© All rights reserved. © National Portrait Gallery, London © All rights reserved. The Bailie Cartoon Supplement 20 April 1892 (Courtesy of Iain Paterson) 

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Basic Biographical Details

Name: (Sir) John William Simpson
Designation: Architect
Born: 1858
Died: March 1933
Bio Notes: John William Simpson was born in Scotland in 1858, the son of Thomas Simpson, architect, but was brought up in Brighton. He was articled to his father in 1875 but by 1878 had moved to 144 Finborough Road, London, to study at the RA Schools under R Phené Spiers, with, in the words of his fellow student Walter Millard, the object of making 'his own way in the world as quickly as possible', and found 'a market … for his powers as an able and hard working draughtsman'.

In 1881 he was taken into partnership by the much older Michael Prendergast Manning, a dissenting United Reform Church architect with an office at 6 Mitre Court Chambers, Temple, and while there he passed the qualifying exam. He was admitted ARIBA on 6 November of that year, his proposers being Spiers, Joseph Douglass Matthews and Thomas Henry Watson, with whom he may have found some employment while at the Schools. By that date he had travelled in France and Belgium.

In 1884 the partnership with Manning was dissolved and in 1887 Simpson formed another partnership with a fellow student at the RA Schools, Edmund John Milner Allen, who was slightly younger, born 1859 or 1860, and the son of the painter John Milner Allen. He had won the Schools' Silver Medal in 1880, and had been articled to William Warlow Gwyther 1876-80. Thereafter he had been assistant to Thomas William Cutler. The purpose of this partnership appears to have been to enter major competitions in which they had a fair degree of success, coming third in the Edinburgh Municipal Buildings Competition and first in that for the City Hospital in Liverpool, both in 1887, followed by firsts for the Victoria Institute, Worcester, 1890; Glasgow Art Gallery, 1891; and Manchester Royal Infirmary, 1896.

Milner Allen's health failed and he died in 1912. Some years prior to that event, in 1905, Simpson had taken into partnership Ormrod Maxwell Ayrton. It was an astute move: although Simpson's domestic work had become decent Arts and Crafts, it brought the practice's somewhat dated 1890s free baroque instantly up-to-date. Ayrton was born in 1874. His career had begun inauspiciously as an articled apprentice to Harry Beswick of Chester in 1890. He remained with him as an assistant until 1897 when he moved to London as assistant first to William Eden Nesfield's former chief clerk, Richard Creed, then William Alfred Pite and finally Edwin Landseer Lutyens from 1897 to 1899. These posts enabled him to study at the South Kensington Schools and pass the qualifying exam in 1903, his proposers being Simpson, Pite and Lacy William Ridge. He was briefly in independent practice from 1899 until he joined Simpson in 1905.

From 1905 onwards Ayrton was responsible for most of the design work, his best known work in these later years being the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924-25 which brought Simpson a knighthood. The exhibition put Ayrton in contact with its civil engineer Owen Williams, resulting in their subsequent collaboration on the design of Williams's Scottish bridges.

By the time Ayrton formed the practice Simpson had begun to become deeply involved in the work of the RIBA and in particular in its European contacts, having developed a wider interest in the architecture of the Renaissance 'and the byways of architectural history (especially in France)'; he encouraged and helped W H Ward to write 'The Architecture of the Renaissance in France' (1911) after the publisher, Batsford, found W J Anderson's text too incomplete. In 1904 Simpson became Honorary Secretary of the British section of the Permanent International Committee of Architects, a role in which he became Sir John Burnet's closest friend within the profession in London. As a result he became a corresponding member of the Institut (Académie des Beaux-Arts), The Société Centrale des Architectes, the Société des Architectes diplômés par le Gouvernement de France, the Central Vereinegung der Arckitekten, Vienna and the Sociedad Central de Arquitectos, Buenos Aires, and was one of the principal founders of the Franco British Union of Architects. In 1908-09 he was responsible for drawing up the code for international competitions, and in 1910 he became Secretary General of the RIBA Town Planning Conference and Exhibition in the RA galleries at Burlington House. Sir Raymond Unwin recalled his 'untiring energy' and 'unfailing courage in the face of difficulties' in 'trying to reduce to order material … which was coming in from all parts of the world, much of it late, and some having to be found and fetched from the docks'. Simpson was President of the RIBA 1919-21 and the prime mover of the Allied Societies Conference which took place during his presidency. He was Vice-President of the International Committee from 1927 until his death.

In 1928 the partnership of Simpson and Ayrton was dissolved. Although now seventy years old, Simpson did not retire, taking into partnership Frank W Knight and Henley Cornford.

Simpson became ill in the winter of 1932 and died in March 1933. H P Cart de Lafontaine described him as a man of 'unusual organising ability… To those who had penetrated the reserve which was often mistaken for aloofness, he was a delightful companion, with a subtle and penetrating mind, a kind heart and a sense of humour… He was one of the few British architects of our time to appreciate the value of keeping in touch with the ideas, aims and work of men in other lands.'

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 5Brighton, West Sussex, EnglandPrivateBefore 18751878 
Item 2 of 5144, Finborough Road, London, EnglandPrivate1878Before 1881 
Item 3 of 53, Lynwood Villas, London, EnglandPrivateBefore 1881  
Item 4 of 510 New Inn, Strand, London, EnglandBusinessBefore 1894After 1899with Edmund John Milner Allen
Item 5 of 53 Verulam Buildings, Gray's Inn, London, EnglandBusinessBefore 1900After 1926with Ormrod Maxwell Ayrton

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 Simpson1875Before 1878Apprentice 
Item 2 of 5Michael Prendergast Manning and John William Simpson18811884Partner 
Item 3 of 5Simpson & Allen1887Before 1912Partner 
Item 4 of 5Simpson & Ayrton19051928Partner 
Item 5 of 5John William Simpson, Frank W Knight and Henley Cornford19281932Partner 

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 2James PaxtonAfter 1887c. 1893Assistant 
Item 2 of 2John Watson (junior)19271929Senior Draughtsman 


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 6(Sir) William Emerson3 December 1900for Fellowship
Item 2 of 6Joseph Douglass Mathews6 November 1882for Associateship
Item 3 of 6Richard Phené Spiers6 November 1882for Associateship
Item 4 of 6Alfred Waterhouse3 December 1900for Fellowship
Item 5 of 6Thomas Henry Watson6 November 1882for Associateship
Item 6 of 6Aston Webb3 December 1900for Fellowship

RIBA Proposals

This architect proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 1Ormrod Maxwell Ayrton30 November 1903for Associateship

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 20 Depot for Messrs Pilkington of St Helens  LondonEnglandDate unknown
Item 2 of 20 Royal Sussex Regiment MemorialBrighton East SussexEnglandDate unknown
Item 3 of 20 West Down SchoolWinchester HampshireEnglandDate unknown
Item 4 of 201886Edinburgh Municipal Buildings  EdinburghScotlandThird premiated competition design - in collaboration with Edmund John Milner Allen, prior to partnership
Item 5 of 201887City Hospital  LiverpoolEnglandFirst premiated competition design
Item 6 of 201890Victoria InstituteWorcester WorcestershireEnglandWon competition and secured job
Item 7 of 201891Glasgow Art Gallery and MuseumKelvingrove GlasgowScotlandWon competition - appointed as architects in 1892
Item 8 of 201896Manchester Royal Infirmary: Piccadilly site  ManchesterEnglandWon competition
Item 9 of 201897Town Hall  CardiffWalesUnsuccessful competition design
Item 10 of 201898Roedean SchoolBrighton East SussexEnglandMain building, chapel, sanatorium, art school and library
Item 11 of 201899Cartwright Memorial HallBradford YorkshireEnglandWon design competition (£150 premium)
Item 12 of 201900Glasgow Royal Infirmary  GlasgowScotlandCompetition design - unplaced
Item 13 of 20c. 1902Onslow Ford MemorialSt John's Wood LondonEngland 
Item 14 of 201904 or 1905Victoria InstituteWorcester WorcestershireEnglandAlterations? - unclear whether under firm of Simpson & Allen or Simpson & Ayrton
Item 15 of 201905Haileybury College  HertfordshireEnglandAdditions - Form Rooms, Lodge and Big School (New Hall)
Item 16 of 201912Gresham's School ChapelHolt NorfolkEngland 
Item 17 of 201913Fields House, Gibbs' House and Masters' Tower at Lancing College  West SussexEnglandAdditions
Item 18 of 201924British Empire ExhibitionWembley LondonEnglandAided Simpson in organisation of project
Item 19 of 201925Findhorn BridgeTomatin Inverness-shireScotlandAs consulting architects
Item 20 of 201925Spey BridgeNewtonmore Inverness-shireScotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 2Gotch, J A1934The Growth and Work of the Royal Institute of British Architects 1834-1934 London: RIBABrief biography and portrait, on unnumbered pages in listing of RIBA presidents at back
Item 2 of 2Gray, A Stuart1985Edwardian Architecture: A Biographical Dictionary  p331

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 5Builder7 April 1933  Obituary
Item 2 of 5Builder14 April 1933  Obituary
Item 3 of 5RIBA Journal29 April 1933 London: Royal Institute of British Architectspp514-515 Obituary by Cart de Lafontaine, Frank W Knight, & Walter Millard
Item 4 of 5RIBA Journal13 May 1933 London: Royal Institute of British ArchitectsObituary by A Louvet p557
Item 5 of 5The Times1 April 1933  Obituary

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 1RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers A v9 p28; F v13 p114


© All rights reserved. © National Portrait Gallery, London 

© All rights reserved. © National Portrait Gallery, London

© All rights reserved. The Bailie Cartoon Supplement 20 April 1892 (Courtesy of Iain Paterson) 

© All rights reserved. The Bailie Cartoon Supplement 20 April 1892 (Courtesy of Iain Paterson)