Basic Biographical Details

Name: John Alexander Carfrae
Designation: Architect
Born: 1868
Died: 11 July 1947
Bio Notes: John Alexander Carfrae was born in 1868 and was educated at James Gillespie's School. In December 1881 he was articled to Robert Wilson, architect to the Edinburgh School Board. He remained with him as assistant until February 1889, concurrently attending classes at Edinburgh School of Art and Heriot-Watt College. On leaving Wilson's office he moved to London as assistant to Arthur Cawston, transferring to HM Office of Works under Henry Tanner in the following year. During this time he was a boarder in Battersea and attended Northcote Road Baptist Church for which he drew up plans for alterations to the dais area. He returned to Edinburgh to work in Sydney Mitchell and Wilson's practice in June 1892. Six months later he returned to Robert Wilson's practice as principal assistant, taking over most of the design work. A partnership with Alexander Hunter Crawford may have been considered as in 1897 they submitted a joint design in the competition for Denton Holme School, Carlisle in which they were placed fifth, the assessor being Edward Robert Robson. In the event, Crawford went into partnership with Rowand Anderson and Frank Worthington Simon and when Wilson died in 1901, Carfrae inherited his office and his position as architect to the Edinburgh School Board. He was admitted LRIBA on 27 February 1911, his proposers being Hunter Crawford, John Campbell Turner Murray and James Andrew Minty. His travels up to that point had taken him to Belgium, Holland and France, and around the cathedral cities of Britain.

Carfrae was one of the most brilliant architects of his generation although much of his work was constrained by standard board school formats. Whether Wilson allowed him to design anything as a senior assistant prior to his departure in 1889 is uncertain but it is tempting to see his hand in the fine tall Queen Anne style school at Sciennes, built in that year. After his return from London his mastery of Queen Anne and neo-Jacobean can be seen to develop rapidly notably at Bruntsfield School (1893) Broughton Road School (1897) and North Canongate School (1897); Flora Stevenson School, Comely Bank (1899-1900), refined free Queen Anne and neo-Georgian commemorates John JamesStevenson's formidable sister, a prominent member of the Edinburgh School Board who may have had some influence on the London-inspired Queen Anne aesthetic of the school built in those years.

Carfrae's full power as a designer was first seen at the first Boroughmuir School a brilliant polychrome free Renaissance design comparable with the best London work of the same date. Although no reference to him travelling there has been found, Drummond Street and Preston Street have a marked North European/Scandinavian character, the former with detail of exceptional refinement.

Carfrae's later schools are of mixed quality, evidently as a result of overstretched School Board finances in the period 1910-15. King's Park at St Leonards was a brilliant towered Scots Renaissance design built of stone because of its commanding site overlooking Holyrood Park, Tollcross was also in stone and an exceptionally handsome symmetrical Renaissance design but the second Boroughmuir, of harled brick with stone dressings, was the most brilliant of them all, in composition and detail a challenge to Sir John James Burnet. By contrast, Bellevue and Tynecastle were painfully cheap and starved with brick and synthetic stone dressings. Whether such economies had any bearing on Carfrae's pioneer and quite unparalleled conservation exercises at Cannonball House and Duncan Street is not yet known but they were to remain unique until Kininmonth's restoration of Bruntsfield House for James Gillespie's School in 1962.

Carfrae lost his practice as a result of the local government changes in 1918-20 although the City Architect, Ebenezer James MacRae, entrusted him with the building of Balgreen and Stenhouse Schools in 1929. He retired completely in 1939 and died on 11 July 1947, leaving estate of £36,547 12s 6d. MacRae wrote of Carfrae that 'while his planning was the result of a wide knowledge of educational requirements, he was never satisfied with the routine treatment of earlier days and his schools have an individuality and freshness of design, some like James Gillespie's Girls [the first Boroughmuir] and King's Park, on splendid sites, being completely outstanding in treatment…In spite of never robust health, his output of work was amazing…[he] was a fine draughtsman and a good watercolourist. He was quiet and retiring and of a singularly gracious nature'.

He was married to Augusta Wilkes Henderson and had two sons.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 524, Lavender Gardens, Battersea, London, EnglandPrivate1891 Carfrae was a boarder at this address in 1891 when he was working for H M Office of Works.
Item 2 of 53, Queen Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness18971937With Robert Wilson until 1901
Item 3 of 59, Hope Park Terrace, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate1903 *  
Item 4 of 526, Forbes Road, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate19041905 
Item 5 of 53, South Gillsland Road, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate19071947 

* earliest date known from documented sources.


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 7Edinburgh School Board Architects Department  Chief Architect 
Item 2 of 7Robert WilsonDecember 1881December 1885Apprentice 
Item 3 of 7Robert WilsonDecember 1885February 1889Assistant 
Item 4 of 7Arthur CawstonFebruary 1889October 1890Assistant 
Item 5 of 7H M Office of Works (later Ministry of Works, Department of the Environment and Property Services Agency)October 1890June 1892AssistantIn London office
Item 6 of 7Sydney Mitchell & WilsonJune 1892January 1893Assistant 
Item 7 of 7Robert WilsonJanuary 18931 July 1901Principal Assistant 

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 10William Henry Johnson (junior)18991900Assistantin the office of Robert Wilson, School Board Architect
Item 2 of 10Alexander Murray Hardie18991901AssistantIn office of Robert Wilson
Item 3 of 10Victor James de Spiganovicz1 July 1901Early 1908Assistant 
Item 4 of 10John Thomas GalletlyAfter 19011904Principal Assistant 
Item 5 of 10James GrayMid 1901Mid 1901AssistantSix weeks only - presumably during summer?
Item 6 of 10John Stuart Syme19021904Chief AssistantIn Edinburgh School Board Architect's Office
Item 7 of 10Robert BlythJune 1923November 1924Assistant 
Item 8 of 10James Meldrum MitchellAugust 1926November 1927  
Item 9 of 10Stanley White Edgar19321933Junior Assistant 
Item 10 of 10John Okell19351936Assistant(?) 

RIBA

RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 3Alexander Hunter Crawford27 February 1911for Licentiateship
Item 2 of 3James Andrew Minty27 February 1911for Licentiateship
Item 3 of 3John Campbell Turner Murray27 February 1911for Licentiateship

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 67After 1887Edinburgh Industrial Ragged SchoolLiberton EdinburghScotlandAdditions. Carfrae as School Board architect
Item 2 of 67February 1889St Philip's ChurchStepney LondonEnglandAs assistant
Item 3 of 67c. 1889Marden ParkWoldingham SurreyEnglandAs assistant
Item 4 of 67After 1890Abingdon Post OfficeAbingdon BerkshireEnglandAs assistant
Item 5 of 67After 1890County CourtOldham LancashireEnglandAs assistant
Item 6 of 67After 1890General Post Office Building, Newgate Street  LondonEnglandAs assistant - extension
Item 7 of 67December 1891Northcote Road Baptist Church  LondonEnglandAlterations to the dais area
Item 8 of 671893Bruntsfield Public School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office
Item 9 of 671893Roseburn School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office
Item 10 of 671894Brechin Police BuildingBrechin AngusScotlandDesign exhibited. Carfrae in private practice (1892-1901)
Item 11 of 671894Leith Walk School and lodge  EdinburghScotlandEnlargement (Carfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office)
Item 12 of 671894Niddrie Mains SchoolNiddrie Mains EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office
Item 13 of 671894Regent Road SchoolAbbeyhill EdinburghScotlandAdditions. Carfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office
Item 14 of 671895Preston Street School  EdinburghScotlandLargely responsible, as assistant to Robert Wilson
Item 15 of 671896Castlehill School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office.
Item 16 of 671896Morrison and Gibbs's Printing WorksTanfield EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office
Item 17 of 67189718-20 Inverleith PlaceInverleith EdinburghScotlandCarfrae in private practice (1892-1901) - architect commissioned by Sutherland & Sons
Item 18 of 671897Broughton Higher Grade School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office and latterly on own account as School Board Architect
Item 19 of 671897Denton Holme SchoolCarlisle CumberlandEnglandCompetition design, in collaboration with A Hunter Crawford - placed fifth (design submitted by Carfrae whilst in Robert Wilson's office)
Item 20 of 671897North Berwick High SchoolNorth Berwick East LothianScotlandCarfrae mainly responsible as chief assistant in Robert Wilson's office
Item 21 of 671897Shops and houses  EdinburghScotlandDesign exhibited. Carfrae in private practice (1892-1901)
Item 22 of 671898Central Public SchoolLerwickMainlandShetlandScotlandCompetition design (not suuccessful). Carfrae in independent practice.
Item 23 of 671898Tenterfield House home for girlsHaddington East LothianScotlandAdditions?
Item 24 of 671899Flora Stevenson's SchoolComely Bank EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office; took over project on Wilson's death in 1901
Item 25 of 671900North Canongate School  EdinburghScotlandEnlargement - Carfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office
Item 26 of 671901Ashley Terrace School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as chief assistant in Robert Wilson's office, and on own account as School Board Architect after Wilson's death
Item 27 of 671901Craiglockhart SchoolCraiglockhart EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as chief assistant in Wilson's office completed work on Wilson's death
Item 28 of 671901Peebles High SchoolPeebles PeeblesshireScotlandInitially assisting Robert Wilson; latterly on own account as School Board Architect
Item 29 of 67After 1901Premises for T C and E C Jack  EdinburghScotland 
Item 30 of 671902Boroughmuir Higher Grade School (1st school)  EdinburghScotlandAs School Board Architect
Item 31 of 671902Broughton Higher Grade School  EdinburghScotlandAddition to McDonald Road - as School Board Architect
Item 32 of 671902Juniper Green SchoolJuniper Green EdinburghScotlandAddition
Item 33 of 671903Albion Road School  EdinburghScotlandAs School Board architect
Item 34 of 671903Leith Walk School and lodge  EdinburghScotlandEnlargements - Carfrae as School Board architect
Item 35 of 671903National Bible Society of Scotland premises  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae in private practice
Item 36 of 671903Upper Gilmore Place School  EdinburghScotland 
Item 37 of 67c. 1904Moray House  EdinburghScotlandFree Church Normal Laboratory
Item 38 of 671905Drummond Street School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as School Board architect
Item 39 of 671905Grange Publishing Works  EdinburghScotlandAddition - Carfrae in private practice
Item 40 of 671906Aged Christian Friendly Society CottagesColinton EdinburghScotlandCarfrae in private practice
Item 41 of 671906Towerbank SchoolPortobello EdinburghScotlandAddition. Carfrae as School Board architect
Item 42 of 67Before 1906Juniper Green SchoolJuniper Green EdinburghScotland 
Item 43 of 67c. 1907IerneNorth Queensferry FifeScotlandCarfrae in private practice
Item 44 of 671908Oban High SchoolOban ArgyllScotlandAlterations. Carfrae as School Board architect
Item 45 of 671909Knox AcademyHaddington East LothianScotlandAddition of new wing. Carfrae as School Board architect
Item 46 of 671910Dirleton SchoolDirleton East LothianScotlandCarfrae as School Board architect
Item 47 of 671910Duncan Street Special School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as School Board architect
Item 48 of 671910London Street School  EdinburghScotlandAdditions to rear. Carfrae as School Board architect
Item 49 of 671911Bellevue School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as School Board architect
Item 50 of 671911Boroughmuir School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as School Board architect
Item 51 of 671911Templedean HouseHaddington East LothianScotlandAdditions - Carfrae in private practice
Item 52 of 671911Tollcross School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as School Board architect
Item 53 of 671911Tynecastle Supplementary School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as School Board architect
Item 54 of 671912Bonaly SchoolBonaly EdinburghScotlandAdditions
Item 55 of 671912CarmendeanHaddington East LothianScotland 
Item 56 of 67c. 1912Newton School  East LothianScotlandCarfrae as School Board architect
Item 57 of 671913Cannonball House  EdinburghScotlandReconstruction as part of Castlehill School. Carfrae as School Board Architect
Item 58 of 671913King's Park School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae as School Board architect
Item 59 of 671915Tenterfield House home for girlsHaddington East LothianScotlandSchool within grounds of house added. Carfrae may also have designed another separate schoolroom in the grounds in 1912.
Item 60 of 671920George Watson's School, War Memorial  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae in independent practice.
Item 61 of 671920Portobello Old Parish ChurchPortobello EdinburghScotlandAlterations, repositioning of organ. Carfrae in independent practice.
Item 62 of 6719256 St Margaret's Road  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae in independent practice
Item 63 of 671926Hawick Higher Grade SchoolHawick RoxburghshireScotlandCarfrae in independent practice
Item 64 of 671928Henderson Technical SchoolHawick RoxburghshireScotland 
Item 65 of 671929Stenhouse Primary School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae in independent practice.
Item 66 of 67c. 1929Balgreen School  EdinburghScotlandCarfrae in independent practice.
Item 67 of 671930Bellevue School  EdinburghScotlandAdditions, including gym

References

Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
 Author(s)DateTitlePartPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 2Post Office Directories     
Item 2 of 2Who's Who in Architecture1914    

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 2RIBA JournalFebruary 1948 London: Royal Institute of British ArchitectsObituary p176 (by Ebenezeer Macrae)
Item 2 of 2Scotsman12 July 1947  Death notice p8

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 L v10 no564 (microfilm reel 32)