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Basic Biographical Details

Name: Charles Wilson
Designation: Architect
Born: 19 June 1810
Died: 5 February 1863
Bio Notes: Charles Wilson was born on 19 June 1810, probably in Glasgow, the fifth son of Thomas (some sources give 'John' but this is incorrect) Wilson, a Glasgow master mason and builder, and Margaret Lambie. He worked for his father for several years prior to being articled to David Hamilton in 1827. In the Hamiltons' combined house and office at 235 Buchanan Street, Wilson became in Gildard's words 'a favourite pupil' and was given free access to Hamilton's excellent library. There he worked on Hamilton Palace, the Royal Exchange, Toward Castle, the Normal School, Lennox Castle and Campsie Parish Church at Lennoxtown. His work at Hamilton Palace probably enabled him to study the collection of drawings commissioned for the Palace by the 10th Duke of Hamilton in Italy and France, notably from Percier and Fontaine: these may well have had some bearing on the sophistication ('feminine elegance' as Gildard described it) of his subsequent classical work in independent practice.

Wilson remained with Hamilton as principal assistant from 1833 for a time working with Hamilton's son James on Lennox Castle, the neo-Norman style of which was to influence some of his early church work. In 1837 he left to take over his father's business, his elder brother John being made senior partner at his father's insistence according to Gildard, the firm name being John & Charles Wilson, architects and builders. But as Gildard put it, John was the 'back seat' man in the business. In fact he was a sugar planter in Trinidad and presumably simply provided capital for his brother's business. In 1839 their partnership was dissolved, Charles thereafter practising only as an architect from 41 George Square.

Wilson's earliest works were an exceptionally refined neo-Greek United Presbyterian church in Pladda Street and a number of Italianate villas, the style of which he developed from the Hamiltons' later houses in that vein. But within a few years he had effectively succeeded to the Hamiltons' practice. Although James Hamilton had made an extensive continental study tour in 1839-40 and the Hamilton practice should have been at the peak of its prosperity with numerous major commissions in these years, it was in financial difficulties as a result of building speculation with the Smiths in Royal Exchange Square: with these the departure of Hamilton's elder surviving son John to North America in 1839 and a £500 public testimonial raised for David Hamilton in 1840 appear to have been connected. The practice was sequestrated in 1844 following David Hamilton's death and his son James had to give up independent practice. These difficulties resulted in Wilson being commissioned to design the City Lunatic Asylum at the early age of thirty. For this project Wilson made a study tour of such institutions in England and France enabling him to see the latest classical work in Paris, particularly that of Duban and Labrouste, and perhaps acquire architectural publications less readily available at home. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s the influence of French and German round-arched classicism, particularly that of the Munich school, became increasingly evident. Triplets of round-arched windows in rectangular recesses became a favourite motif and extended into the work of his pupils Boucher & Cousland, and of John Burnet Senior. Although his villas tended to be comfortably scaled, an ever-increasing monumentality of scale and originality of concept became evident in his public buildings, culminating in the Alberti-like Queens Rooms, 1856, and his competition win in the same year for the Free Church College, the design of which was experimented with and refined over several years prior to building in 1859-61. Although commissioned separately, the College was designed as the dominant element of Wilson's ambitious Park development. This originated in 1851 when he produced an overall plan for terraced housing to the north west of the city stretching across the Kelvin to Gilmorehill and superseding James Wylson's competition-winning scheme of 1848 for the latter. The title of his plan does not give any client. It is not clear who initiated it as it embraced several separate ownerships, but it was prompted by the failure of the scheme to remove the University of Glasgow from High Street to Woodlands Hill. In the following year, 1852, the City began buying up Woodlands Hill and Kelvingrove to implement the scheme and create the West End Park, now Kelvingrove Park. Although the northern Woodlands area was eventually developed on quite different lines and the Gilmorehill land was to be developed by the University some ten years later, the core of Wilson's 1851 scheme provided the basic concept of that published in 1855. Work had in fact begun two years earlier in association with Sir Joseph Paxton and the Glasgow surveyor Thomas Kyle when a few houses at the west end of Park Terrace were built. Although Park Circus, the central hub of the scheme, remained faithful to Wilson's Italian Renaissance ideals, the houses of Park Terrace had innovative French pavilion roofs and canted bays, David Thomson subsequently expressing the view that Wilson's concept had been to sweep the hilltop up into a crown.

Apart from Lews Castle in Stornoway, built for the Hong Kong magnate Sir James Matheson, Wilson's most important clients for large houses were in the Dundee area and were centred on the Baxter family. Three of their houses were accomplished Italianate villas, but the others were designed in a refined Scots Jacobean idiom with strapwork details derived from the Old College of Glasgow.

Wilson married Helen King Cleland (1821-1902) on 21 June 1842, three years after commencing independent practice. They lived at 29 Bath Street and had two sons and a daughter. Their children were Charles (b and d 1848); Margaret Lambie (b.1847 d.1849); James Cleland (b.1850 d.1871) and George Charles (b.1853 d.1885 in Trinidad). Recent research shows that she was the daughter of James Cleland, builder, rather than James Cleland, Superintendent of Public Works in Glasgow. Little is known of the rest of his personal life: although a friend of Alexander Thomson, he was not part of the circle centred on Mossman's studio and no gossip has come down to us. The brief references by his assistant Thomas Ross and David Thomson in their memoirs suggest that the office regime was a kindly and considerate one.

Wilson was one of the council members of the Architectural Institute of Scotland when it was refounded in 1850, and he was elected to the Council of the Glasgow Architectural Society when it was formed on 25 January 1858. He gave its first address, a discussion of ancient and modern Glasgow. He succeeded John Baird Primus as its President on 15 October 1860, but his health began to fail and on 21 October 1861 Alexander Thomson was elected as his successor. In the following March David Thomson, for many years his assistant and principal assistant, but who had left the practice to work on his own during 1862, returned and was taken into partnership. He was probably effectively responsible for the practice from that date, the more rugged Scots baronial buildings of those years probably being wholly his. Wilson died of dropsy following disease of the knee and limb at 153 St Vincent Street on 5 or 6 February 1863. Thomson succeeded to his practice and the archive of drawings but not to his important library which his widow sold to the Glasgow Architectural Society.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 441, George Square, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness18391844As J & C Wilson in 1839.
Item 2 of 429, Bath Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness18491851 
Item 3 of 433, Bath Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness1853 *1856 
Item 4 of 4153, St Vincent Street, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivatec. 1860c. 1863 

* earliest date known from documented sources.

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 5Thomas Wilson (or John Wilson?)Before 18251827Apprentice 
Item 2 of 5David Hamilton18271833Apprentice 
Item 3 of 5David Hamilton18331837Chief Assistant 
Item 4 of 5John & Charles Wilson18371839Partner 
Item 5 of 5Wilson & ThomsonMarch 18621863Partner 

Employees or Pupils

The following individuals were employed or trained by this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 8John Burbridge  DraughtsmanEmployed as presentation draughtsman
Item 2 of 8James Boucherc. 1842c. 1846Apprentice 
Item 3 of 8David Thomsonc. 1845(?)c. 1850(?)Apprentice(?) 
Item 4 of 8James Boucherc. 1846April 1853Assistant 
Item 5 of 8James Couslandc. 18481854 or 1855Apprentice 
Item 6 of 8David Thomsonc. 1850(?)March 1862AssistantLatterly Chief Assistant
Item 7 of 8George Shaw Aitken1859 Assistant ArchitectGlasgow
Item 8 of 8Thomas Ross18611862Assistant 

Buildings and Designs

This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 125 2 Central Avenue  GlasgowScotlandAttributed by Alfred G Lochhead; date unknown
Item 2 of 125 2-24 Broomhill Avenue  GlasgowScotlandAttributed by Alfred G Lochhead; date unknown. HS suggests date of c1860
Item 3 of 125 24 Balshagray Avenue  GlasgowScotlandAttributed by Alfred G Lochhead; date unknown
Item 4 of 125 Glasgow Necropolis, Adam Paterson MonumentDennistoun GlasgowScotlandDate unknown
Item 5 of 125 Glasgow Necropolis, Alexander Craig monumentDennistoun GlasgowScotlandDate unknown
Item 6 of 1251837Hutchesontown Established ChurchHutchesontown GlasgowScotland 
Item 7 of 1251838School for Patrons of Hutcheson's Hospital  GlasgowScotland 
Item 8 of 1251839Parliamentary Road UP Church, Calderwood Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 9 of 1251839Strathbungo Parish ChurchStrathbungo GlasgowScotland 
Item 10 of 1251840Curator's House, Glasgow Botanic Gardens  GlasgowScotland 
Item 11 of 1251840Glasgow Academy  GlasgowScotland 
Item 12 of 1251840Glasgow Botanic Gardens  GlasgowScotlandLay-out and gate lodge
Item 13 of 1251841Breadalbane Terrace, 102-112 Hill Street  GlasgowScotlandAttributed by Alfred G Lochhead
Item 14 of 1251841Glasgow Royal Asylum for Lunatics  GlasgowScotland 
Item 15 of 1251841Gryffe CastleHouston, Bridge of Weir RenfrewshireScotlandBuilt original house
Item 16 of 1251841Many small Houses (Unidentified)Partickhill GlasgowScotland 
Item 17 of 1251841Tenements at GarnethillGarnethill GlasgowScotland 
Item 18 of 1251841Villa for Nathaniel StevensonBraidwood Lanarkshire?Scotland 
Item 19 of 1251843Muirhouse Toll HouseMuirhouse GlasgowScotland 
Item 20 of 1251843Warehouses on St Vincent Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 21 of 1251844Strathblane Parish ChurchStrathblane StirlingshireScotlandChurch re-roofed and other repairs
Item 22 of 12518451-15 High Windsor Terrace  GlasgowScotland 
Item 23 of 1251845Business Premises on London Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 24 of 1251845Business Premises, 247 St Vincent StreetBlythswood GlasgowScotland 
Item 25 of 1251845Greenhead House for Mr McPhailCalton GlasgowScotland 
Item 26 of 1251845Mr McBride's Free ChurchRothesayButeButeScotland 
Item 27 of 1251845Westfield Terrace, 64-68 Partickhill Road  GlasgowScotlandAlterations - attributed
Item 28 of 1251846Argyle Free Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 29 of 1251846Established ChurchHelensburgh DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 30 of 1251846House for Robert StewartCarfin LanarkshireScotland 
Item 31 of 1251846Woodcroft House  GlasgowScotland 
Item 32 of 1251847Ardchattan Priory, the Conventual buildingsLoch Etive ArgyllScotlandHouse extended
Item 33 of 1251847Church for Dr ElderRothesayButeButeScotland 
Item 34 of 1251847Female Industrial SchoolStornowayLewisRoss and CromartyScotlandSome design details in the school are similar to the design of some Normal Schools in particular Dundas Vale School with which Wilson had been in contact ten years before as assistant to David Hamilton who designed it. However it is perhaps more likely that Howitt was responsible.
Item 35 of 1251847Greenock Cemetery Lay-out and GatesGreenock RenfrewshireScotland 
Item 36 of 1251847House for Miss LothianDunoon ArgyllScotland 
Item 37 of 1251847Lewis Castle with lodgesStornowayLewisRoss and CromartyScotlandAlso lodges, driveway bridge and seawalls
Item 38 of 1251847Maryhill Free ChurchMaryhill GlasgowScotland 
Item 39 of 1251847Maryhill Free Church ManseMaryhill GlasgowScotlandPart in 1859
Item 40 of 1251847Maryhill Free Church SchoolMaryhill GlasgowScotlandPart in 1859
Item 41 of 1251847Warehouse and Offices for Exchange Investment Company  GlasgowScotland 
Item 42 of 1251848Large House for James Hozier   Scotland 
Item 43 of 1251848R F & J Alexander's Cotton Spinning Mill  GlasgowScotlandOriginal building, unusual use of iron
Item 44 of 1251848Raasay House RaasayInverness-shireScotlandFlanking bays and other alterations
Item 45 of 1251848Rutherglen Free ChurchRutherglen LanarkshireScotland 
Item 46 of 1251848Southern Necropolis Entrance GatewayHutchesontown GlasgowScotland 
Item 47 of 1251848St James Free Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 48 of 1251849Dudhope House  DundeeScotland 
Item 49 of 1251849John Neilson Endowment School and entrance lodgePaisley RenfrewshireScotlandOriginal building
Item 50 of 1251849Scottish Presbyterian Church  QuebecCanada 
Item 51 of 1251849Shandon HouseGareloch ArgyllScotlandNew house retaining central part of older structure
Item 52 of 1251849St Peter's Free Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 53 of 1251849St Stephen's Free ChurchGarnethill GlasgowScotland 
Item 54 of 1251850Ashcliff and gatelodge  DundeeScotlandOriginal house
Item 55 of 1251850Crawford Lodge  DundeeScotland 
Item 56 of 1251850Great Western Rooms  GlasgowScotland 
Item 57 of 1251850Inverawe HouseTaynuilt, Loch Awe ArgyllScotlandBaronial remodelling
Item 58 of 1251850Mains HouseMilngavie DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 59 of 1251850Melrose Free ChurchMelrose RoxburghshireScotland 
Item 60 of 1251850Royal Bank of Scotland  GlasgowScotlandBuchanan Street buildings
Item 61 of 1251850St Helen's  DundeeScotland 
Item 62 of 1251850Woodside House and LodgePaisley RenfrewshireScotland 
Item 63 of 125c. 1850Linn Park House  GlasgowScotland 
Item 64 of 1251851Hazel Hall  DundeeScotland 
Item 65 of 1251851Raasay, Gardener's cottage RaasayInverness-shireScotland 
Item 66 of 1251852515-543 Sauchiehall Street and 241-245 North Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 67 of 1251852Dunipace HouseLarbert StirlingshireScotlandOriginal house
Item 68 of 1251852Glasgow General Post Office  GlasgowScotlandCompetition design. Work started on site . See Glasgow Herald 9 December 1853.
Item 69 of 1251852House for Mr McLintockGreenock RenfrewshireScotland 
Item 70 of 1251852House for Robert McKinlay of Glasgow  GlasgowScotland 
Item 71 of 1251852Lochton HouseInchture DundeeScotland 
Item 72 of 1251852Partick Burgh HallPartick GlasgowScotlandUnexecuted design
Item 73 of 1251852Pitcullo House  FifeScotlandAlterations
Item 74 of 1251852Premises for William York, Wellesley Place  GlasgowScotland 
Item 75 of 1251852St Paul's Free Church  DundeeScotland 
Item 76 of 1251852The LynnCathcart GlasgowScotlandAdditions
Item 77 of 1251852Warehouse for Gilmour & Thomson  GlasgowScotland 
Item 78 of 12518531-17, 18-21 Park TerraceWoodlands Hill GlasgowScotland 
Item 79 of 1251853Kelvingrove Park layoutWoodlands Hill GlasgowScotlandIn association with Sir J Paxton: granite stairway 40 feet wide
Item 80 of 1251853Park Gardens, stairway to Park Street South  GlasgowScotland 
Item 81 of 1251853Several Villas at GarelochheadGarelochhead DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 82 of 12518541-17, 2-8 Park Circus PlaceWoodlands Hill GlasgowScotlandDesign only
Item 83 of 12518541-6 Park GardensWoodlands Hill GlasgowScotland 
Item 84 of 125185422-24 Woodlands TerraceWoodlands Hill GlasgowScotland 
Item 85 of 125185423-29 Park Circus  GlasgowScotland 
Item 86 of 1251854Cliff TerraceWoodlands Hill GlasgowScotland 
Item 87 of 1251854House for Edward Baxter  DundeeScotland 
Item 88 of 1251854Royal Faculty of Procurators  GlasgowScotlandWon commission for hall
Item 89 of 12518551-10 Park QuadrantWoodlands Hill GlasgowScotland(Drawings dated 1856)
Item 90 of 12518551-16 Park CircusKelvingrove GlasgowScotland 
Item 91 of 1251855Duncarse House and lodge  DundeeScotlandOriginal house
Item 92 of 1251855Duntreath CastleStrathblane StirlingshireScotlandRestoration
Item 93 of 1251855LarkfieldStirling StirlingshireScotlandAdditions
Item 94 of 1251855Model Lodging House  GlasgowScotland 
Item 95 of 1251855Park StepsKelvingrove GlasgowScotland 
Item 96 of 1251855Several Villas at RahaneRahane, Gare Loch ArgyllScotland 
Item 97 of 1251855Villas, 1, 3, 5 and 4 Park Gate  GlasgowScotland 
Item 98 of 125c. 185519-37 Broomhill Terrace  GlasgowScotlandAttributed by Alfred G Lochhead
Item 99 of 125c. 1855Park Terrace, balustrade, railing and gateway to Kelvingrove Park  GlasgowScotland 
Item 100 of 1251856Ardmory House, ArdbegPort BannatyneButeButeScotland 
Item 101 of 1251856Domestic Building forming part of Free Church College, 27 Lynedoch Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 102 of 1251856Feuing of the Queenstown EstateKelvinside GlasgowScotlandEntered limited competition but Salmon design selected in 1858. However had a hand in the design of some parts.
Item 103 of 1251856Free Church College  GlasgowScotlandWon in competition
Item 104 of 1251856GlenconnerBlairmore ArgyllScotland 
Item 105 of 1251856NetherhillPaisley RenfrewshireScotland 
Item 106 of 1251856Queen's Rooms, La Belle Place  GlasgowScotland 
Item 107 of 1251856Trades House  GlasgowScotlandAlterations, repairs and rebuilding of north wing
Item 108 of 1251856West End UP Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 109 of 125Before 1856Glasgow Necropolis, Matthew Montgomerie MonumentDennistoun GlasgowScotland 
Item 110 of 12518572-5 La Belle Place  GlasgowScotland 
Item 111 of 1251857House for James SteeleGreenock RenfrewshireScotland 
Item 112 of 1251857Largie HouseKilmartin ArgyllScotland 
Item 113 of 1251858Kelvinside Free ChurchKelvinside GlasgowScotlandElaborate classic design with tower and hemicycle of columns. Refused to modify the scheme, and lost the commission to Campbell Douglas and Stevenson
Item 114 of 1251858Thornliebank HouseThornliebank RenfrewshireScotlandReconstruction of Birkenshaw House
Item 115 of 1251859Maryhill Free ChurchMaryhill GlasgowScotlandSteeple added
Item 116 of 1251859Wester Moffat HouseAirdrie LanarkshireScotland 
Item 117 of 125186018-22 Park Circus and 4 Park Gate  GlasgowScotlandNumber 22 by James Boucher in 1872: see separate entry
Item 118 of 12518609 Park Street SouthWoodlands Hill GlasgowScotland 
Item 119 of 1251860Oban Episcopal Cathedral of St John the DivineOban ArgyllScotlandIn hand at time of death
Item 120 of 125c. 186023-41 Broomhill Drive  GlasgowScotlandAttributed by Alfred G Lochhead; date unknown, HS suggests c.1860
Item 121 of 1251861Rutherglen Town HallRutherglen LanarkshireScotland 
Item 122 of 1251862Benmore HouseKilmun ArgyllScotlandExtension - work continued by Thomson who was initially working as assistant
Item 123 of 1251862Eastwood Parish ChurchPollokshaws GlasgowScotlandCompleted by David Thomson
Item 124 of 1251862Great Western Hotel and TerraceOban ArgyllScotlandIn hand at death
Item 125 of 125Before 186322 Park Circus  GlasgowScotlandOriginal design of façade to Circus: no 22 not built in his lifetime


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 7APSD The Dictionary of Architectureed Wyatt PapworthThe Architectural Publication Society (8v 1852-1892) 
Item 2 of 7Gildard, Thomas1895An Old Glasgow Architect on some Older OnesXXVIProceedings of the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow 
Item 3 of 7Reed, Peter (ed.)1993Glasgow: the forming of the city   
Item 4 of 7Scotlands People Website Wills & Testaments  Glasgow Sheriff Court Inventories SC36/48/49
Item 5 of 7Sinclair, Fiona J, ed1995Charles Wilson Architect 1810-1863: A Question of Style Glasgow: Park Circus Promotions, 1995Also additional information from Fiona Sinclair by e-mail.
Item 6 of 7Thomson, David1882Memoir of Charles Wilson13 March 1882Proceedings of the Glasgow Philosophical Society 
Item 7 of 7Walker, Frank Arneil1986South Clyde Estuary: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to Inverclyde and Renfrew  p26, p86, p125

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 2Builder27 October 1961  'Architectural Historians' Conference: Papers Submitted to the Edinburgh Meeting' p787 - David Walker delivered a paper entitled 'Towards a New Style' at the SAH (UK) Conference in Edinburgh on 15-17 Sept 1961 that discussed Wilson's work
Item 2 of 2Building News7 March 1863Vol 21 p173

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 4GROSRecords of Marriages In the marriage register entry for Margaret Jane WILSON, Her father is given as John Wilson sugar planter Trinidad
Page 131
1871 Marriages in the West Parish of Greenock in the County of Renfrew

Courtesy of Jacky Rodger.
Item 2 of 4National Monuments Record of Scotland/NMRS, RCAHMSCharles Wilson drawings, presented in 1954 by John S Boyd (merger of Thomson/Menzies & Weddell/Thoms  
Item 3 of 4Professor David M Walker personal archiveProfessor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material Research by Iain Paterson
Item 4 of 4Strathclyde Regional Archives (Mitchell Library)Strathclyde Regional Archives Small folio formerly owned by John Hepburn; some drawings removed from it since his ownership


© All rights reserved. Courtesy of Iain Paterson (from Frieze on Queen 

© All rights reserved. Courtesy of Iain Paterson (from Frieze on Queen's Rooms, La Belle Place)