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Basic Biographical Details

Name: (Sir) John Ninian Comper
Designation: Architect
Born: 10 June 1864
Died: 22 December 1960
Bio Notes: John Ninian Comper was born on 10 June 1864 in Aberdeen, the son of a High Churchman, the Rev John Comper and his wife Ellen Taylor. He did not use the name 'John', generally being referred to as either J Ninian Comper or simply Ninian Comper. Educated at Kingston College, Aberdeen, Glenalmond College, Perthshire and the Ruskin School, Oxford, at the age of eighteen he joined the studio of Charles Eamer Kempe, whose stained glass was to have a profound influence on him, although most of his time there was spent on church furnishing under William Tate. After some months he was articled to Bodley & Garner in London from 1883 and remained there until 1887: during that period he attended the South Kensington Schools and the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford.

In 1888 Comper commenced independent practice in partnership with William Bucknall (born 1851) who was thirteen years his senior. He became Comper's brother-in-law in 1894 when Comper married his sister Grace Bucknall. Comper's father's connections in Aberdeen brought him his earliest major commission, St Margaret's Convent Chapel, Aberdeen, 1891 followed some years later by major churches at St Margaret's Braemar and St Mary's Kirriemuir where his father had been Rector. These, together with his convent chapel at Malvern Link (1893) and the major church of St Cyprian, Clarence Gate, St Marylebone (1901-1903), were what he was later to describe as 'beauty by exclusion' i.e. the 14th century English Gothic of Bodley & Garner with some northern European and late Scots Gothic elements in the smaller details. From the beginning restoration, church furnishing, stained glass and ecclesiastical needlework were important aspects of his practice.

In 1896 Comper made an extended tour of the Rhineland and in 1900, against his own inclination, he accompanied his father on a first visit to Rome. This was followed by another in 1905, when he also toured southern Italy and Sicily mainly to see Early Christian churches. Further study tours to Greece and Spain followed in 1906 and 1910 respectively. These progressively resulted in a refined synthesis of classical and gothic motifs more evident in his English than Scottish churches, which he described as unity by inclusion. His tours also brought a changing perception of church planning, the altar being placed under a ciborium and brought closer to the congregation, an arrangement which can be seen in Scotland at St Andrews Cathedral, Aberdeen, a remodelling and extension of Archibald Simpson's church following the abandonment of his magnificent Scots Gothic scheme for a completely new American-financed Seabury Cathedral in the wake of the financial crash of 1929.

Comper's partnership with Bucknall was dissolved in 1904 as the latter had become addicted to alcohol. The separation was particularly difficult as Bucknall's nephew, Arthur Bucknall, was a particularly important member of the practice: it resulted in Comper suffering both from pneumonia and a nervous breakdown, his second visit to Rome and the tour of Southern Italy being planned to help him recuperate. Thereafter he practised with Arthur Bucknall as assistant until his son John B Sebastian Comper, a qualified architect, was old enough to take a senior role in the practice, but Sebastian Comper had to leave to set up his own practice in 1920.

Comper built no completely new churches after the Second World War. He was knighted in 1950 and continued working with the assistance of John Samuel Bucknall, mainly on stained glass, almost up to the time of his death in London on 22 December 1960. He was survived by his six children, his wife Grace having died in 1933. A major exhibition of Comper's work was held at the RIBA in 1988.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 4The Priory/67, Beulah Hill, Norwood, London, EnglandPrivate   
Item 2 of 46, Lloyd Street, London, EnglandBusiness1887  
Item 3 of 435, Old Queen's Street, Westminster, London, EnglandPrivate/business(?)c. 1908  
Item 4 of 4The Study/228, Knight's Hill, Norwood, London, EnglandPrivate/businessc. 19081944(bombed during the Second World War)

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 2Bodley & Garner18831887Apprentice 
Item 2 of 2Bucknall & Comper18881905Partner 


RIBA Proposals

This architect proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 1Anthony Charles Tripe3 December 1934for 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 61 Place of Tillyfour  AberdeenshireScotlandEntrance gates (date not known)
Item 2 of 611887St Margaret of Scotland's Episcopal ChurchGallowgate AberdeenScotlandUnexecuted proposal for entirely new church
Item 3 of 611889St Margaret of Scotland's Episcopal ChurchGallowgate AberdeenScotlandAddition of west chapel of St Nicholas
Item 4 of 611890s15, 17 SpitalSpital AberdeenScotlandAdapted for use as part of convent
Item 5 of 611891St Margaret of Scotland's Chapel and ConventOld Aberdeen AberdeenScotlandPlans approved; only chapel and one bay of convent completed. Also provided designs for glass.
Item 6 of 611892All Saints Episcopal Church  EdinburghScotlandTwo windows
Item 7 of 611893Holy Trinity Episcopal ChurchPitlochry PerthshireScotlandReredos
Item 8 of 611895St Drostan's Episcopal ChurchOld Deer AberdeenshireScotlandReredos. Transeptal organ loft and large chancel
Item 9 of 611896St Drostan's Episcopal ChurchOld Deer AberdeenshireScotlandChancel enlarged in memory of Dean Rankin. Also transeptal organ loft.
Item 10 of 611898All Saints Episcopal Church, WhiterashesWhiterashes AberdeenScotlandChancel remodelled, reredos, stalls. lectern
Item 11 of 611898All Saints Episcopal Church, WhiterashesWhiterashes AberdeenScotlandStained glass
Item 12 of 61Before 1898Church of St John the Evangelist, New HinkseyOxford OxfordshireEngland 
Item 13 of 611899St Margaret's Episcopal ChapelBraemar AberdeenshireScotlandLady chapel added
Item 14 of 611899St Margaret's Episcopal ChurchBraemar AberdeenshireScotlandAlso provided designs for glass.
Item 15 of 61Before 1900Baxter Incorporation Granary  EdinburghScotlandConversion to Cathedral Mission - 'very early effort'
Item 16 of 611901All Saints Episcopal Church, WhiterashesWhiterashes AberdeenScotlandNave remodelled; bellcote and porch.
Item 17 of 611901St Margaret's Episcopal ChurchForgue AberdeenshireScotlandTwo windows
Item 18 of 611901St Peter's Cemetery, Calvary monument to Rev. John ComperOld Aberdeen AberdeenshireScotland 
Item 19 of 611903Duntreath CastleStrathblane StirlingshireScotlandStained glass
Item 20 of 611903St Cyprian's ChurchClarence Gate LondonEngland 
Item 21 of 611903St Mary's Episcopal Church, KirktonhillKirriemuir AngusScotland 
Item 22 of 611904St Margaret's Episcopal ChurchBraemar AberdeenshireScotlandRood screen (designed 1904, executed 1919-22)
Item 23 of 611904St Mary's ChurchWellingborough NorthamptonshireEngland 
Item 24 of 611904St Michael's and All Angels Episcopal ChurchInverness Inverness-shireScotlandMay have made design for new church 1904 (see Glendinning)
Item 25 of 611905Home of Charity of Aberdeen SistersLerwickMainlandShetlandScotlandAltar, riddels, candlesticks and glass
Item 26 of 611905St Michael's and All Angels Episcopal ChurchInverness Inverness-shireScotlandFont cover
Item 27 of 611906Applegarth Churchyard, memorials to Jardine familyApplegarth DumfriesshireScotlandGrave cross
Item 28 of 611906St James' Episcopal ChurchStonehaven KincardineshireScotlandGlass in Baptistery
Item 29 of 611906St Mary's Episcopal Church, KirktonhillKirriemuir AngusScotlandOrgan case
Item 30 of 611908St Barnabas ChurchManor Park LondonEngland 
Item 31 of 611908St Margaret of Scotland's Episcopal ChurchGallowgate AberdeenScotlandAddition of Founder's Aisle (south aisle) and oak screen (chapel of the Holy Name)
Item 32 of 611912St James the Less Episcopal ChurchPenicuik MidlothianScotlandStained glass
Item 33 of 611913St Columba's Episcopal ChurchNairn NairnshireScotlandStained glass (including chancel window)
Item 34 of 61c. 1913Coates Hall  EdinburghScotlandStained glass window in chapel
Item 35 of 611918St Columba's Episcopal Church and rectoryCrieff PerthshireScotlandBishop's chair
Item 36 of 611918St James the Less Episcopal ChurchPenicuik MidlothianScotlandFurther stained glass
Item 37 of 611919All Saints Episcopal ChurchLockerbie DumfriesshireScotlandWindow in south wall
Item 38 of 611919Applegarth Churchyard, memorials to Jardine familyApplegarth DumfriesshireScotlandMemorial to Dorothy Jardine
Item 39 of 611919St Adamnan's Episcopal ChurchDuror ArgyllScotlandNorth window
Item 40 of 611919St Mary's Episcopal Church, KirktonhillKirriemuir AngusScotlandStained glass
Item 41 of 611919St Mary's Episcopal Church, Kirktonhill, gravestone to Mrs L A E Raymond PhilipKirriemuir AngusScotland 
Item 42 of 611919St Paul's Church  DundeeScotlandWar memorial
Item 43 of 611919The Den, memorial to Sydney WilkieKirriemuir AngusScotlandProposals
Item 44 of 611922St Clement's Episcopal Church  AberdeenScotlandUnexecuted designs for church and hall
Item 45 of 611922St Ninian's Episcopal CathedralPerth PerthshireScotlandRood screen, vestments, banners, processional crosses, Bishop's crozier, chalices, and altar furniture, font cover
Item 46 of 611922Trinity College Glenalmond, ChapelGlenalmond PerthshireScotlandWar memorial, reredos and panelling (dado) in chancel
Item 47 of 611923National War memorial  CardiffWales 
Item 48 of 611925Applegarth Churchyard, memorials to Jardine familyApplegarth DumfriesshireScotlandFurther memorials
Item 49 of 611925St Andrew and St George Episcopal ChurchRosyth FifeScotlandBuilt of concrete with stone details, in collaboration with W A Forsyth; nave remained unbuilt
Item 50 of 611926St Mary's Episcopal Church, Kirktonhill, gravestone to Jane Kydd DuncanKirriemuir AngusScotland 
Item 51 of 611927All Saints Episcopal ChurchLockerbie DumfriesshireScotlandAltarpiece
Item 52 of 611927St Michael's and All Angels Episcopal ChurchInverness Inverness-shireScotlandHigh altar
Item 53 of 611928Seabury Memorial Episcopal Cathedral  AberdeenScotlandProposed plans
Item 54 of 611929St John the Baptist Episcopal ChurchRothiemurchus Inverness-shireScotland 
Item 55 of 611930St Mary's Episcopal ChurchInverurie AberdeenshireScotlandWindows in south wall
Item 56 of 611930St Ninian's Episcopal CathedralPerth PerthshireScotlandMemorial to Robert Morison Pullar.
Item 57 of 611931St Regulus Episcopal ChurchCromarty Ross and CromartyScotlandMemorial stone and window to Rev A Chadwick
Item 58 of 611934St Andrew's Episcopal Church  AberdeenScotlandEnlarged and entirely redecorated, including new ciborium. Had drawn up plans for new cathedral to be built with American money in Broad Street, but eventually remodelled Archibald Simpson's church to become cathedral
Item 59 of 611935St John's Episcopal Church  AberdeenScotlandReredos, hangings, candlesticks and carpet
Item 60 of 611938Trinity College GlenalmondGlenalmond PerthshireScotlandNeish Memorial
Item 61 of 611957St Regulus Episcopal ChurchCromarty Ross and CromartyScotlandFurther window


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 16Anson, Peter1950Sir Ninian Comper: a pioneer architect of the modern liturgical revivalXIVTrans Scot Eccles Society, pp7-16 
Item 2 of 16Anson, Peter F1937The work of Sir Ninian Comper: a pioneer of the modern liturgical revivalno 27Pax, pp177-184 
Item 3 of 16Betjeman, John1939A note on J N Comper, heir to Butterfield & Bodley Architectural Review, vol 85, pp 70-82 
Item 4 of 16British Architectural Library, RIBA2001Directory of British Architects 1834-1914  For full bibliography.
Item 5 of 16Cornforth, John1988Last Master of the GothicCLXXXIICountry Life, 14 January 1988, pp 65-6 
Item 6 of 16DNB Dictionary of National Biography  New edition
Item 7 of 16Gray, A Stuart1985Edwardian Architecture: A Biographical Dictionary   
Item 8 of 16Grove Dictionary of Art Grove Dictionary of Art   
Item 9 of 16Hammond, Peter1960Liturgy and architecture   
Item 10 of 16Irvine, G1957Portrait: Sir Ninian ComperAprilChurch Observer 
Item 11 of 16Symondson, A (ed)1988The Life and Work of Sir Ninian Comper (1864-1960): The Last Gothic Revivalist RIBA catalogue, London: RIBA 
Item 12 of 16Symondson, Anthony John Betjeman and the cult of J N Comperno 7Thirties Society Journal, pp2-13 
Item 13 of 16Symondson, Anthony and Bucknall, Stephen2006Sir Ninian Comper: An introduction to his life and work with complete gazetteer Reading: Spire Books and the Ecclesiological Society 
Item 14 of 16Symondson, Anthony, SJ1998Unity by inclusion: Sir Ninian Comper and the planning of a Modern Churchno 3Twentieth Century Architecture: The Journal of the Twentieth Century Society, pp 17-42 
Item 15 of 16Tocher, Francis E The Scottish Episcopal Churches in the Aberdeen Diocese by Sir John Ninian Comper Robert Gordon University post-graduate dissertation 
Item 16 of 16Who's Who1950    

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 4Architectural Review1939no85 (Jan-June) pp79-82 Article by John Betjeman
Item 2 of 4Builder1961200 p22, Obituary
Item 3 of 4RIBA JournalFebruary 1961 London: Royal Institute of British Architectsp145 - obituary
Item 4 of 4The Times23 December 1960  Obituary


© All rights reserved.  National Portrait Gallery, London 

© All rights reserved. National Portrait Gallery, London