Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Davidson Cairns
Designation: Architect
Born: 26 December 1866
Died: 25 November 1947
Bio Notes: James Davidson Cairns was born on 26 December 1866 and educated at George Watson's Boys' College. He served his apprenticeship from 1882, first in the office of Charles Stewart Still Johnston and then in the office of Robert Morham, who worked both in private practice and as architect to the City of Edinburgh. He attended the Edinburgh School of Art and on completion of his apprenticeship became a draughtsman in the office of Rowand Anderson, remaining there for four and a half years. He then moved to the office of Francis Edward Ward in Belfast for two years, finally becoming chief assistant to Hippolyte Jean Blanc where he remained for fourteen-and-a-half years and had full charge of the staff of 12 to 14 people. Having won the competition for Crail United Free Church, he commenced independent practice in 1908. He was admitted LRIBA in the mass intake of 20 July 1911, his proposers being James Bow Dunn and the Edinburgh Architectural Association; and was admitted FRIBA early in 1929, his proposers being James Alexander Arnott, John Begg and John Wilson.

In 1928 he took his then chief draughtsman James Fulton Ford into parnership, the firm becoming J D Cairns & Ford and from 1938 Arthur Bain Morrison entered the partnership.

Cairns designed a wide range of buildings including churches, hotels, restaurants, houses and schools. He was architect to the Peeblesshire Education Committee for many years (from 1914 he resided in Peebles) and the experience he gained from this led to his appointment as advisory architect to the Scottish Education Department from 1925, an appointment which he held until his resignation in 1944. He was concerned during this period with the improvement of planning in school buildings throughout Scotland. Later, when he was a member of the committee which undertook the preparation of the new School Building Regulations, his knowledge and experience was of great assistance. He acted as Assessor for the competitions for Greenock High School, Perth Academy and Alloa Public School.

Cairns was particularly interested in church architecture, and following the Church of Scotland (Property and Endowments) Act 1925 was appointed by the Church's General Trustees to report on the condition of the fabrics of the parish churches and manses within the presbytery of Peebles, subsequently supervising the consequent restoration work. In addition, as Architect to the Comiston and Colinton House Estates near Edinburgh and the Haystoun Estate in Peebles, he had control of the development of land in these areas.

Cairns made various study tours both in Britain - including every cathedral city in England - and on the Continent, travelling in Belgium, Holland, Germany, France and Italy.

He revised several textbooks for the International Correspondence Schools, including those for Specification Writing, Specification Memoranda, Stair Building and Joinery.

Cairns died on 25 November 1947, aged 81; he was then one of the oldest members of the Edinburgh Architectural Association, having joined prior to 1887. He had also been a Fellow of the RIAS since its inception. His was survived by his wife Sarah M McJerrow. He was a fine draughtsman and took great pleasure in working out in detail a complicated plan. His obituarist describes him as 'kindly, considerate and upright'.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 463, George Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness19091947Cairns & Ford from 1929/29
Item 2 of 460, Polwarth Terrace, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate1911  
Item 3 of 4Arnsheen, Peebles, Peeblesshire, ScotlandPrivate19141947 
Item 4 of 448, Melville Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness1947 *  

* earliest date known from documented sources.

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 7Charles Stewart Still JohnstonOctober 18821885Apprentice 
Item 2 of 7Edinburgh City Architect's Department (Edinburgh Corporation)18851887Apprenticeunder Robert Morham, Edinburgh City Architect
Item 3 of 7Robert Morham18851887Apprentice 
Item 4 of 7Wardrop & Anderson18871892Draughtsman 
Item 5 of 7Francis Edward Ward18921894Assistant 
Item 6 of 7Hippolyte Jean Blanc18941908Senior Assistantbegan as Draughtsman
Item 7 of 7J D Cairns & FordJune 1928Before 1947Partner 

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 2Thomas Bowhill Gibson1919January 1922Assistant 
Item 2 of 2James Fulton Ford1919June 1928Senior Assistant 


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 4James Alexander Arnott1929for Fellowship
Item 2 of 4John Begg1929for Fellowship
Item 3 of 4James Bow Dunn20 July 1911for Licentiateship - as President of the Edinburgh Architectural Association.
Item 4 of 4John Wilson1929for Fellowship

RIBA Proposals

This architect proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 6James Fulton Ford15 February 1944for Licentiateship
Item 2 of 6Robert Raeburn Grieve31 October 1930for Licentiateship
Item 3 of 6John Campbell HallEarly 1933for Licentiateship
Item 4 of 6Arthur Bain ('Tim') Morrison6 May 1947For Licentiateship
Item 5 of 6James Johnstone Shannon 6 December 1937for Associateship
Item 6 of 6Robert Henderson Taylor14 October 1947For 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 821894Semi-detached villas, Polwarth Terrace  EdinburghScotland 
Item 2 of 821898Bangour Village AsylumUphall West LothianScotlandAsylum - as assistant to Hippolyte Jean Blanc
Item 3 of 821901Carnegie Public Baths and gymnasiumDunfermline FifeScotlandAs assistant to Hippolyte Jean Blanc
Item 4 of 82After 1908Bank of ScotlandGreenside EdinburghScotland 
Item 5 of 82After 1908Bank of ScotlandLiberton EdinburghScotland 
Item 6 of 82After 1908Bank of ScotlandWest Linton PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 7 of 82After 1908Business premises, 113 Rose Street  EdinburghScotlandAdditions
Item 8 of 82After 1908Caidmuir HousePeebles PeeblesshireScotlandAlterations and additions to mansion house and estate cottages
Item 9 of 82After 1908Colinton Parish Church HallsColinton EdinburghScotland 
Item 10 of 82After 1908Great Western Hotel and TerraceOban ArgyllScotlandLarge public garage added
Item 11 of 82After 1908HolmlandsCrawford LanarkshireScotland 
Item 12 of 82After 1908HouseOakbank GlasgowScotland 
Item 13 of 82After 1908HouseAuchterarder PerthshireScotland 
Item 14 of 82After 1908HouseBaldornie  Scotland 
Item 15 of 82After 1908HousePeebles PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 16 of 82After 1908Houses in and around Edinburgh  EdinburghScotland 
Item 17 of 82After 1908Houses, Hermitage Drive  EdinburghScotland 
Item 18 of 82After 1908Houses, Polwarth TerracePolwarth EdinburghScotland 
Item 19 of 82After 1908Housing schemePeebles PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 20 of 82After 1908Housing schemeWalkerburn PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 21 of 82After 1908Housing schemeDuns BerwickshireScotland 
Item 22 of 82After 1908Large public garages for Bowmac  EdinburghScotland 
Item 23 of 82After 1908Macvitties Guest & Co / McVities Guest & Co Bakery and Chocolate Factory  EdinburghScotland 
Item 24 of 82After 1908ManseTranent East LothianScotlandRestoration and repair
Item 25 of 82After 1908MansePencaitland East LothianScotlandRestoration and repair
Item 26 of 82After 1908Monkrigg HouseHaddington East LothianScotlandAlterations and additions to mansion house and estate cottages
Item 27 of 82After 1908Netherurd House  PeeblesshireScotlandRebuilding of mansion, and remodelling of farm buildings and cottages
Item 28 of 82After 1908New North Free Church  EdinburghScotlandRedecoration
Item 29 of 82After 1908Offices and Creamery for Messrs Murchie  EdinburghScotland 
Item 30 of 82After 1908Offices and shops for Messrs J Kelly & Son  EdinburghScotland 
Item 31 of 82After 1908Offices and warehouses for Nestlé Swiss Milk CompanyLeith EdinburghScotland 
Item 32 of 82After 1908Palmerston Place UP Church  EdinburghScotlandRedecoration
Item 33 of 82After 1908Phantassie HouseEast Linton East LothianScotlandAlterations and additions to mansion house and estate cottages
Item 34 of 82After 1908Poultry farm buildings for Buttercup Dairy CompanyLeith EdinburghScotland 
Item 35 of 82After 1908Poultry farm buildings for Buttercup Dairy CompanyClermiston EdinburghScotland 
Item 36 of 82After 1908Prestonkirk Parish ChurchEast Linton East LothianScotlandRedecoration
Item 37 of 82After 1908Restaurant and tea rooms for Messrs Wilson & SimePeebles PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 38 of 82After 1908Shop front, 13 Castle Street  EdinburghScotland 
Item 39 of 82After 1908Shops for Buttercup Dairy Company  EdinburghScotlandAkso designed shops in other parts of Scotland for the same company
Item 40 of 82After 1908St Columba's Parish ChurchOban ArgyllScotlandRedecoration
Item 41 of 82After 1908St David's Parish Church and Halls  EdinburghScotland 
Item 42 of 82After 1908Swimming BathsPeebles PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 43 of 821909Crail UF Church and ManseCrail FifeScotlandWon competition to secure job
Item 44 of 821911Usher Hall  EdinburghScotlandCompetition design exhibited - not successful
Item 45 of 82Before 1911HouseHarthope DumfriesshireScotland 
Item 46 of 821912Nethertown Institute (public baths and library)Dunfermline FifeScotlandUnsuccessful entry. Awarded £15 premium
Item 47 of 821914ArnsheenPeebles PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 48 of 82c. 1914Eliock House and estate cottagesMennock (near) DumfriesshireScotlandAlterations and additions to mansion house and estate cottages
Item 49 of 82After 1915Offices, warehouses, workshops, garages & cold storage rooms for Buttercup Dairy CompanyLeith EdinburghScotlandSite bought in 1915 and built up soon thereafter.
Item 50 of 821919Houses for the Scottish Veterans Garden City AssociationPeebles PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 51 of 821919Peebles War MemorialPeebles PeeblesshireScotlandCompetition design
Item 52 of 82c. 1920Peebles High SchoolPeebles PeeblesshireScotlandAdditions
Item 53 of 82c. 1920Peeblesshire Nursing Home, TweedgreenPeebles PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 54 of 821922Clermiston Mains House and farm buildingsClermiston EdinburghScotlandRebuildings and enlargement from 18th century farm buildings. Building of a puoltry farm.
Item 55 of 821922Longniddry Golf Clubhouse and Club Master's HouseLongniddry East LothianScotland 
Item 56 of 821922Peebles War Memorial Cottage HospitalPeebles PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 57 of 821923RestennethColinton EdinburghScotlandAdditions
Item 58 of 821924Macvitties Guest & Co / McVities Guest & Co shop and tea room  EdinburghScotlandRebuilding of corner portion of this main premises, with matching gable on the splayed corner; also alterations and additions to branch shops for Macvitties (McVities) in this period
Item 59 of 82192516 Castle Street  EdinburghScotlandAddition of dormer
Item 60 of 82192518 Castle Street  EdinburghScotlandAdditions
Item 61 of 821925Churches and manses in Presbytery of PeeblesPeebles PeeblesshireScotlandRestoration and repair
Item 62 of 821927Housing Estate for Midlothian County CouncilGorebridge MidlothianScotland 
Item 63 of 821928Premises for Messrs Peter Allan Ltd  EdinburghScotlandReconstruction
Item 64 of 82After 1928Two-storey cottages, Edinburgh RoadPeebles PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 65 of 82c. 1928Housing, George PlacePeebles PeeblesshireScotlandWest side
Item 66 of 821929Longniddry Golf Clubhouse and Club Master's HouseLongniddry East LothianScotlandMAy have been responsible for flat roofed servoce wing as well as original building.
Item 67 of 821930Bakery for McVitie & Guest  EdinburghScotland 
Item 68 of 821931Eastwark HousePeebles PeeblesshireScotlandShopfront
Item 69 of 82After 1932(?)Caretaker's cottage  Edinburgh?ScotlandProbably responsible - with Colin William Glendinning as assistant
Item 70 of 82After 1932Edinburgh College of Domestic Science, 1-2 Drumsheugh Gardens  EdinburghScotlandProbably responsible - with Colin William Glendinning as assistant
Item 71 of 82After 1932(?)House, Oxgangs Road  EdinburghScotlandProbably responsible - with Colin William Glendinning as assistant
Item 72 of 82After 1932(?)Nurses' cottage  Edinburgh?ScotlandProbably responsible - with Colin William Glendinning as assistant
Item 73 of 82After 1932(?)Road widening, Comiston Estate  EdinburghScotlandProbably responsible - with Colin William Glendinning as assistant
Item 74 of 821933New warehouse premises  EdinburghScotland 
Item 75 of 82c. 1933Medical HallPeebles PeeblesshireScotland 
Item 76 of 821934College of Domestic Science  EdinburghScotlandAdditions and reconstruction
Item 77 of 821935DunalistairColinton EdinburghScotlandAlterations and additions
Item 78 of 821935Macvitties Guest & Co / McVities Guest & Co shop and tea room  EdinburghScotlandAddition on South Charlotte Street
Item 79 of 82c. 1935Bank of ScotlandPeebles PeeblesshireScotlandNew bank on old site
Item 80 of 821937Heriot Brewery premisesRoseburn EdinburghScotland 
Item 81 of 821937Peebles Parish ChurchPeebles PeeblesshireScotlandChancel reconstructed
Item 82 of 821938Queen's District Nurses premises, Castle Street  EdinburghScotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 2Post Office Directories     
Item 2 of 2Scott, Bill2011The Buttercup: the Remarkable Story of Andrew Ewing and the Buttercup Dairy Company Alnwick: Leghorn Books 

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3RIAS QuarterlyMay 194872Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)p34 Obituary by J F Ford and James Arnott
Item 2 of 3RIBA JournalMarch 1948 London: Royal Institute of British Architectsp229 Obituary
Item 3 of 3Scotsman27 November 1947  Obituary p3 and death notice p7

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 v16 no1166; F no 2680 (box 10)