Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||John Begg |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||20 September 1866 |
|Died: ||23 February 1937 |
|Bio Notes: ||John Begg was born at Bo'ness on 20 September 1866, the third son of John Begg, JP and ironmaster there. He claimed descent from the family of Robert Burns. Begg was educated at Edinburgh Academy from 1879 to 1883. He was articled to Hippolyte Jean Blanc from 1884 to 1889 and studied at Heriot-Watt and the Edinburgh School of Design. From there he gained a place in the offices of Alfred Waterhouse. He then became chief assistant to Sir Robert Edis (1891-95) at £3 per week and in the same capacity to Young & Hall (1895). While in London he studied at both the Architectural Association and The Royal Academy Schools (1890-92) and was President of the Architectural Association in 1896. There he won the Pugin Studentship in 1890 (as a result of which he spent time travelling in Northamptonshire), the Ashpitel Prize in 1891, was runner-up for the Soane Medallion in 1892. He was elected ARIBA on 8 June 1891 on passing the qualifying exam, his proposers being Alfred Waterhouse, John Macvicar Anderson and Richard Phené Spiers, head of the RA Schools, and was awarded RIBA's silver medal (essay) in 1894. |
In his London years Begg became acquainted with Lorimer who commissioned presentation drawings from him, being the best draughtsman he knew, but the link with Lorimer was broken in 1896 when Begg was appointed architect to the Real Estate Corporation of South Africa; this appointment ended with the Boer unrest in 1899 and between that year and 1901 Begg was back in Edinburgh working for Lorimer at 2 shillings and sixpence an hour while his chief assistant J F Matthew was soldiering for 15 months in South Africa having been called up as a volunteer ('not a paying business … however it's a blessing to get hold of a chap that's any use').
In 1901 Begg was appointed consulting architect to the Government of Bombay where he became a J P and Presiding Magistrate in 1904, and appointed George Wittet of Elgin as his depute; and in 1907 he was appointed Consulting Architect to the Government of India in succession to James Ransome, who had broken the monopoly of the Royal Engineers and the Public Works engineers who trained for Indian Service at Cooper's Hill.
Begg was proficient in a variety of styles, some Indo-Saracenic in the late Victorian tradition of British India and some reflecting contemporary British architecture, particularly that of Lutyens. But admiration for Lutyens' architecture did not deter Begg from intriguing against the New Delhi Town Planning Committee appointed by Lord Hardinge as viceroy in March 1912 and against Lutyens and Lanchester in particular. Not unreasonably he set out the difficulties of engaging 'home architects' within the Indian Public Works system but was not given the role he requested as the Government of India took the view that he was already fully occupied. His disaffection resulted in him providing confidential material and reports of rumours to his brother-in-law, a parliamentary reporter, who in turn fed them to Joseph King, Liberal MP for Somerset North, who conducted a well-informed Commons campaign throughout 1912, culminating in a wide-ranging attack on the project on 20 December. Although he had been given a major role in the competition for the New Delhi secretariat, Hardinge excluded Begg from all further knowledge of the project in March 1913; a report in which Begg advocated an Indo-Saracenic idiom for New Delhi did not help matters.
Begg survived the events of 1912-13 when a lesser architect might have been asked to resign. But no honours came his way when his term of office in India ended in 1921. He returned to private practice in Edinburgh, briefly at 60 Castle Street and later at 23 Rutland Square, forming a partnership with Alexander Lorne Campbell whose previous partnership with John Nichol Scott had ended ion 1920 and in 1922 he became head of the architectural section of Edinburgh College of Art. In 1924 he suffered a critical RIBA report on the teaching at the School in 1924 and brought in Charles Denny Carus-Wilson. He held the post of Head of Architecture until his retirement in 1933; he was known to his students there as 'Old John'. He was also prominent in the affairs of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, overseeing the conversion of the house Rowand Anderson had bequeathed it at 15 Rutland Square and becoming its President in 1932, having previously served as President of the Edinburgh Architectural Association. Although his reputation was widley respected, his Scottish commissions were few.
Begg, who was known to his friends as Jack, died in Edinburgh on 23 February 1937 and was buried at Grange Cemetery. He had been predeceased by his wife, who had burned to death in a house from which firemen were unable to rescue her. They had two sons, one of whom, Kenneth Andrew Begg (born 1903), was also an architect (see separate entry).
Begg, John: 'Architecture in India'
Begg, John and Sanderson, Gordon: 'Types of modern buildings at Delhi, Agra,
Allahabad, Lucknow, Ajmer, Bhopad, Bikanir, Gwalior, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipor, with notes on the craftsmen employed on their design and execution, Allahabad', 1913
Begg, John: Annual reports on architectural work in India for the years 1906-1907, 1907-1908, 1908-1909, 1909-1910, 1910-1911, 1911-1912, 1912-1913, 1913-1914, 1914-1915, 1915-1916, Calcutta, Superintendent Government Printing India.
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|47, Bernard Street, Russell Square, London, England||Private||1891 *|| || |
|The Dell, Nepean Road, Malabar Hill, Bombay, India||Private||1901 *|| || |
|60, Castle Street, Edinburgh, Scotland||Business||1921||1924||Office of Begg & Lorne Campbell|
|94, Inverleith Place, Edinburgh, Scotland||Private||1921||1937||Acquired from his elder brother for whom he had built it c.1895|
|23, Rutland Square, Edinburgh, Scotland||Business||1925||1937|| |
* earliest date known from documented sources.
Employment and Training
Employees or Pupils
|The following individuals were employed or trained by this architect (click on an item to view details):|
| ||Name||Date from||Date to||Position||Notes|
|George Wittet||1904||1907||Assistant||In the Public Works Secretariat, Bombay|
|Thomas Oliphant Foster||Before 1914|| ||Assistant||Assistant Consulting Architect to the Government of India underJohn Begg|
|Archibald James Baxter||1927||1933||Chief Assistant|| |
|William Gordon Dey||1935||1935||Assistant||Occasional assistant|
Buildings and Designs
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|Begg, John||1900||Architecture in Transvaal|| ||RIBA Journal 3rd series 7 of 3 Jan pp. 81-6 |
|Davies, Philip|| ||Splendours of the Raj: British architecture in India 1660-1947|| || || |
|Grove Dictionary of Art|| ||Grove Dictionary of Art|| || ||Davies, Philip: sv Begg|
|Irving, Robert Grant||1981||Indian summer: Lutyens Baker and Imperial Delhi|| || || |
|Placzek, Adolf K (ed)||1982||Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects|| ||New York: The Free Press/Macmillan Publishing Company||Stamp, Gavin: sv: Begg|
|Post Office Directories|| || || || || |
|Rand Afrikaans University (Department of Art History) ||1979||Survey of historical buildings in Johannesburg. 1st report Parktown 1975|| || || |
|Stamp, Gavin||1981||British architecture in India 1857-1947|| ||Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, cxxix (1981) pp358-79|| |
|The Edinburgh Academy Register||1914|| || || || |
|Wall, Gerhard Mark van der||1984||Die boukuns van Johannesburg, 1886 – 1940 [The architecture of Johannesburg, 1886 – 1940].|| ||DLitt thesis, Rand Afrikaans University [Now University of Johannesburg].|| |
|Writers to the Signet||1890||History of Writers to the Signet|| || || |
|www.artefacts.co.za|| ||www.artefacts.co.za|| ||Website of artefacts, for the recording of South African buildings||Accessed September 2011|
|The following periodicals contain references to this architect:|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|RIAS Quarterly||1933||Autumn||Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)|| |
|RIBA Journal||29 May 1920|| ||London: Royal Institute of British Architects||p 333 Article by John Begg 'Architecture in India'|
|RIBA Journal||6 March 1937||v44||London: Royal Institute of British Architects||Obituary p466|
|RIBA Journal||20 March 1937||v44||London: Royal Institute of British Architects||Memoirs of Begg by Stephen Wilkinson and Alexander Paterson, p519|
|The Times||26 February 1937|| || ||p18|
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|Professor David M Walker personal archive||Professor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material|| ||Personal information from letter from Esmé Gordon to D M Walker, 13 September 1989|
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum||RIBA Nomination Papers|| ||A v11 p84 (microfiche 48/F7); F v14 p7 no854 (microfilm reel 11)|
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