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The Architects

James Gibbs 1682~1754
- studied architecture in Italy, after which he settled in London, where he acquired both reputation and fortune.
  It was within the grounds occupied by the Gas Works that James Gibbs, the famous Architect, was born in 1682, at the House known then and long after as the " White House at Futtiesmyre."  In 1700 a House for the Freemasons Lodge was used at Futtiesmyres on the Links He studied Architecture in Italy, after which he settled in London, where he acquired both reputation and fortune. It is to his taste and talent that the design of the Church of St Martin in the Fields is said to be due; and he gave the plan also for the West Church in Aberdeen. 

The West Church St Nicholas having become dilapidated, was rebuilt (1751-55) from designs by James Gibbs, Architect of the Radcliffe Library at Oxford and of the Cambridge Senate House: 'but as if,' says Hill Burton, 'emphatically to show that the fruits of his genius were entirely to be withdrawn from his own Countrymen, the only building in Scotland known to have been planned by him, this Church in his native city, combines whatever could be derived of gloomy and cumbrous from the character of the Gothic architecture, with whatever could be found of cold and rigid in the details of the Classic.'  London.  Died 1754

 


John Smith - Architect 1781-1852

John Smith was born in 1781, the son of William Smith, Architect and Builder, Aberdeen. Of the father little is recorded except that he was known as 'Sink'em'; that he had his workshop in Longacre; 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 1812. The son is said to have been sent at an early age to the office of James Playfair (or perhaps he assisted him in some junior capacity at the building of Cairness, Aberdeenshire, but neither the Playfair diary nor the Gordon muniments provide any evidence of it). He cannot have worked long for Playfair who died in 1794, and it is not known which London office he was in thereafter.  Around 1804 he returned to Aberdeen with an extensive collection of plans and was nearly lost as his ship entered Aberdeen Harbour in a storm. Circa 1805 Smith designed his first major work in Aberdeen, a large house on Union Street for Patrick Milne of Crimonmogate. Two years later Smith succeeded Thomas Fletcher as Engineer to the King Street, Union Street and Union Terrace works and laid out St Nicholas Street to connect it with George Street. By 1860 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 Thomas Telford on the Harbour improvements planned from 1824 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 and executions (which are said to have brought gloom to the Smith household for weeks). He was also agent for the Imperial Insurance Company.   John died after a long and painful illness at Rosebank, Hardgate, a pleasant 18th-century Mansion with a large garden which he inherited from his father-in-law. He had married Margaret Grant, only child of Colonel George Grant of Auchterblair in Banffshire, a marriage which brought useful landed connections, their 1st home being at Longacre adjacent to the elder William Smith's 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. Smith himself was 'a shy retiring man as well as an able and diligent official'.  Most members of their family died early but his son William joined the practice after graduating MA at Marischal College and subsequently sought experience in London with Thomas Leverton Donaldson. He appears to have returned to Aberdeen by 1842 and was made a partner in 1845, succeeding his father as Aberdeen City Architect on his death. His eldest daughter Margaret Grant Smith (died 1857) married Alexander Gibb, the civil Engineer, on 17 March 1831. Some biographical details will be found in Lettice Milne Rae's 'Story of the Gibbs.'  John Smith's work was in his early years almost exclusively refined neo-Greek, but from 1820 onwards most of his Churches and large Houses were Tudor Gothic, the latter sometimes with Scottish features as at Balmoral from about 1830.  These were closely modelled on William Burn's style with which he had become acquainted at Robert Gordon's, Fintray and Auchmacoy.   Brief biographical notices with short lists of principal works compiled by John's son William appeared in the Aberdeen Journal in July 1852, 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 Archibald Simpson (1790-1847), which appeared as a serial in the 'Aberdeen Weekly Journal' of 1918. 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

James Matthews was born in December 1819, son of Peter Matthews, a teller in the Commercial Bank in Aberdeen and a Burgess of Guild, and was christened on 12 or 13 December that year. His mother was Margaret Ross, daughter of William Ross, the Architect-builder who had built Union Bridge. Educated at Robert Gordon's Hospital, he was articled to Archibald Simpson in 1834, and worked under the supervision of Simpson's assistant Thomas Mackenzie (born 1814). In 1839 he went to George Gilbert Scott's in London. On his return early in 1844, 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'). Matthews then formed his partnership with Thomas Mackenzie, 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 1848 Matthews applied unsuccessfully for the post of head of the Edinburgh office of the Office of Works. 

Mackenzie died of brain fever - apparently brought on by an accident - on 15 October 1854, Matthews continuing the practice thereafter under his name alone, though he did form a brief partnership with George Petrie of Elgin in c.1857. Petrie presumably filled the role of Mackenzie manning the Elgin end of the practice. Just before Mackenzie's death an Inverness office had been established with William Lawrie in charge as resident assistant. Although not made a partner until 1864, Lawrie was given what seems to have been a free hand in the design work and for some years the Inverness office was the more prosperous. Matthews continued the Aberdeen office alone, and it was not until 1877 that Mackenzie's son, Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, was taken into partnership, having established a successful practice of his own in his native Elgin. Thereafter Matthews ran the practice as 2 separate Partnerships - Matthews & Mackenzie in Aberdeen and Elgin, and Matthews & Lawrie in Inverness. When Lawrie died in 1887, the Inverness practice was inherited by John Hinton Gall (b.1848), who had been his chief assistant since 1872 and who continued the business under his own name, Matthews withdrawing completely from that branch of the firm.

Matthews entered the Town Council in 1863, and retired as a Councillor in 1871. In November 1883 he was recalled as Lord Provost and held office until November 1886. He was mainly responsible for implementing the City Improvement Act of 1883 which included building Schoolhill and Rosemount Viaduct and giving improved access to the latter area of the City. He was a director of the North of Scotland Bank, of which he was Chairman from time to time. His public services (in particular the Mitchell Tower and Graduation Hall) brought an Honorary LLD from the University of Aberdeen. In his later years Matthews lived in some grandeur at Springhill, which he had greatly altered for himself.

Matthews retired from the practice in 1893 at the age of 73, and died at 15 Albyn Terrace on 28 June 1898. He was buried in St Nicholas Churchyard, where his monument records the earlier deaths of his daughter Margaret Rose Matthews on 18 May 1868, his son James Duncan Matthews on 21 November 1890 and his wife Elizabeth Duncan on 21 March 1895.


Alexander Marshal McKenzie 1848~1933

Alexander Marshall Mackenzie was born in Elgin on 1 January 1848, the son of Thomas Mackenzie, Architect and his wife Helen Margaret McInnes. His middle name derived from his mother, who was a granddaughter of William Marshall, the Duke of Gordon's Factor. His father died in October 1854 when he was 6.  Educated at Elgin Academy, he was articled to James Matthews' Aberdeen office from 1863 to 1868, and remained there as assistant for a year. His elder brother Hugh being already settled in Edinburgh he then found a place in the office of David Bryce, living at 10 Forres Street. During that period he studied drawing and Painting with Robert Innes who had painted a portrait of his father in 1851, and exhibited a selection of his topographical views at the RSA in 1870. This was, perhaps, at least partly in preparation for a study tour of Italy and France undertaken in that year, after which he commenced practice in Elgin at the early age of 22.

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.

Marshall Mackenzie's Gothic work was much more consistent in quality. From 1883 onwards beginning with Craigiebuckler, he paralleled Honeyman, Rowand Anderson and Blanc in the adaptation of mediaeval forms to a more liturgical form of Presbyterian worship. Both Craigiebuckler and Ruthrieston were English Gothic in detail, but thereafter he showed a marked preference for late Scots Gothic forms. This development stemmed from his restoration of Arbuthnott Church in 1889, but was also related to the Aberdeen Ecclesiological Society, originally initiated by the Rev James Cooper of St Nicholas East Church, William Kelly, later of Smith & Kelly, and his brother-in-law Charles Carmichael on Kelly's return from London and a continental study tour in 1885. Mackenzie was one of their founder members and his first new-build Church in the Scots Gothic idiom was Powis, Aberdeen, 1895, its details drawn from16th c. Greyfriars Church, then under threat from the Marischal College extension scheme and which - against his own wishes - he was to be obliged to demolish.

Mackenzie was elected ARSA in 1893 although he had exhibited only once 23 years earlier, and admitted FRIBA on 30 November 1896 with the influential support of the London architects Alfred Waterhouse, Colonel Robert W Edis, and John McKean Brydon. These events were prompted by Royal patronage, initially at the new church at Crathie in 1893 and again in 1895 when the Duke and Duchess of Fife (the Prince of Wales's daughter Princess Louise) commissioned the rebuilding of Mar Lodge. An honorary LLD followed in 1906, marking the final completion of the Marischal College extension scheme, formally opened by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to mark the Quater Centenary celebrations.

The completion of the Marischal College works brought the practice still greater national fame, but by then the practice had already opened a London office in 1903. Mackenzie had married Phoebe Ann Robertson Cooper, the only daughter of Alexander Cooper of the Elgin legal firm Cooper & Wink, and a granddaughter of General George Duncan Robertson, head of the Clan Robertson.  Marshall Mackenzie's eldest son Alexander George Robertson Mackenzie - his middle names were those of his maternal grandfather- born 1879, was working with Sergent in Paris as an improver.  Articled to his father in August 1894 at the age of 15, 'AGR' took classes at Gray's School of Art, Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology and the University of Aberdeen, and quickly developed extraordinary ability, becoming his father's chief assistant at the end of his apprenticeship in 1898.  He was admitted ARIBA on 17 September 1901, his proposers being his father, Wigglesworth, and his partner Niven. At that date he had travelled only in Normandy and in Holland, but soon thereafter he spent 2 months on a study tour in Italy before being recalled to his father's office in 1902 to assist with the Marischal College extension.

The London office was set up initially to enlarge and remodel Hursley Park in Hampshire, which the Coopers had bought in 1902, the work being carried out in association with Duveen, who obtained the boiseries and the Beauvais tapestries. AGR was put in charge of the London office although the division was by no means clear-cut, his father being in London for a few days every fortnight while the son undertook a certain amount of the design work of the Aberdeen office. Partly from the Coopers' influence and partly from sheer ability, the London practice was successful, at once securing the £300,000 commission for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Aldwych, followed by a still more prestigious one for Canada House, also part of the Strand-Kingsway improvements which put him in the same league as J J Burnet. The Canada House project was deferred but another for Australia House, also in Aldwych, followed a few years later and was built. AGR was then elevated to FRIBA on 3 March 1913, his proposers being Leonard Stokes who had become a close friend and with whose son there was to be a future connection, and Niven and Wigglesworth.

By that date Gilbert Marshall Mackenzie was also in the London office. Born in 1890 or 1891 and educated at Charterhouse rather than in Aberdeen, Gilbert was articled to the Aberdeen office in 1909 but left in the same year for the University of Cambridge, probably to read modern languages in preparation for study at the Atelier Gromort in Paris in 1911. He returned to the London office in 1912 without taking the Diplome du Gouvernement, recalled to assist his brother with Australia House, and passed the qualifying exam in the same year without completing any apprenticeship and little more than a year's practical experience in total. He was admitted ARIBA in the same year, his proposers being his father, his brother, and another professional friend of his brother's, Herbert Austen Hall. Shortly thereafter he was taken into partnership.

The Mackenzies suffered severely in the 1st World War. The long-deferred Canada House project was cancelled, the Union Club and the Royal College of Physicians being eventually bought for the purpose and the commission given to Septimus Warwick. Gilbert was called up and commissioned in the 1st Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders in which he reached the rank of Captain. While serving in France he drew and painted life in the trenches. Subsequently he was sent to Mesopotamia where he was killed in action near Kut on 21 April 1916.  AGR enlisted as a private in the London Scottish, in the hope that he could transfer to the Seaforths and be with his brother, but was severely wounded and lost most of a leg. He was invalided out and assisted his father with the completion of Australia House, where work had continued throughout the war years. Mackenzie's 2nd son, who had become a solicitor and was a partner in Cooper & Wink and was too old for active service similarly volunteered, but because of his eyesight he had to be content with the Service Corps from which he survived unscathed.

Alexander Marshall Mackenzie was elevated to the status of full academician in 1918, and the Aberdeen practice remained as prosperous as ever, but despite the continuing support of the Coopers, the London practice did not recover its pre-war success as Burnet's had done. Although still based in London, by the later 1920s AGR was spending much of his time on the work of the Aberdeen office, where Alexander Marshall was assisted by John Gibb Marr (born 1890), who had originally been articled to Clement George. Marr was taken into partnership on 1 January 1927. Niven and Wigglesworth's practice had also begun to run out of work following the completion of Hambro's Bank in London, and their partnership was dissolved in 1927, partly because Niven had developed other interests. Wigglesworth merged his half of the remaining practice with Mackenzie's. Further consolidation took place in Aberdeen in May 1931 when the Mackenzies merged the Aberdeen practice with that of the Cinema and Auction Mart specialist, Clement George, born 1879 in Macduff, who had been in the office from 1897 to 1907, and had remained a family friend: his senior partner, George Sutherland had died in 1927. The practice now became A Marshall Mackenzie, Son & George.

These arrangements were to prove brief. Clement George died on 23 February 1932, followed on 4 May 1933 by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie who had been at the drawing board until within a week of his death, latterly working mostly from Culter House, a great early 18th-century house with a fine formal garden to which he had moved from the very stylish houses AGR had designed for him at Ladyhill and Loch Coull in 1911. The practice title then reverted to A Marshall Mackenzie & Son.


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
- was born on 27 November 1865 and educated in Aberdeen and Newburgh. He was articled to Pirie & Clyne in 1881 (though he perhaps joined the practice somewhat sooner as an office Boy, since John Bridgeford Pirie records that on 9 October 1878 'Mitchell began duty') and joined the practice of Jenkins & Marr as assistant on completing his apprenticeship. He remained with them until 1887 when he was appointed Architect in the Surveyors' Department of Davidson & Garden, Advocates (i.e. solicitors).  While there he carried out a great deal of work on the Dunecht Estate for A C Pirie, both at the house and in the village, and was allowed to undertake a few small private commissions in his own name. During these early years he made several visits to France and Italy

On leaving Davidson & Garden, Mitchell opened his own practice at 148 Union Street; the exact date for this is uncertain as Mitchell himself gives dates varying from 1898 to 1 January 1903 and 1 January 1904 in different documents. His business mainly consisted of country house work and villas and cottages for the estates with which he had become acquainted through his work with Davidson & Garden.  In 1913 Mitchell's son George Angus Mitchell (born on his father's 31st birthday and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School) entered the practice as an apprentice, and was one of the 1st 2 students to enrol at Aberdeen School of Architecture when it opened in 1913.  His training was interrupted by war service in 1915, but he returned to his father's office on his demobilisation in 1919, completing his Diploma course the following year. He practised in Association with his father from 1921. The practice moved from 148 Union Street to 1 West Craibstone Street in 1922 and George Angus became a partner in 1929, the firm name becoming George Bennett Mitchell & Son.

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
Church Architect, 17 Spital, St Margaret’s Convent.  Born in Aberdeen, the son of an Episcopalian Clergyman, he was educated at Trinity College, Glenalmond. He studied Art at Edinburgh, Oxford and the Royal College of Art London, and was apprenticed to an Ecclesiastical Architect’s Practice in 1887. He designed the Chapel of the Convent of St Margaret of Scotland, Spital in 1891 and the Seabury Memorial Restoration, St Andrew’s Cathedral.

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

Alexander Ellis was born in Aberdeen, 8 May 1830, 2nd but eldest surviving son of Captain William and Isabella Ellis. His father died at sea in 1838 and was buried at St Jaco, Cuba leaving a 3rd child Edith, who married Alexander Diack, collector and cashier for Old Machar Poorhouse. 

Ellis was sent  to Robert Gordon's College on May 1842 leaving in 1844 to attend Marischal College at the early age of 14. He left without graduating in 1846 and was articled to John & William Smith 1846-51. Thereafter, although he himself was an Episcopalian, he worked with Rt Rev James Kyle, Bishop of the Northern District, on the design of the ambitious twin towered St Peter's Church, Buckie, but whether he was working directly to the Bishop, or with Alexander and William Reid who executed the Church is unclear: He had completed his commitments there by January 1856 when he entered the Trustees' Academy on the recommendation of James Giles who was to be associated with him on several projects. He left in June of the same year and the commission for the Church of St Mary of the Assumption (later the Cathedral) in 1857 enabled him to set up independent practice at his mother's home at 19 Hadden Street. In 1859 he took on his 1st apprentice, Robert Gordon Wilson, and moved into his brother-in-law Alexander Diack's office at 4 Belmont Street, from which they moved to No.13 about 1869, the Ellises and the Diacks then sharing a large house at No.17 (Later to be Aberdeen's Radio Stattion 2BD). The Diack connection was to prove significant in relation to Parish Council work, bringing the large Buchan Combination Poorhouse at Maud won in competition in 1866. 

In 1860 Ellis sent in a design for the Aberdeen Town and County Bank Head Office which was the subject of a limited competition from which he had been excluded. It was returned unopened but he exhibited it at Hay and Lyall's where it attracted some attention. In 1862 he was appointed Executants Architect for St Mary's Carden Place, built by the Rev Frederick George Lee to his own designs. Lee was a leading member of the Architectural Society of Oxford and an amateur Architect: whether he obtained help directly from George Edmund Street, architect to the Oxford Diocese, who certainly designed the Minton tiles, whether he adapted the competition designs for the Crimea Memorial Church and other polychrome continental Gothic designs of that period, or whether Ellis himself had a large hand in the detailing is unclear, but the commission certainly enlarged Ellis's Architectural vocabulary. Financially it was a serious setback as Lee became insolvent and Ellis was unable to persuade the diocese and the vestry that they had a moral responsibility to settle the Architect's and Contractor's accounts.

In 1869 Wilson was taken into partnership. Wilson had been born at New Pitsligo in 1844, the son of a local master builder John Wilson and Eliza Gordon. The Wilsons were a staunchly United Presbyterian family and it may have been Church connections that enabled him to secure a place in the office of Alexander Thomson (c. 1866-69) at the end of his apprenticeship with Ellis. A modified Thomsonesque treatment thereafter became apparent in the firm's urban work. 

In 1876 the Belmont Street house became too small to accommodate the Ellis and Diack families and Ellis and Wilson developed 54-71 Springbank Terrace - Ellis took No.66; Wilson, who had married 23 December 1875, No.60; and the Diacks No.70. Ellis did not marry until 6 August 1878, his bride being Helen Anne Murray, daughter of Dr Murray, Surgeon, Glenlivet, whose elder daughter Mathilda had married the Aberdeen builder John Morgan 7 years earlier in June 1871. Morgan was a man of exceptionally wide artistic interests whom Ellis had known since at least 1863 when he and his uncle Adam Mitchell were Contractors for Corse House. It was probably following his marriage that Ellis built for their own occupation The Firs at Torphins, a large weekend house. Like Morgan's own bungalow, Woodcote, The Firs was largely timber framed on a brick plinth and influenced by what Morgan had seen on his visit to Toronto and Montreal.

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

After 10 years with Matthews, Pirie went into independent practice at 177 Union Street Aberdeen with the encouragement of the builder John Morgan who was 7 years older. He was immediately successful, winning in 1878-79 the competitions for 2 major churches, 1 in Fraserburgh and 1 in Aberdeen, both in a very original, predominantly early French, idiom. Both Morgan and Pirie were founding members of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society and enthusiasts for the teaching of John Ruskin with whom Morgan corresponded. They travelled together in Britain to see the latest developments, and Morgan's travels in America and the Far East were to have a considerable influence on the decorative arts aspect of the practice through the books and prints he brought home. 

When Pirie opened his office at 177 Union Street he shared it with Arthur Clyne, a former colleague at Matthews's practice. In 1881 they merged their practices as Pirie & Clyne and moved to 123 ½ Union Street which was to remain their address. Clyne was 5 years younger, born in Aberdeen in 1853 and the son of Norval Clyne, an Advocate (i.e.solicitor) there. He had been articled to Matthews c.1868 and had been an assistant in the office of Andrew Heiton of Perth since the end of his apprenticeship c.1873-1876. In 1882 they had a link of some kind with Frederick Thomas Pilkington with whose work their own had some affinities as W T Johnston has established that Pirie shared Pilkington's address at 2 Hill Street, Edinburgh, in that year. 

While Morgan provided the practice with a steady flow of commissions for Villas and Terraced housing, it was otherwise dependent on success in competitions and on Clyne's strong Episcopal church connections. It did not reach the final tier in the Glasgow Municipal Buildings competition, was unpremiated in the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Gray's School of Art competition and came only 3rd in that for Aberdeen Public Library but it did initially have significant successes in local competitions for Churches, all of which were designed in a very original muscular early Gothic style. Morgan's own house at 50 Queen's Road was Gothic of the same school but their few commercial buildings and their villas were designed in a highly original variation of Alexander Thomson's style, with motifs drawn from a wide range of sources. 

Pirie died of tuberculosis on 24 February 1892 at his house at 24 Hamilton Place. During his last months he occupied himself with the design of the monument to James Saint which relieved ' many a weary hour of illness' and the writing of a paper 'The Beauty of Art' which was never given. He left a widow and 5 children but no moveable Estate, John Morgan observing: 'He died early in years, yet he left abiding monuments of his taste, skill, and genius, and it gives some idea of his genius when one finds some of his details all over town. No company would insure his life, he died poor, and left a young family unprovided for.'  Morgan was involved in raising money for them, and there may have been some difficulty with Clyne as Pirie's widow withdrew her husband's drawings from the practice archive and stored them in the attic of their house in Hamilton Place. The more important of these were retained by the family when the Hamilton Place house was closed and are now in the NMRS. Pirie's son Bridgeford MacDougall Pirie, born 1877, became an Architect but practised only briefly in Aberdeen in 1897-99, later emigrating. 

After Pirie's death Clyne's work became less unconventional, his Church work being strongly influenced by the Aberdeen Ecclesiological Society of which he and Morgan were founder members. His Episcopal Church of St Devenick at Bieldside (1902) was pure late Scots Gothic, close in style to Alexander Marshall Mackenzie's work of the same vintage. Although Clyne's relationship with the Pirie family became strained, this seems to have made no difference of any kind with Morgan after Pirie's death as he was to remain an important client. Clyne removed the practice to 33 St Swithin Street and was President of the Aberdeen Society of Architects in 1900, being admitted FRIBA in April by virtue of that office. He stood down as President in 1904 but was re-elected for the years 1909-13. He retired in 1914 when the practice, then back in Union Street at no 375, was closed. He died at Charlwood House, Charlwood, Surrey on 6 January 1924.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013