Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||John McKean Brydon |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||1840 |
|Died: ||May 1901 |
|Bio Notes: ||John McKean Brydon was born in Dunfermline in 1840, the son of James Brydon, tailor and draper and his wife Jane McKean. He was educated at the Commercial Academy there. On 1 September 1856 he was articled to William Hardie Hay and James Murdoch Hay in Liverpool for three years, thereafter making a study tour of Italy. On his return in 1860 he secured a place in the office of David Bryce in Edinburgh as assistant with a home address that year in Picardy Place. During his time there he exhibited at the RSA a sketch (design?) of The Presbyterian Church at Rock Ferry (RSA 1862 (778)). |
In 1863 he moved to the office of Campbell Douglas & Stevenson in Glasgow where he was described as 'managing assistant'; there may have been a previous connection as Brydon's time with Bryce may briefly have crossed with that of Stevenson in 1860. During his period at Campbell Douglas & Stevenson's he became acquainted with B J Talbert, William Leiper and William Wallace who were also in the office. From Campbell Douglas & Stevenson's he joined William Eden Nesfield and Richard Norman Shaw as their joint clerk in May 1866, remaining their chief assistant until 1869 when he appears to have become part-time in order to assist the setting up of Cottier & Co (not Morris & Co as in the BAL Directory) in Langham Place, London. This was an interior decorating, glass staining and furnishing firm set up by Daniel Cottier in partnership with William Wallace, Bruce Talbert and Brydon. Within the next few years Cottier’s personal practice had become international and the Langham Place venture proved to be ephemeral.
In 1871 Brydon finally left Shaw & Nesfield to commence independent practice at 39 Great Marlborough Street, an office he shared with Basil Champneys. In the first few years his business seems to have been a continuation of Cottier & Co specialising in interior design and furnishing, and in the early 1870s he had two female apprentices, John James Stevenson’s cousins Rhoda and Agnes Garrett who were shortly to make a name for themselves in the same field with their ‘Suggestions for House Decoration in Painting, Woodwork and Furniture’ (1876). At that date Brydon appears to have been living at 10 Nottingham Place, but in 1876 he set up house and office at 98 Gower Street. By then he had three known commissions, a large addition to the painter James Tissot’s house at 17 Grove End Road, the large Norman Shaw-like Lewins at Crookham Hill for Joseph Robinson and a dining room at The Poplars, Avenue Road, London, exhibited at the RSA in 1876 (584): whether the last of these was simply interior decoration or actual building is unclear.
In 1880 Brydon entered into partnership with William Wallace who had dissolved his partnership with William Flockhart in the previous year but that too proved short-lived. In 1881 he was admitted FRIBA, his proposers being John James Stevenson, Robert William Edis and Alfred Waterhouse, an event which followed a major shift in Brydon’s financial circumstances. House and office now moved to 5 Cambridge Place in Regent’s Park and within the next few years he had acquired 130 acres at Pickhurst, Chiddingford, Surrey. There between 1885 and 1889 he built a large Norman Shaw-like country house in brick and half-timber which must have cost well over £10,000. Whether it was built for lease as an investment, or whether he intended to retire to it is as yet unclear. Home remained at Cambridge Place, but as the business grew, house and office were separated, the office being at 77 Newman Street Marylebone from 1894 and his home at 31 Steel’s road Haverstock hill.
With his additions to St Peter’s Hospital, Henrietta Street, Covent Garden (1880-84) Brydon began to establish a reputation as an architect of public buildings, and hospitals in particular, St Peter’s being followed by the Hospital for Women in Euston Road, and the School of Medicine for Women in Handel Street (1896) both for Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, sister and cousin of Rhoda and Agnes Garrett. In 1885 he won the competition for the Chelsea Vestry Hall with a Wren-like design, followed by the still finer library and polytechnic nearby. He had mixed success in other competitions, but in 1891 he won that for the enlargement of Bath Guildhall. The work there occupied him for eight years, embracing an art gallery, a library, technical schools and the buildings at the Roman baths of which it was correctly observed that he ‘imparted an air of antique dignity to the new work’. In France he extensively restored and enlarged the Chateau de Buillon near Besancon after his old friend and client Tissot inherited it in 1886.
In 1898 the Office of Works selected Brydon as architect for the new public offices in Whitehall from a list of architects nominated by the RIBA: the reasons for his selection are not recorded, but the quality of his Bath buildings was probably the deciding factor. Modelled in certain respects on Inigo Jones’ and John Webb’s unexecuted designs for the palace, his scheme was well-received when first shown in March 1899.
Early in 1901 Brydon began to suffer from ‘a troublesome affection of the throat which was not regarded as serious and affected his work but little. More recently very grave symptoms and the end came…after a short and painful illness’ on 25 May 1901 at home, 31 Steele’s Road, Haverstock Hill. At the time of his death he was a Vice President of the RIBA and a member of the RIBA’s Art Standing Committee. He was survived by his widow Edith Mary Westall whom he had married in 1892 in Witney Oxfordshire (his first wife Lydia Janet Henderson had died in 1881) and left moveable estate of £11,931 16s 9d. Although that was a large sum at the time, his actual wealth in property must have been considerably greater.
Brydon’s Times obituarist described him as a man of ‘wide interests and strong opinions, expressed always with geniality and humour’. His advocacy of English Renaissance had a profound influence on contemporary British architecture, both through his work in Chelsea, Bath and Whitehall and through two papers delivered at the Architectural Association in 1889 which were fully reported in all four of the leading architectural journals, and were followed by a further article in the Builder in 1891.
Brydon ‘kept but a small staff preferring to do his own work’ and ‘would never have done anything which he might live to regret in the way of triviality or experimentalism’. His small office and the lack of any son* or successor to the practice became a problem when he died. The Office of Works architect Sir Henry Tanner took over the drawings from his executor Leonard Stokes and appointed his predecessor Sir John Taylor to carry them out. Brydon’s principal assistant was recruited to help him, their work being subject to the scrutiny of an advisory committee which included Sir William Emerson and Sir Aston Webb. Some minor changes of detail were made, resulting in a protest from Leonard Stokes, but the executed building is still generally faithful to Brydon’s conception.
* J M Brydon’s son, H J Brydon, trained as a civil engineer and by 1900 was engineer to the Dublin United Tramway Company. On a brief visit to London he disappeared, his bag being found on the steamer to Holyhead. [British Architect 2 March 1900 p146]
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland||Private||1840||Before 1856||Place of birth|
|11, Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland||Private||1860|| || |
|Duke Street, Edinburgh, Scotland||Private||1861|| ||As a boarder here with George Wilson, clothier|
|143, Elderslie Street, Glasgow, Scotland||Private||1866 *|| || |
|10, Nottingham Place, London, England||Business||1869|| || |
|Blenheim Road, Marylebone, London, England||Private||1871 *|| || |
|39, Marlborough Street, London, England||Business||1872||1874|| |
|31, Steele's Road, Haverstock Hill, London, England||Private||c. 1874||1901|| |
|98, Gower Street, London, England||Business||1876||1890s||Business address - also had Cambridge as business at the same time.|
|5, Cambridge Place, London, England||Business||1881||c. 1900||Returned to this address before 1900? |
|77, Newman Street, London, England||Business||1894 *|| || |
* earliest date known from documented sources.
Employment and Training
Employees or Pupils
Buildings and Designs
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|Girouard, Mark||1977||Sweetness and Light: The Queen Anne Movement|| || || |
|Gray, A Stuart||1985||Edwardian Architecture: A Biographical Dictionary|| || || |
|Grove Dictionary of Art|| ||Grove Dictionary of Art|| || ||Article by Neil Bingham|
|Loftie, W J||1905||Brydon at Bath|| ||Architectural Review, pp3-9, 51-9, 147-154|| |
|Macartney, Hilary and Robertson, David (eds)||2011||Cottiers in Context|| || || |
|New DNB|| ||New Dictionary of National Biography|| || ||Article by Paul Waterhouse revised by Ian Dungavell.|
|Port, M H||1995||Imperial London: Civil Government Building in London, 1851-1915|| ||New Haven & London: Yale University Press|| |
|Richardson, Harriet||1998||English Hospitals 1660-1948|| || || |
|The following periodicals contain references to this architect:|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|British Architect||31 May 1901|| || ||p377|
|Builder||1 June 1901|| || ||pp529, 540 Obituary|
|Builder||8 June 1901|| || || |
|Building News||31 May 1901|| || ||p726 Obituary|
|Country Life||22 May 2013|| || ||p106 Pickhurst|
|RIBA Journal||8 June 1901|| ||London: Royal Institute of British Architects||p382|
|RIBA Journal||22 June 1901|| ||London: Royal Institute of British Architects||pp400-403 Obituary by James Sivewright Gibson|
|The Times||28 May 1901|| || || |
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum||RIBA Nomination Papers|| ||F v6, p74 (microfiche 95/B1)|
© All rights reserved. Edinburgh Architectural Association 1907 Exhibition Catalogue
© All rights reserved. Building News 7 February 1890