|Bio Notes: ||David Barclay Niven was born in 1864 and educated at Dundee High School: his family was said to have had a Kirriemuir connection. In April 1880 he was articled to Charles and Leslie Ower, a training he quickly regarded as of negligible value, 'although he did,' as Herbert Wigglesworth tactfully put it, 'acquire a thorough knowledge of building as a vivid manifestation of humanity'. In April 1884 he obtained a place as assistant with John Murray Robertson, the most advanced office in Dundee at that time, where he became aware of contemporary American architecture; and in April 1888 he moved to the London office of Aston Webb where he quickly became chief assistant. During those years he studied at the Royal Academy schools under Phene Spiers, passed the qualifying exam in November 1889, made two brief sketching tours (one in France, one in Belgium) and was admitted ARIBA on 13 January 1890, his proposers being Webb, Robertson, and John Macvicar Anderson. Sent to Genoa to supervise the building of the Protestant Hospital, he spent a year of study in Italy, and during that time, in 1891, he designed and supervised the reconstruction of the British and Foreign Sailors Society's Institute, a sailors' home. |
In 1892 Niven returned to London and commenced practice at 34 Mecklenburgh Square with 'slender resources and few friends outside the profession,' but he quickly obtained a share of the patronage of Sir Donald Currie for ship interiors, and in 1893 he entered into partnership with another Scottish-trained architect, Herbert Hardy Wigglesworth, who had been articled to Alexander Marshall Mackenzie. By 1895 the practice was obtaining major domestic commissions, and by 1900 when Niven became FRIBA and had visited the USA the office moved to Gwydir Chambers, 104 High Holborn, with Niven residing at 'St Monan's', Walton on Thames. In that year Niven moved house to Farnham, Surrey, and took in partnership a brilliant draughtsman of the F L Griggs school, Harold Falkner. Born in Farnham on 28 November 1875, Falkner was a well-off pupil of Reginald Blomfield who had commenced practice there in 1896. The practice title became Niven, Wigglesworth & Falkner, but the full name was not always used for business outwith Surrey. Falkner's sometimes wayward arts-and-crafts habits of business at Farnham soon created problems, and the partnership was effectively dissolved in 1903, although the practice title of Niven, Wigglesworth & Falkner was used in Surrey up until 1906 and survived as late as 1909. Except for a brief period in partnership with a Niven & Wigglesworth pupil, Guy Maxwell Aylwin, from 1927 onwards, Falkner thereafter practised alone in Farnham in ever-increasingly autocratic eccentricity until his death on 30 November 1963.
Niven and Wigglesworth's London office was a mecca for aspiring architectural assistants from Scotland. Niven took a particular interest in architectural education, attending RIBA Council and Committee meetings and serving on the Board of Architectural Education: Wigglesworth recalled that 'he enjoyed direct contact with those seeking qualification… they always aroused his most sympathetic interest.'
Much of the attraction of the office was Niven's personality. Of him Wigglesworth wrote: 'David Barclay Niven was one of those militant beings whose ardent and earnest enthusiasm contributed generously to architecture. His energy was untiring, he worked at high pressure and at furious speed. His power of acceleration was amazing. Neither in the office nor on the job was the pace allowed to slacken. Buildings were completed ahead of time more often than not and difficulties were overcome with joyous ease and efficiency. Complacency and inability he incontinently brushed aside. The physical and mental fatigue which ensued were to him a small price to pay for the exhilaration so thoroughly enjoyed.'
Although the practice recovered quickly after the First World War, after the building of Hambro's Bank in Bishopsgate in 1925 there were no significant new commissions in view and the partnership was dissolved in the following year. Niven's interest in the practice was continued by Arthur Kenyon who had been an assistant since 1906, with an office at 7 John Street, Bedford Row, while Wigglesworth merged his practice with that of Alexander Marshall Mackenzie & Son. In those later years Niven became particularly interested in town and garden planning issues in London and was a founder of the London Society, of which he was the first chairman of the executive committee. In 1919 he produced a scheme for the architectural improvement of Charing Cross with T Raffles Davison, and in 1921 he published his vision for the city, 'London of the Future.'
Niven would not leave London during the air-raids and stayed in his South Kensington home until a land-mine wrecked almost the entire property, he being found untouched in the only safe corner of the house. The shock was too much for one who had drawn heavily upon his nervous system, and he gradually declined, dying in his son's home, Green Trees, Cobham, Surrey on 9 January 1942.