© All rights reserved. Edinburgh Architectural Association 1907 Exhibition Catalogue  

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Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Gowans
Designation: Architect, Builder
Born: 1 August 1821
Died: 25 June 1890
Bio Notes: James Gowans was born at Blackness on 1 August 1821, the third child of Walter Gowans, quarrymaster and builder, and Isabella de Grote (or Grotte). He was educated at the Hamilton Place Academy in Stockbridge and took classes at David Bryce's architectural academy as part of his training for the family business, which bought Bentyfoulds and St Andrew's Yards at Armadale for quarrying in January 1842, renaming them Gowanbank, and built David Rhind's Commercial Bank head office in 1844-47 and the Edinburgh Gas Works Chimney in 1846-49. From 1847 onward the firm was heavily involved in railway contracts, building the Edinburgh and North Berwick section of the North British line, and sections of the Edinburgh and Bathgate line. In the same year Walter Gowans extended the family's quarrying interests by taking on lease of Redhall Quarry from John Inglis, where James experimented with quarrying by drilling and galvanic batteries; he also held patents and shares in stone-dressing machinery associated with Joseph-Eldicott Holmes of the Strand, London.

In 1848 Gowans married Elizabeth Mitchell, daughter of James Mitchell railway contractor, Broughty Ferry, and moved from Lynedoch Place to 1 Randolph Cliff, part of a large development embracing the north side of Randolph Crescent, which he built to Rhind's design in 1846-49. In October 1849 James took full control of the family business, all debts being paid by 1854, perhaps not without some difficulty as his family moved out of Randolph Cliff to Pittacher House, Crieff (where Gowans was then building the Crieff Branch line) with an Edinburgh base at 34 Rosebank Cottages, a development of thirty-five model workers' dwellings that he built in 1854-55.

On 7 April 1858 Walter Gowans died. James's first wife Elizabeth also died in that year while in her bath and was buried at the Grange. Gowans designed and built Rockville in Napier Road, Merchiston for his second wife Mary Brodie, apparently a relative of William Brodie who provided the sculpture for the project. In this large towered house Gowans introduced his personal methods of design and construction based on two-foot modules and angles of twenty-two-and-a-half, forty-five and sixty-seven-and-a-half degrees; a similar but smaller house Lammerburn was built opposite for Francis Sheppard, apparently a relative of Gowans's clerk-of-works Moxey Sheppard who had had experience in Calcutta.

The building of Rockville was financed by an increasing number of large railway contracts, notably the Lochee diversion of the Dundee and Newtyle Railway (1859-61), the Creetown section of the Portpatrick Railway (1859) and the Birnam to Dalguise and the Dalwhinnie to Kingussie sections of the Inverness and Perth Junction Railway (1861-65). In 1871 he laid the lines of the Edinburgh Street Tramways Company between Edinburgh and Leith for which John Macrae was engineer.

From 1875 to 1877 Gowans incurred heavy losses on the New Edinburgh Theatre, which was built to his design with interior work by Frederick Thomas Pilkington. He and Pilkington were the largest shareholders in the Edinburgh Theatre, Wintergarden and Aquarium Company Incorporated on 14 July 1875 with a capital of 65,000. It opened on 20 December 1875 but ran into difficulties, was mortgaged for 20,000 in April 1877, and sold to the United Presbyterian Church later in the same year for 26,700, approximately one third of what it had cost to build.

In 1885 Gowans became Dean of Guild and he was the prime mover of the Edinburgh International Exhibition of 1886. The effort affected his business and in turn his now seriously impaired financial position. Although knighted at the Queen's visit on 18 August Gowans was obliged to sell Rockville and move to a smaller house in Blantyre Terrace nearby: on 5 May 1887 a trust fund to help him was set up at a meeting in Dowell's on George Street; but in 1888 the Caledonian Railway opposed the extension of his quarry at Redhall, which seems to have precipitated his bankruptcy on 5 November of the same year. He died at midnight on 25 June 1890 and was buried with his first wife at the Grange.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect, builder:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 7Lynedoch Place, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate 1848 
Item 2 of 71, Randolph Cliff, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate1848c. 1855 
Item 3 of 7Pittacher House, Crieff, Perthshire, ScotlandPrivatec. 1855  
Item 4 of 734, Rosebank Cottages, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivatec. 1855c. 1858 
Item 5 of 7Rockville, Napier Road, Merchiston, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivatec. 18581885 
Item 6 of 731, Castle Terrace, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate/business(?)c. 1875c. 1888 
Item 7 of 71, Blantyre Terrace, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate18851890 

Buildings and Designs

This architect, builder 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 311846Randolph Crescent (north side) and Randolph Cliff  EdinburghScotlandBuilder
Item 2 of 311852Duke of Wellington Monument  EdinburghScotlandCast set on pesestal
Item 3 of 311854Rosebank Cottages  EdinburghScotlandWith MacGregor
Item 4 of 311854Wellington StatueFalkirk West LothianScotlandRe-erected statue
Item 5 of 311857Redhall Bank Cottages  EdinburghScotland 
Item 6 of 311858RockvilleMerchiston EdinburghScotlandFor himself
Item 7 of 311859Double Villa, 23-25 Blacket Place  EdinburghScotland 
Item 8 of 311859Lammerburn  EdinburghScotland 
Item 9 of 311859Monument to Walter Gowans, Torphichen Parish Church YardTorphichen West LothianScotland 
Item 10 of 311859Monument to Walter Gowans, Torpichen Churchyard  EdinburghScotland 
Item 11 of 311859Workmen's HousesCrieff PerthshireScotland 
Item 12 of 31c. 1860StationCreetown KirkcudbrightshireScotland 
Item 13 of 311861Lochee Railway StationLochee DundeeScotland 
Item 14 of 311862Gowanbank Farm Cottage, Stable and Byre  West LothianScotland 
Item 15 of 311862Gowanbank farmhouse, steading and cottageArmadale West LothianScotlandEnlargement
Item 16 of 311863Quarry Clerk's House, Redhall  EdinburghScotland 
Item 17 of 31c. 1863Lodge to Redhall House  EdinburghScotland 
Item 18 of 311866Block of buildings, Castle Terrace and Cornwall Street  EdinburghScotland 
Item 19 of 311870North Bridge  EdinburghScotlandScheme for improvement of original bridge
Item 20 of 31c. 1870Kingscavil, School and SchoolhouseKingscavil West LothianScotland'In the manner of James Gowans'
Item 21 of 311871Workmen's HousesDrumbowie West LothianScotland 
Item 22 of 311873DrumbowieDrumbowie West LothianScotlandRemodelling
Item 23 of 311874Teacher's House and School buildings for a country parish   ScotlandDesign exhibited
Item 24 of 311875New Edinburgh Theatre  EdinburghScotlandwith Pilkington
Item 25 of 3118841-4 Lockharton Gardens  EdinburghScotland 
Item 26 of 311884157-159 Colinton Road  EdinburghScotlandDate of design - for the Edinburgh International Exhibition 1886, but may have been built later?
Item 27 of 31188468-78 Colinton Road  EdinburghScotland 
Item 28 of 311884Waverley  EdinburghScotland 
Item 29 of 311886Edinburgh International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art, 1886, Brassfounders Column  EdinburghScotland 
Item 30 of 311886Edinburgh International Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art, 1886, Model Workers' Houses  EdinburghScotland 
Item 31 of 311886Masons's Pillars and sundialWest Meadows Park EdinburghScotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect, builder:
Item 1 of 5McAra, Duncan1975Sir James Gowans: Romantic Rationalist Edinburgh: Paul Harris Publishing 
Item 2 of 5Post Office Directories     
Item 3 of 5RCAHMS1999Homebuilders: Mactaggart & Mickel and the Scottish housebuilding industry RCAHMSImage of Rockville House p196
Relief sculpture at Rockville, showing James Gowans studying harmonic diagrams of triangles and circles p196
Item 4 of 5Scotlands People Website Wills & Testaments  Edinburgh Sheriff Court Wills SC70/4/253 and Inventories SC70/1/297
Item 5 of 5Shaw, Donald1990Two Notable Contractorsno 31 NovemberThe True Line: Caledonian Railway Association Journal 

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect, builder:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 1ScotsmanJune 1890  Obituary


© All rights reserved. Edinburgh Architectural Association 1907 Exhibition Catalogue  

© All rights reserved. Edinburgh Architectural Association 1907 Exhibition Catalogue