotland Assurance Office; Old Machar Free Church; Bell's Schools, Frederick Street, etc. He also planned Bon-Accord Square and Terrace. Mr. Simpson, too, was the 1st to give an outline of the recently contemplated City improvements ; and his ideas will doubtless be found of great value when circumstances favour that important undertaking. Mr. Simpson was also the architect of the beautiful Church of Elgin; General Anderson's Institution there; the Duchess of Gordon's Schools at Huntly ; the re-building of part of Gordon Castle; and the Chapel attached to it. He planned and executed, either in whole or in part, the Mansion Houses of Boath and Glenferness, Morayshire; Newe, Murtle, Meldrum, Heathcot, Park, Durris, Druminnor, Putachie, Crimonmogate, Scotstown, Haddo, Lessendrum, Thainston, Carnousie, Craig, Pittodrie, and Tullos, Aberdeenshire ; Stracathro and Letham, Forfarshire. Latterly, he planned the beautiful Free Church at Rothesay; the additions to Skene House; and, at the period of his death, he was occupied with plans for the Railway Terminus in this City. In addition to the works above enumerated, we must not forget to mention Mr. Simpson's rebuilding of the Bridge across the Spey at Fochabers, which is a signal proof of his skill in Engineering.
The extensive business which Mr. Simpson thus enjoyed was entirely the reward of his undoubted genius and taste. He was imbued with the warmest enthusiasm, and the finest feeling for art. He had great tact in the adaptation of his designs to any given circumstances ; and where difficulties occurred, no man could display more adroitness in surmounting them. He was particularly happy in accommodating the style of his works to the purposes for which they were intended, and to the character of the situation in which they were placed. Thus, when at one time it was proposed to place the new Marischal College on the site now occupied by the Free Churches in Belmont Street, he designed a magnificent classical building, with an expansive and imposing front, and lofty dome, admirably calculated to bring out the greatest artistic effect of which the situation was susceptible. But when this site was afterwards abandoned for that on which Marischal College now stands, his design was altogether different. Then he chose the cloistral or monastic style, which was unquestionably the best adapted to the peculiarities of the retired site of the building, while it harmonised with the character of an Academic Institution. In process of time, however, the old site in Belmont Street was again to be occupied by a public building comprising 3 of the Free Churches. In this case the funds were rather limited. An erection in the Classic style was impracticable. Such a building as Marischal College would have been sadly misplaced. But true to the genius loci, Mr. Simpson adopted the style of the Ecclesiastical Gothic, so moulding it to circumstances as to take advantage of the very same peculiarities of situation which would have given so much effect to a building in the Classic style. There was still the long-drawn horizontal line, while the effect which would have been secured by the lofty dome was sustained by the tapering spire. These remarks will, perhaps, serve to convey some idea of the peculiar character of Mr. Simpson's professional genius and skill. Of both he has left many enduring Monuments, which make us proud to claim him as a native of Aberdeen. We feel that we scarcely exaggerate his merits, when we say, that some of his best works, all circumstances considered, will not suffer by a comparison with those of another Architect, also a son of Bon-Accord, the distinguished Gibbs. The work of both, although by no means the happiest of either, happens to be conjoined in our East and West Churches.The esteem in which Mr. Simpson was held as a man, is best attested by the deep regret with which his death has been regarded by all who had the pleasure of his more intimate acquaintance. His character was marked by all those peculiarities, not to say eccentricities, which are usually found in men of quick and keen perception and susceptible temperament. But throughout his whole character there ran a vein of good sense, kindly feeling, and honourable principle. They who were privileged to enjoy his liberal and tasteful hospitality, when he drew around him friends of congenial sociality appreciating his real merits, and liking him all the better for occasional eccentricities, traceable to genuine simplicity of heart will not soon forget the many happy hours, alas ! how fled ! when none more apt than he to circulate the round of wit and humour and whim, which, however prolonged, left his guests, even those of most domestic mind, still chiding the stealthy rapidity of time! On those occasions, when he was in the vein, he would delight his friends with specimens of his exquisite taste and masterly skill in music. In his hands, his favourite instrument (the violin) attuned to some of our inimitable national airs, would charm forth the whole spirit of their touching melody. Anon, he would break away into some extempore fantasia leaving the delighted listeners puzzled as to adjustment of the rival claims of the capabilities of the instrument, and of the genius and skill of the performer! But the memory of Mr. Simpson's social qualities and personal worth will fade with the mortal being of those who must soon follow him to that borne whence there is no return. The monuments of his genius, skill, and taste, will long survive both him and them! To these may the testimony of his professional merits be well entrusted: our own intentions will have been realised if what is writ shall gratify desire, or enkindle emulation, when, haply in after times, " some kindred spirit may inquire his fate !"
William Ramage was born in 1819 and articled to Archibald Simpson c.1834, remaining with him as assistant. He became his Principal assistant after the departure of Thomas Mackenzie and James Matthews. Correspondence quoted by G M Fraser (Librarian) indicates that he had a considerable hand in the Mechanics Institute where he taught Architectural and Mechanical drawing in the 1830s and 1840s. He succeeded to Simpson's practice on his death on 23 March 1847. His principal client was the Episcopal Church of which he was a member. In 1854 he designed the walled garden and north lodge at Keith Hall in Aberdeenshire. Ramage died on 15 August 1866 aged 46, and was buried at St Clement's, Footdee, where a large granite monument was erected to his memory.
James Matthews 1819~1898
was born in December
a teller in the
in Aberdeen and a Burgess of Guild, and was christened on 12 or 13 December that
year. His mother was Margaret Ross, daughter of
the Architect-builder who had built
Educated at Robert Gordon's Hospital, he was articled to
and worked under the supervision of Simpson's assistant
he went to George Gilbert Scott's in London. On his return early in
Simpson offered him the post of Chief Assistant with the promise of Partnership
in 2 years. He declined as he thought Simpson would be 'too greedy' (the
Mackenzie's, however, found Matthews 'a bit of a Jew').
then formed his partnership with
initially with Mackenzie doing most of the designing in Elgin, and Matthews
attending to the management of the Aberdeen office. In that year they won the
competition for the Free Church College (New College) in Edinburgh, in a
competition assessed by Sir Charles Barry. The perspective, formerly at Bourtie,
is now in the possession of Professor Alistair Rowan. The competition was set
aside, however, and the commission given to William Henry Playfair. Initially
the Elgin practice was much more prosperous than the Aberdeen one and in
applied unsuccessfully for the post of head of the Edinburgh office of the
Office of Works.
Marshal McKenzie 1848~1933
By 1877, the year after Bryce's death, Marshall Mackenzie had amply demonstrated his capacity to gain clients, and Matthews was persuaded to re-admit him as a Partner, but in respect of Aberdeen and Elgin-based business only, William Lawrie retaining his semi-independent position in Inverness where the practice continued under the name of Matthews & Lawrie. From 1883 onward Mackenzie undertook virtually all of the design work of the Aberdeen office, Matthews being preoccupied with Civic duties as Provost, principally on Rosemount Viaduct and the Union Terrace improvements. When William Lawrie died in 1887, his Chief Assistant John Hinton Gall took over the Inverness practice in his own name only. Matthews eventually retired completely in 1893 at the age of 73, leaving Mackenzie as sole partner.
Marshall Mackenzie's classical work varied greatly in quality, mainly because of
cost factors, working in granite being expensive. According to Herbert Hardy
Wigglesworth, then his apprentice, a 2nd visit to Italy in or about 1883
inspired the Northern Assurance Building and the Gray's School of Art
and Aberdeen Art Gallery buildings, the details of the former suggesting that he
had looked as much at modern Italian Architecture as at high Renaissance
examples. In the latter he adopted a two colour treatment by introducing
elements of pink Corrennie granite, apparently in deference to the use of
sandstone and brick dressings in Simpson's Triple Kirk opposite, an
experiment that was to extend to the neo-Georgian villas he built in the 1890s.
Much of his classical work from the mid-1880s onward was in a rather flat
pilastraded idiom that lent itself to machine cutting: only at the Parish
Council and School Board offices, and at the Manx Bank did he have
the budget to adopt a more 3-dimensional treatment.
William Henderson (1828/9-1899) was an Aberdeen Architect whose output was mainly confined to the Aberdeenshire area and included Bank Buildings, public works and private houses.
James Souttar (1840-1922) was born in London and articled to Mackenzie & Mathews in Aberdeen from 1852-1860. He then travelled extensively throughout Europe, living for some time in Sweden. He settled in Aberdeen from 1866 and his output include various work within the City, including the Salvation Army Citadel, the Carmelite Hotel. The Salvation Army Citadel is widely considered to be his best work.
George Bennett Mitchell, Architect 1885~1941
George Angus Mitchell was elected FRIBA in late 1930, his proposers being Clement George, James Brown Nicol and George Watt. This may have prompted his father to seek RIBA membership, as he applied for Licentiateship immediately and was admitted at the beginning of 1931, his proposers being George, Nicol and William Liddle Duncan; and in May of the same year he too became a Fellow, with the support of the RIBA Council as a whole. By this time George Bennett had been awarded an MBE; he was also a Justice of the Peace, and had acted as District Civil Commissioner at the time of the General Strike in 1926.
George Bennett Mitchell's main interest outside the office was the Boy's Brigade, of which he became Commander and President of the Aberdeen Battalion in 1906. His concerns for social welfare were further manifested in his work as Red Cross Transport Officer in Aberdeen during the 1st World War. He was also a devoted churchman, being a lifelong member of the West Church of St Andrew, of which he was an elder for over 40 years. From at least 1914 Mitchell had a country residence at Cean-na-coil, Aboyne, one of the several houses he designed there, as well as his Aberdeen house at 4 Deemount Terrace and later at 18 Rubislaw Terrace.
Mitchell was taken ill in October 1940 whilst working as Divisional Food Officer for the North-East of Scotland, a position he had taken on in 1938 when hostilities were imminent. He underwent an operation involving the amputation of a leg, and resigned from the Food Office shortly afterwards. He died at his home on 22 March 1941. He was survived by his son, who continued the practice, and his daughter Meta, who like him took a leading part in youth welfare work in the area. His wife had predeceased him some years earlier. He lived at 4 Deemount Terrace.
Sir John Ninian Comper 1864~1960
Alexander Ellis & Robert Wilson were Aberdeen Architects who were in practice together from 1869-1906. They worked extensively in and around Aberdeen and their output included, in the main, Houses, Churches and other large Office buildings.
Ellis & Wilson Architectural Partnership 1869~1906
was born in Aberdeen, 8 May
2nd but eldest surviving son of Captain William and Isabella Ellis. His father
died at sea in
and was buried at St Jaco,
leaving a 3rd child Edith, who married Alexander Diack, collector and cashier
for Old Machar Poorhouse.
In the mid-1880s the practice moved to No.34 their newly built Victoria Buildings on 32-48 Bridge Street. Ellis had to retire in 1896 suffering from insomnia, melancholia and indigestion. He made a voyage to Australia in the spring of 1897 in the hope of a cure, but although 'much improved' he was admitted to the Royal Asylum as a voluntary patient on his return. At some unspecified time during that period of his life he was described as 'small and slim in stature'. Although he recovered sufficiently to design a house on his own account at the corner of Rubislaw Den and Glenburnie Road in 1898, the remaining 20 years of his life were divided between his 2 houses and the Royal Asylum where he died 3 May 1917 leaving these houses and moveable Estate of £9,110.
Pirie & Clyne
John Bridgeford Pirie was born in Aberdeen in 1848 (christened 26
Dec., St Nicholas Parish) the son of John Pirie, a sea captain with George
Thomson's line, and his wife Ann Bridgeford. He was educated at Ledingham's
Academy in Aberdeen. About 1863 he was articled to Alexander Ellis,
also the son of a sea captain. There he worked under Robert Gordon Wilson
and it was probably through Wilson's subsequent period as an assistant
with Alexander Thomson from c.1866 that Pirie was to develop an
interest in Thomson's work. At the end of his articles c.1866,
Pirie spent a short time as an improver with David Bryce in
Edinburgh, returning to Aberdeen as leading draughtsman to James Matthews
c.1867. He exhibited a design for a screen at the RSA in 1870 and by
March 1871 he was living at 6 Brown Street, Woodside, from which
he exhibited at the RSA in 1871-73.
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