Basic Biographical Details

Name: A & G Thomson
Designation: Architectural practice
Started: 1857
Ended: 1873
Bio Notes: Alexander Thomson was born at Endrick Cottage, Balfron, on 9 April 1817, the seventeenth child of John Thomson and the ninth child of his second marriage to Elizabeth Cooper. John Thomson was the bookkeeper at Kirkman Finlay's cotton works there and had previously held a similar position at Carron Ironworks. Advancement with both firms was precluded by his strict Burgher beliefs which were shared by his wife: she had come to Balfron with her brother, the Rev John Cooper. The family was educated at home, partly by Cooper, but John Thomson died in 1824 and the family had to move from Balfron to the outskirts of Glasgow. Elizabeth died in 1828, leaving the family in the care of her son William, a brilliant classical scholar who was briefly professor of humanity at the University of Glasgow.

In 1834 William Thomson moved to London as a missionary, leaving his brothers and sisters at his house at Hangingshaw. In the same year Alexander became a clerk in a Glasgow lawyer's office. There his drawing skills attracted the attention of a client, Robert Foote, who had inherited the large plasterer's business of David Foote & Son in 1827 and had commenced practice as an architect in 1830. Foote's architectural practice was small but in association with the decorative plasterwork side of his business he had amassed a magnificent library and a large collection of classical casts from which Thomson learned much in the two years he was articled to him. In 1836 a spinal complaint obliged Foote to withdraw from architectural practice and Thomson completed his articles with John Baird, remaining with him first as assistant and later as chief draughtsman when much of his time was spent on the unbuilt college on Woodlands Hill. In the early 1840s Thomson's younger brother George, born at Balfron on 26 May 1819 was also articled to Baird, after recovering from a respiratory complaint which had been thought to be consumption.

On 21 September 1847 Alexander Thomson married Jane Nicholson, daughter of the London architect Michaelangelo Nicholson and granddaughter of the architect-writer Peter Nicholson. It was a double wedding, her sister Jessie marrying another John Baird ('Secundus') who, although an architect, had no family or professional connection with the Thomsons' employer. Born in Ayr in November 1816, Baird was some five months older than Thomson. He had been articled first to James Watt and then to John Herbertson before finding a place in the office of David and James Hamilton where he was, very unusually, named in the Directory entry. After David Hamilton died in 1843 and his firm was sequestrated in 1844, Hamilton's son-in-law James Smith continued his practice and John Baird commenced practice on his own account. After the financial problems of the Hamilton and Smith businesses were resolved Smith and Baird merged their practices as Smith & Baird. Their partnership does not seem to have been a happy one and was dissolved in 1848 when Baird invited his brother-in-law to join him, the new partnership being entitled Baird & Thomson.

Within two years the Baird & Thomson partnership was extremely successful with a large clientele for medium-sized villas and terraces of cottages in Pollokshields, Shawlands, Crossmyloof, Cathcart, Langbank, Bothwell and Cove and Kilcreggan. At Cove and Kilcreggan they enjoyed the support of the builder, railway contractor and ironfounder John McElroy who commissioned Craig Ailey in 1850 and built a considerable number of other marine villas either speculatively or for clients. These early villas were generally either Gothic, sometimes with Pugin-derived details, or Italian Romanesque but a few, most notably Glen Eden at Cove, had very original elements which, as Gavin Stamp has shown, have their origins in the publications of the architectural historian and theorist James Fergusson.

In 1854 Thomson began designing in a picturesque asymmetrically composed pilastraded neo-Greek idiom which derived from Schinkel at Rockbank, Helensburgh and the Mossman studio on Cathedral Street. These were followed by the Scottish Exhibition Rooms in Bath Street which he and some architect friends built to provide a Scottish counterpart to the period courts in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. This decisive shift to the neo-Greek which would remain characteristic of him and by then had no counterpart either in Edinburgh or south of the Border was quickly followed by a change of partner. In 1856 the partnership of Baird & Thomson was amicably dissolved so that Thomson could form a separate practice with his brother George who may still have been in the office of John Baird Primus: the record is not absolutely clear. The new partnership quickly acquired influential contacts, notably the builder John McIntyre. Others were probably made through UP Church contacts.

In 1856-57 Thomson's architecture developed rapidly. The neo-Greek of Rockland achieved a much more sophisticated maturity in the Double Villa at Langside and his finest house, Holmwood at Cathcart. In the same years a more monumental but still asymmetrical Greek idiom was applied to church design at Caledonia Road UP, where both the lower façade and the tower were of Schinkelesque banded masonry. This banded treatment was extended into the adjoining tenement blocks for which he devised a repetitive bay design with pilastered first-floor aedicules and third-floor recesses containing anthemeon ornament. In the following year, 1857, this theme was further developed on a vast scale at Queens Park Terrace in which Thomson adopted his familiar device of linked Egyptian architraves set against a recessed wall plane and omitted the banded masonry. With subtle variations this formula was to remain a feature of his more upmarket tenements for the remainder of his career. The same motifs, now with a top-floor pilastrade, were to feature at Walmer Terrace and the first of his commercial blocks, 99-107 West Nile Street, both built in 1857.

In 1858 Alexander and George Thomson bought the Gordon Street UP Church in which they worshipped in order to build a showpiece warehouse with ground-floor shops - a fairly innovative concept at the time - in which the David Hamilton theme of interpenetrating pilastrades was developed into the same repetition of absolutely regular single-bay units, here much more complex in design, crowned by a deeply shadowed eaves gallery. It did indeed attract commissions for similar structures in which the same themes were further developed with an ever-increasing subtlety in which overlaid and superimposed pilastrades and dwarf eaves gallery colonnades varied the original formula. The Gordon Street development financed the Gordon Street congregation's new church in St Vincent Street, built in 1857-59, which again must have been intended as an advertisement for their services. Stylistically it marked a further advance drawing upon wider areas of antiquity than Caledonia Road, but in the event it attracted only one further church commission, that for Queen's Park Church, built in a similar but externally less ambitious idiom in 1868-69.

Thomson's widely recognised professional successes in the 1850s were clouded by a series of tragic events at home. In the early years of their marriage Alexander and Jane lived at 3 South Apsley Place in Laurieston. Agnes Elizabeth was born on 24 April 1849, Elizabeth Cooper on 31 January 1851 and Alexander John on 27 November 1852. But Laurieston, although then still a good address, proved vulnerable to the cholera epidemic of 1854 and on 14 March of that year Agnes Elizabeth died. Jane Nicholson, born 8 August 1854, died on 13 February 1855, George born 8 August 1855 survived only until 31 December 1856, and on 3 January 1857 Alexander John died leaving Elizabeth Cooper the only survivor from a family of five. Later in that year the Thomson household moved to Darnley Terrace, a recently completed development he had designed at Shawlands. There on 12 April Amelia was born, followed by Jessie Williamina on 10 April 1858 and the future architect son John on 20 June 1859. In 1861 the Thomsons moved again to Moray Place in Strathbungo, taking the northmost house in a two-storey terrace block built as a speculative venture in association with his measurer John Shields and the builder John McIntyre. Designed in 1859 it was predictably the finest and most original of his earlier terraces, the large end houses being advanced and pedimented with a giant order of pilasters. There Helen was born on 9 July 1861, Catherine Honeyman on 11 February 1863, and Michael Nicholson on 13 October 1864. Peter was born on 19 March 1866, but survived only sixteen days. The size of Alexander Thomson's family seems to have restricted travel. Family holidays were invariably spent in a rented house on Arran. His only recorded trip to London was in 1861 when he visited John James Stevenson, but he may well have made earlier visits. His knowledge of antiquity and of contemporary architecture seems to have been derived from a magnificent library and from the building journals, one of these being the 'British Architect', of which he was one of the founding shareholders in 1874.

In the 1860s the practice was notably prosperous, in large part as a result of the developments undertaken by the accountant Henry Leck, the cab hirer John Ewing Walker and the builder William Henderson who was the client at North Park Terrace (1863-66); 126-138 Sauchiehall Street (1864-66); 249-259 St Vincent Street (1865-67); Grecian Buildings, 252-270 Sauchiehall Street (1868-69); and Great Western Terrace (begun 1869). All of these were built with borrowed money and the practice must have suffered a notable drop in income when Henderson died in May 1870, his property being sequestrated in June. With the practice at a relatively low ebb George Thomson carried out his long-planned intention of becoming a missionary and emigrated to the Cameroons in the Spring of 1871, although he was to remain a partner until 1873.

By 1872 Thomson was in failing health because of asthma and bronchitis, and it was probably because of illness that in February of that year Henry Leck, hitherto a faithful client, commissioned first John Baird and then Peddie & Kinnear to design his building on Gordon Street, replacing an earlier Thomson scheme for a different site which had been stalled by the Caledonian Railway's proposals for Glasgow Central Station. In February 1874 Thomson took Robert Turnbull into a partnership which was backdated to October 1873, probably on account of services rendered since that date. Born in 1839, Turnbull was the son of William Turnbull, joiner and his wife Mary Deans and was more inspector of works than architect, engaged for the 'outdoor' side of the business as correspondence with the Thomson trustees in July 1876 makes clear. But through the family joinery business he did bring new clients in the Lenzie area, for which earlier Thomson villa designs were either reused or adapted. The immediate catalyst for this partnership may have been Thomson's commitment to the Haldane lectures, a series of four delivered in the Spring of 1874. These were a final statement of ideas developed in earlier lectures delivered from 1853 onwards, most of them to the Glasgow Architectural Society and the Glasgow Institute of Architects. These he had co-founded in 1858 and 1868 respectively: he was President of both, the Society in 1861 and the Institute from 1870 to 1872.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architectural practice:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 54, Bothwell Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness18571860 
Item 2 of 566 (or 68?), Gordon Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness18601861 
Item 3 of 5183, West George Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness18611872 
Item 4 of 5107, West Regent Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness18721873 
Item 5 of 5122, Wellington Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness18731873 

Employment and Training

Employees or Pupils

The following individuals were employed or trained by this architectural practice (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 4George Thomson18571872Partner 
Item 2 of 4Alexander Thomson18571873Partner 
Item 3 of 4Alexander Skirving1864c. 1869(?)ApprenticeRemained as Chief draughtsman
Item 4 of 4Alexander Skirvingc. 1869(?)Before 1873(?)Chief Draughtsman 

Buildings and Designs

This architectural practice 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 1041857Caledonia Road UP ChurchHutchesontown GlasgowScotlandCompleted church
Item 2 of 1041857(?)Design for a Picturesque Villa     
Item 3 of 1041857Garnkirk Warehouse  GlasgowScotlandNew shop front and possibly interior--now destroyed
Item 4 of 1041857Holmwood HouseCathcart GlasgowScotland 
Item 5 of 1041857Maria Villa, Langside HillLangside GlasgowScotlandBegun by Baird & Thomson; finished by A & G Thomson
Item 6 of 1041857Office Building with Shops, 99-107 West Nile Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 7 of 1041857(?)Queen's Park Terrace  GlasgowScotland 
Item 8 of 1041857St Vincent Street UP Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 9 of 104c. 1857Tenements on Turriff Street and Eglinton Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 10 of 104c. 1857Tenements, 1-18 Walmer CrescentCessnock GlasgowScotland 
Item 11 of 1041858A & G Thomson's Warehouse  GlasgowScotlandOriginal building
Item 12 of 1041858Tenements on Pollok Street, Houston Street and Watt StreetKingston GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented
Item 13 of 1041858Tenements on St George's Road and Shamrock Street  GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented and uncertain
Item 14 of 104c. 1858Glasgow Necropolis, Steel MonumentDennistoun GlasgowScotlandUndocumented--attribution by Worsdall
Item 15 of 104c. 1858St Mary's Free Church and Manse  EdinburghScotlandUnexecuted competition design
Item 16 of 104c. 1858Tenements, 211 Eglinton Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 17 of 104c. 1858UP Church and ManseHolm of Balfron StirlingshireScotland1858 plans were unexecuted, but possibly modified for executed church
Item 18 of 104c. 1858UP ManseBalfron StirlingshireScotland 
Item 19 of 1041859156 West George Street  GlasgowScotlandAdaption of lodging house as offices, probably unexecuted
Item 20 of 1041859Chalmers Memorial Free Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 21 of 1041859(?)Manchester Assize Courts  ManchesterEnglandPossibly submitted competition design - unplaced
Item 22 of 1041859Sir Robert Peel Statue  GlasgowScotlandPlinth
Item 23 of 1041859Tenements, West Bank TerraceHillhead GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented and uncertain
Item 24 of 104c. 1859Sighthill Cemetery, Provan Monument  GlasgowScotland 
Item 25 of 104c. 1859Terrace of houses, 1-10 Moray PlaceStrathbungo GlasgowScotland 
Item 26 of 1041860s(?)Baron's Point VillaCove DunbartonshireScotlandAttribution undocumented but probable
Item 27 of 1041860Cairney Building  GlasgowScotland 
Item 28 of 1041860Tenement with Shops, 26-44 Nithsdale StreetGorbals Cross GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented by likely
Item 29 of 104c. 1860Baron's HallCove DunbartonshireScotlandAttribution undocumented but probable
Item 30 of 104c. 1860Ferndean VillaCove DunbartonshireScotlandHouse and additions- undocumented but probable
Item 31 of 104c. 1860Regent Park Feuing PlanStrathbungo GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented but probable
Item 32 of 104c. 1860Tenement, 590-612 Eglinton Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 33 of 104c. 1860Tenements and Shops on Crown Street  GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented and unclear
Item 34 of 104c. 1861183 West George Street  GlasgowScotlandReconstruction: attribution on stylistic grounds
Item 35 of 1041862Albert MemorialKensington LondonEnglandUnexecuted design
Item 36 of 1041862James Lumsden Statue  GlasgowScotlandPossibly designed plinth
Item 37 of 1041862North Park Feuing Plan  GlasgowScotland 
Item 38 of 1041862Warehouse, 135-137 Argyle Street  GlasgowScotlandAdditions
Item 39 of 104After 1862(?)Grafton LodgeCove DunbartonshireScotlandAttribution undocumented but probable
Item 40 of 104c. 1862Eton TerraceHillhead GlasgowScotland 
Item 41 of 10418631-9 Northpark TerraceHillhead GlasgowScotland 
Item 42 of 1041863Buck's Head Buildings  GlasgowScotland 
Item 43 of 1041863Ferndean VillaCove DunbartonshireScotlandGates and boundary wall
Item 44 of 1041863Lilybank HouseHillhead GlasgowScotlandIncorporating house of c.1850
Item 45 of 1041863Offices, 160 West George Street  GlasgowScotlandAdditions
Item 46 of 104c. 1863Strang Monument  GlasgowScotlandUndocumented--attribution by Worsdall
Item 47 of 1041864A & G Thomson's Warehouse  GlasgowScotlandRebuilt to original design after fire
Item 48 of 1041864Block of Tenements with Shops, 126-138 Sauchiehall Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 49 of 1041864Headstone for Family of Reverend James ThomsonBalfron StirlingshireScotland 
Item 50 of 1041864Langside AcademyLangside GlasgowScotland 
Item 51 of 1041864Natural History MuseumSouth Kensington LondonEnglandUnsuccessful competition design
Item 52 of 1041864Terrace of houses, 11-17 Moray Place  GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented and uncertain
Item 53 of 1041864Warehouse and Shops, 3-11 Dunlop Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 54 of 104c. 1864Sunny OaksLangbank RenfrewshireScotlandNew art gallery or music room and lodge: attribution undocumented but APSD refers to Langbank
Item 55 of 1041865Block of Tenements on Scotland Street, Sleads Street and Stanley Street  GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented
Item 56 of 1041865Tenements with Shops, 249-259 St Vincent Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 57 of 104c. 1865Holmwood HouseCathcart GlasgowScotlandGardener's cottage and main gates
Item 58 of 10418671-11 Great Western Terrace  GlasgowScotlandBegan terrace
Item 59 of 1041867Grecian Buildings  GlasgowScotland 
Item 60 of 1041867McIntyre Monument, Cathcart Old Parish Cemetery  GlasgowScotland 
Item 61 of 1041867St Vincent Street UP Church  GlasgowScotlandHall completed
Item 62 of 104c. 1867Glasgow Necropolis, Beattie MonumentDennistoun GlasgowScotland 
Item 63 of 104c. 1867Glasgow Necropolis, Rev George Marshall Middleton MonumentDennistoun GlasgowScotland 
Item 64 of 1041868Arranview, CommonheadAirdrie LanarkshireScotlandAttributed
Item 65 of 1041868Queen's Park UP Church and Hall  GlasgowScotland 
Item 66 of 1041868Tenements with Glass Roofed Streets  GlasgowScotlandUnexecuted ideal scheme
Item 67 of 1041868Waverley Terrace  GlasgowScotlandStarted tenement
Item 68 of 104c. 1868Glasgow Necropolis, Inglis MonumentDennistoun GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented but probable
Item 69 of 1041869Blackie & Son Printing Works  GlasgowScotlandSouth part of main block - now demolished
Item 70 of 1041870Couper Monument, Cathcart Old Parish Cemetery  GlasgowScotlandAttribution now undocumented and unclear, but likely
Item 71 of 1041870Egyptian Halls  GlasgowScotland 
Item 72 of 1041870Loch Katrine Monument  GlasgowScotlandUnexecuted competition design
Item 73 of 1041870National Bank of Scotland, Argyle Street Branch  GlasgowScotlandAlterations to shop to form bank with new ground-floor frontage
Item 74 of 1041870(?)Westbourne Terrace  GlasgowScotlandStarted terrace
Item 75 of 104Before 1870Scottish Amicable Building  GlasgowScotlandNew doorcase and railings on first building at this site; demolished c.1870
Item 76 of 104c. 1870Tenement, 278-282 Cumberland Street  GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented but probable
Item 77 of 104c. 1870Tenements on Pleasance StreetShawlands GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented and uncertain
Item 78 of 104c. 1870Tenements, 303-321 Maryhill Road  GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented but probable
Item 79 of 104c. 1870Terrace of Houses, 680-701 Great Western Road  GlasgowScotlandStarted terrace--Attribution undocumented but probable
Item 80 of 104c. 1870Villa, 7 Dirleton AvenueShawlands GlasgowScotlandUndocumented attribution by McFazdean on stylistic grounds
Item 81 of 1041871Chalmers Memorial Free Church  GlasgowScotlandAddition of hall
Item 82 of 1041871Glasgow Necropolis, Malloch/Blyth MonumentDennistoun GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented and uncertain
Item 83 of 1041871Glenbank TerraceLenzie Dunbartonshire/LanarkshireScotlandFeued by Murdoch & Rodger, writers, who specified Thomson as architect: developed by Robert Turnbull; retained 4 houses in Glenbank Terrace
Item 84 of 1041871Mission Hall for Missionary Association of the Caledonia Road ChurchHutchesontown GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented and uncertain
Item 85 of 1041871Royal Insurance Buildings  GlasgowScotlandAlterations to street front, estimated to cost £700
Item 86 of 1041871Sighthill Cemetery, Muir Monument  GlasgowScotland 
Item 87 of 104c. 1871Block of Tenements with Shops, 126-138 Sauchiehall Street  GlasgowScotlandConversion to hotel
Item 88 of 104c. 1871CastlehillPollokshields GlasgowScotland 
Item 89 of 104c. 1871EllislandPollokshields GlasgowScotland 
Item 90 of 104c. 1871Tenements on Lorne Terrace  GlasgowScotland 
Item 91 of 1041872Cowcaddens Cross Buildings  GlasgowScotland 
Item 92 of 1041872Design for terrace of houses  GlasgowScotland 
Item 93 of 1041872Double Villa on Albert Road and Lethington Avenue  GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented and uncertain
Item 94 of 1041872Double Villa on Camphill AvenueLangside GlasgowScotland 
Item 95 of 1041872House, 105-107 West Regent Street  GlasgowScotlandExtension and alterations for commercial use
Item 96 of 1041872Royal Horse BazaarHillhead GlasgowScotland 
Item 97 of 1041872Scottish Exhibition Rooms  GlasgowScotlandConversion to coach house and stables
Item 98 of 1041872The Sixty Steps  GlasgowScotlandSome sources claim the steps and adjacent wall were designed by Greek Thomson. However more recent research inidcates that this is not the case and that the scheme was part of the larger engineering undertaking (with Queen Margaret Bridge) for John Ewing Walker.
Item 99 of 104c. 1872Egyptian Halls  GlasgowScotlandSix cast-iron lamp standards, cast by the saracen Foundry of Walter Macfarlane & Co, Glasgow - since removed
Item 100 of 104c. 1872Tenements on Govan Road and Carmichael Street  GlasgowScotlandAttribution undocumented but probable
Item 101 of 1041873Chalmers Memorial Free Church  GlasgowScotlandChurch enlarged
Item 102 of 1041873Tenement with Shops on King Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 103 of 104Before 1873Customs House  GlasgowScotlandInternal alterations
Item 104 of 104c. 1873Shore Road Bridge over Dowall BurnCove DunbartonshireScotland 

References

Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architectural practice:
 Author(s)DateTitlePartPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3APSD The Dictionary of Architectureed Wyatt PapworthThe Architectural Publication Society (8v 1852-1892) 
Item 2 of 3Grove Dictionary of Art Grove Dictionary of Art   
Item 3 of 3Stamp, Gavin (ed)1999The Light of Truth and Beauty: The Lectures of Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, Architect, 1817-75