© All rights reserved. Edinburgh Architectural Association 1907 Exhibition Catalogue  

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Basic Biographical Details

Name: Robert Matheson
Designation: Architect
Born: 29 November 1807 or 18 August 1808 or
Died: 5 March 1877
Bio Notes: Robert Matheson was born on 15 (some sources give 18) August 1808 in Tain, the son of James Matheson, cabinetmaker and his wife. It is not known where he was first apprenticed, but in 1828 he was appointed junior clerk in the Edinburgh Office of Works by Robert Reid. As his appointment had not been ratified by the Lords of the Treasury, the Barons of the Exchequer and the Surveyor General of the Board of Works, Major General Stephenson, he was not entitled to compensation when the office was re-organised on a reduced basis and he became redundant on 1 April 1840. A single payment of £60 was made.

In September 1840 William Nixon, appointed Clerk of Works for Scotland on transfer from Dublin in April 1840, found that the surviving second clerk, James Miller, had been guilty of serious mismanagement, and the Office of Woods and Forests instructed Nixon to offer his post to Matheson. Early in March 1848, when Nixon became seriously ill, Matheson was appointed temporary head and remained so after Nixon's death on the 24th. Although some half-a dozen Scottish architects in private practice applied for the post, the Chief Commissioner for HM Woods and Forests nominated Matheson as Clerk of Works for Scotland on condition that he sat an examination set by James Pennethorne, William S Inman and John Phipps, which he failed 'more especially as regards construction' and he reverted to being second clerk. But after some months he was appointed interim head clerk and after holding the post satisfactorily for a year he became permanent Clerk of Works for Scotland and retained that post when the Woods and Forests became the Office of Works by Act of Parliament in October 1851.

For his first eight years in office Matheson’s role was relatively low key, largely confined to executing Edward Blore’s designs for Glasgow Cathedral, completing Nixon’s work at St Andrew’s University and Playfair’s at the Advocates’ Library and looking after the cathedrals and ancient monuments then in the Office’s care: much of this was under the general supervision of William Burn who held the position of Consulting Architect to the Government in Scotland. But by 1855 Matheson had sufficiently gained the confidence of his London masters to be entrusted with extensive works at Holyroodhouse, proposals for new buildings at King’s College Aberdeen in which Burn still had a role, and the building of the New Palm House at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden. Built in 1855-59 the Palm House was one of the most impressive structures of its kind in the western world, a bigger and more monumental version of Richard Turner’s at the National Botanic Garden in Dublin. It made his reputation, the high point in his career coming in 1859 when he was allowed to design New Register House and Edinburgh’s General Post Office, successfully resisting London interference in the design of the former. The Record Office was even more innovative then the Palm House, very accomplished High Renaissance elevations enclosing a cast-iron book stack with a domed central area modelled on Pennethorne’s Round Room at the Public Record Office in London while the Post Office made the most of a difficult site where more than half the building was below street level. With these projects his authority had grown to the point of being able to propose a redesign of Francis Fowke’s elevations for the Chambers Street museum in a Vignola-like High Renaissance idiom, but in the event he had to execute the building as Fowke designed it.

With the passing of the Courthouses Act of 1860 Matheson’s post took on an important supervisory role. Selection of an architect still lay with Commissioners of Supply but Matheson now advised on both requirements and appointments. Throughout the 1860s and 1870s the main business of his office consisted of a series of provincial post offices, all in an astylar subdued Italianate. These culminated in the vast Barryesque palazzo of Glasgow’s General Post Office, his largest project built in 1875-78.

Matheson had a small private practice separate from his official duties. Between 1859 and 1870 he undertook the restoration of the Collegiate Church of St Duthes (or Duthac) in his native Tain for which he took no fee. His largest private project was his own: sometime before 1863 Matheson appears to have inherited considerable wealth. In June of that year he purchased nine acres at West Coates from the Heriot Trust and proceeded to form Grosvenor Street and Lansdowne Crescent specifying elevations which he himself had designed. The northern area was hived off to Peddie & Kinnear who developed Grosvenor Crescent in association with the adjoining property on Palmerston Place which they had acquired from the Walker Trust.

Matheson married Alexa Urquhart and lived in some style at 25 Abercromby Place. He died in office on 5 March 1877, and was buried in Dean Cemetery.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 2Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness   
Item 2 of 225, Abercromby Place, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate 1877 

Employment and Training

Employers

The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 2H M Office of Works (later Ministry of Works, Department of the Environment and Property Services Agency)18281848Junior ClerkIn Edinburgh office
Item 2 of 2H M Office of Works (later Ministry of Works, Department of the Environment and Property Services Agency)March 18481877Clerk of WorksIn Edinburgh office

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 2Hippolyte Jean Blanc18641869Draughtsman 
Item 2 of 2Robert Macfarlane Cameron18811882Draughtsman 

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 72 Paisley AbbeyPaisley RenfrewshireScotlandRestoration as Architect in Scotland with HM Office of Works. [date to be checked]
Item 2 of 72 West Coates development  EdinburghScotlandDate unknown
Item 3 of 721845Dunfermline AbbeyDunfermline FifeScotlandRestoration - as assistant to William Nixon, architect in charge of the Office of Works in Scotland
Item 4 of 721848Royal Botanic Garden, lecture hall, classrooms, museum and officesInverleith EdinburghScotlandAs architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 5 of 721848University of St Andrews, Chapel of St SalvatorSt Andrews FifeScotlandCompleted cloister behind chapel after Nixon's death - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 6 of 721848University of St Andrews, St Salvator's CollegeSt Andrews FifeScotlandCompletion of Nixon's scheme for north range - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 7 of 721848University of St Andrews, St Salvator's CollegeSt Andrews FifeScotlandCompletion of Nixon's boundary walls after his death - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 8 of 72c. 1848Glasgow Cathedral  GlasgowScotlandFrom 1848 onwards general repairs and new west front to design by Edward Blore. Matheson first as clerk and then architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 9 of 72c. 1850Linlithgow Palace, LodgeLinlithgow West LothianScotland 
Item 10 of 72185171 North StreetSt Andrews FifeScotlandGateway adjoining St Salvator's Chapel - as Clerk of Works for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 11 of 721851University of St Andrews, Chapel of St SalvatorSt Andrews FifeScotlandParapet wall on tower (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works). Executed as designed by William Burn
Item 12 of 721851University of St Andrews, St Mary's CollegeSt Andrews FifeScotlandRepairs (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works)
Item 13 of 721853Fortrose CathedralFortrose Ross and CromartyScotlandRestoration - as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 14 of 721853University of St Andrews, Chapel of St SalvatorSt Andrews FifeScotlandFitting of clock (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 15 of 721854Royal Botanic Garden, new Palm HouseInverleith EdinburghScotlandMatheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 16 of 721855King's CollegeOld Aberdeen AberdeenScotlandTwo alternative schemes: Neo-Jacobean and Oxford Gothic (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works) - not built
Item 17 of 721855Palace of Holyroodhouse  EdinburghScotlandRefitting of the Throne Room, paintwork and paper by D R Hay (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works)
Item 18 of 721856Advocates' Library  EdinburghScotlandRemodelling and extension of Upper Corridor Library with canted bays at north side - as architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 19 of 721856Board of Supervision (of Poor) Chambers, 125 George Street  EdinburghScotlandAdditions at the back - with Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 20 of 721856Parliament House, Supreme Courts of Scotland  EdinburghScotlandExecuted alterations design by Playfair - as Architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 21 of 721857General PrisonPerth PerthshireScotlandRedesigning and completion of Brown's scheme, with Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 22 of 721857Holyrood Park, Duddingston South Lodge  EdinburghScotlandAs Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 23 of 721857Holyrood Park, Meadowbank Lodge  EdinburghScotlandAs Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 24 of 721857Holyrood Park, St Leonard's Lodge  EdinburghScotlandAs Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 25 of 721857Palace of Holyroodhouse, Abbey Court House  EdinburghScotland 
Item 26 of 721857Palace of Holyroodhouse, gatehouse and former guardroom  EdinburghScotlandReconstruction of its surviving stairtower - Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 27 of 721857Palace of Holyroodhouse, Holyrood Lodge  EdinburghScotland 
Item 28 of 721857Parliament House, Supreme Courts of Scotland  EdinburghScotlandLaw Room. Redesigning and completion of Brown's scheme, with Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works.

Executed alterations design by Playfair - as Architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 29 of 721857Tolbooth St John's Church  EdinburghScotlandAlterations of throne bench as pulpit - Matheson as architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 30 of 72c. 1857Holyrood Park, Wells O' Wearie Cottage  EdinburghScotlandAs Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works - HS attribution because of similarity to the Holyrood Lodges
Item 31 of 721858New Register House  EdinburghScotlandMatheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 32 of 721858Palace of Holyroodhouse, fountain in forecourt  EdinburghScotlandAs architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works - Charles Doyle responsible for drawings
Item 33 of 721859Campbeltown PoorhouseCampbeltown ArgyllScotlandOriginally employed to draw up plans; withdrew after dispute over cost
Item 34 of 721859General Post Office  EdinburghScotland 
Item 35 of 721859King's CollegeOld Aberdeen AberdeenScotlandTudor gothic scheme (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works)
Item 36 of 721859King's CollegeOld Aberdeen AberdeenScotlandSimplified scheme built (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works)
Item 37 of 721859Royal Botanic Garden, Old Palm StoveInverleith EdinburghScotlandIron shafts replaced stone mullions (as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works) and replacement of prismatic roof with a dome.
Item 38 of 721859St Duthac's ChurchTain Ross and CromartyScotlandRestoration - Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 39 of 721860Palace of Holyroodhouse  EdinburghScotlandReplanning of 2nd floor as the Duke of Hamilton's and Marquess of Breadalbane's apartments (Matheson as architect for Scotland)
Item 40 of 721860Palace of Holyroodhouse, stables  EdinburghScotlandMatheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 41 of 721861Edinburgh Industrial Museum  EdinburghScotlandCentral part built to Fowke's design, Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works (1st phase)
Item 42 of 721861General Post OfficePerth PerthshireScotlandMatheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 43 of 721861House, Register Lane  EdinburghScotlandAlterations
Item 44 of 721861Palace of Holyroodhouse, gatehouse and former guardroom  EdinburghScotlandGatehouse
Item 45 of 721861Palace of Holyroodhouse, gateway and former school  EdinburghScotland 
Item 46 of 721861University of St Andrews, Chapel of St SalvatorSt Andrews FifeScotlandRestoration, including window tracery and pinnacles on south front, and reseating - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 47 of 72c. 1861Charlotte Square  EdinburghScotlandProposals for redesign of gardens
Item 48 of 721862National Bank of Scotland Head Office (Former)  EdinburghScotlandAltered entrance lobbies
Item 49 of 721863Clifton Terrace  EdinburghScotland 
Item 50 of 721863House in Lansdowne Crescent  EdinburghScotlandDesign of elevations
Item 51 of 721863Lansdowne Crescent  EdinburghScotland 
Item 52 of 72c. 1863General Post Office  DundeeScotlandWith Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 53 of 72c. 1863General Post OfficePaisley RenfrewshireScotlandMatheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 54 of 721864Grosvenor Crescent  EdinburghScotlandOriginal scheme
Item 55 of 721864University of St Andrews, Chapel of St SalvatorSt Andrews FifeScotlandGlazing of cloister (now reversed) - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 56 of 721865(?)Grosvenor Street  EdinburghScotlandDesign of facades
Item 57 of 721866Dunblane CathedralDunblane PerthshireScotlandRepairs on tower and spire
Item 58 of 721866(?)Waverley Station, hotel and market scheme  EdinburghScotland'Design for Grand National Hotel in combination with the new Waverley Station' (Matheson in private practice)
Item 59 of 721867East Queen Street Gardens  EdinburghScotlandAs Chief Artchitect in HM Office of Works
Item 60 of 721867King's College, Theology Manse  AberdeenScotland 
Item 61 of 721868King's CollegeOld Aberdeen AberdeenScotlandLibrary (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works)
Item 62 of 721868Parliament House, Supreme Courts of Scotland  EdinburghScotlandPart restoration and alterations - with Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 63 of 721868St Giles Cathedral  EdinburghScotlandFirst proposals for restoration including improvements to the choir 'as proposed by the Lord Provost' (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works)
Item 64 of 721869Register House  EdinburghScotlandBack Dome added for new record hall (necessitated by the Lands Registration Act) with Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 65 of 721869University of St Andrews, Chapel of St SalvatorSt Andrews FifeScotlandForbes Memorial Stalls (canopied stalls for Principal and Masters) - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works
Item 66 of 721870Edinburgh Industrial Museum  EdinburghScotlandWestern part of central building completed to Fowke's design, with Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works (2nd phase)
Item 67 of 721871St Michael's Parish ChurchLinlithgow West LothianScotlandDesign for 'interior…as proposed to be restored' (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works)
Item 68 of 721873Dunblane CathedralDunblane PerthshireScotlandAdvised (as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works) on repair work on chancel - with Sir G Gilbert Scott
Item 69 of 721873Post OfficeLeith EdinburghScotlandMatheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 70 of 721875General Post Office  AberdeenScotlandMatheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works
Item 71 of 721875Glasgow General Post Office  GlasgowScotlandNew building (Matheson as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works)
Item 72 of 72Before 18772 and 3 Rosebery Crescent  EdinburghScotlandDevised overall scheme

References

Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
 Author(s)DateTitlePartPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Grant, David The Office of Works and the Renovation of the Scottish Universities, 1808-89   
Item 2 of 3Pride, Glen L1999The Kingdom of Fife2nd EditionThe Rutland Pressp122
Item 3 of 3Scotlands People Website Wills & Testaments  Edinburgh Sheriff Court Wills Sc70/4/166

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Builderearly 1877XXXV p 250 - obituary
Item 2 of 3Building News1877  Obituary - check date
Item 3 of 3Scotsman6 March 1877  p8 - death notice

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 4Courtesy of the great-great-grandson of Robert MathesonInformation sent via Dictionary Survey Sent September 2013
Item 2 of 4National Records of Scotland (formerly SRO, later NAS)Ministry of Works files  
Item 3 of 4Professor David M Walker personal archiveProfessor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material Additional research by Iain Paterson (who suggests Matheson was born 29 November 1807 in Edinburgh, son of Robert Matheson and Elizabeth Fraser)
Item 4 of 4Public Record OfficeOffice of Woods and Forests and Office of Works letter books  

Images

© All rights reserved. Edinburgh Architectural Association 1907 Exhibition Catalogue  

© All rights reserved. Edinburgh Architectural Association 1907 Exhibition Catalogue