Basic Biographical Details

Name: William Dunn
Designation: Architect
Born: 1859
Died: 7 February 1934
Bio Notes: William Dunn was born in 1859. He left school at a very early age as a result of the death of his father, entering the office of Duncan McNaughtan, Glasgow, to whom he was articled in 1876. In later years he told his partner William Curtis Green that ‘he somehow managed to keep himself, his mother, his brother and sister, pay off the debts his father had left and educate himself’. Around 1881 he secured a place in the office of William Flockhart, followed by a spell with James Marjoribanks MacLaren and another with Thomas Chatfeild Clarke, and passed the qualifying exam in 1886. In his obituary of Dunn, William Curtis Green notes that Dunn was largely self-taught, especially in maths and building construction. Dunn commenced independent practice in London in 1889. In his youth he was bow-legged: as soon as he could afford it he had his legs surgically broken and straightened.

Dunn continued to assist MacLaren on a fee-paid basis whilst in independent practice, particularly during MacLaren's final illness. On MacLaren's death in 1890, MacLaren's brother-in-law Dugald Sutherland MacColl had to find financial provision for his widow and children. A meeting was arranged with Sir Donald Currie, MacLaren's most important client and a guarantee of his continuing support secured a partnership agreement for Dunn and MacLaren's assistant Robert Watson that made provision for them. Initially the practice operated from 35 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London. By temperament Dunn was a mathematician and structural engineer rather than an architect, with a particular flair for design in concrete; the decorative aspects of the partnership's work fell more to Watson. Shortly after the partnership of Dunn & Watson was formed, Archibald Campbell Dickie joined the firm as a senior assistant. The practice quickly became extremely successful.

Both Dunn and Watson were elected FRIBA on 5 December 1904, Dunn's proposers being Charles Edward Mallows, Francis William Bedford, and Alfred William Stephens Cross. Dunn gradually built up significant connections in South and East Africa through the Union Castle Line and his doctor brother who had settled in Kenya. He acquired an estate of 2,000 acres adjoining his brother’s and opened branch offices in Cape Town, Durban and East London. By about 1912 he had decided to concentrate his interests there and Robert Watson approached William Curtis Green about merging his practice, founded in 1898, with theirs. In the event first Robert Watson and then Dunn’s sister became terminally ill. The was intervened and Dunn’s retirement, originally set for 1915 was delayed until 1919. Throughout the war Dunn kept the office open with only one assistant and the merger of the practices was not fomalised until 1917.

After Dunn’s sister died Dunn was finally able to settle permanently in Kenya, but soon thereafter his brother died leaving him without any close surviving relatives. In the post-war years he returned to London once a year, twice to be operated on for a cataract, but, again to quote Curtis Green ‘he liked neither the climate nor the noise, the politics nor the income tax’. He died suddenly at his Kenyan farm on 7 February 1934.

During his working life Dunn made a special study of dome construction and was consulted with regard to the repair of St Paul's dome. He was also one of the first exponents of reinforced concrete and acted as chief adviser to the Office of Works on the use of it. Curtis Green wrote of that ‘Life was not an easy thing to William Dunn, his intellectual range was too wide, his interest in first principles too acute’. He [always chose] ‘the difficult path' but had 'the heart of a child and the clear outlook that abhorred all that was mean and second rate; fortunately [life's] rigours were sweetened to him by an unusually keen sense of humour, and a love of young people. He was an extraordinarily good talker and the best of good company.'

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 463, Shaftesbury Road, Crouch Hill, London, EnglandPrivate1886 *  
Item 2 of 421, King William Street, London, EnglandBusiness18901891 
Item 3 of 4The Old House, Hariner Green, Willesden, London, EnglandPrivate1904 *  
Item 4 of 435, Linclon's Inn Fields, London, EnglandBusinessBefore 1904After 1914 

* 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 6Duncan McNaughtan1876c. 1880Apprentice 
Item 2 of 6Thomas Chatfeild ClarkeAfter 1880Before 1889Assistant 
Item 3 of 6William Flockhartc. 1880Before 1889Assistant 
Item 4 of 6James Marjoribanks MacLarenc. 1887c. 1889Assistant 
Item 5 of 6Dunn & Watson18901912Partner 
Item 6 of 6Dunn, Watson & Curtis Green19121916Partner 

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 1Henry Victor Ashley1889Before 1896Apprentice 


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 3Francis William Bedford5 December 1904for Fellowship
Item 2 of 3Alfred William Stephens Cross5 December 1904for Fellowship
Item 3 of 3Charles Edward Mallows5 December 1904for Fellowship

RIBA Proposals

This architect proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 5James Straton Ferrier29 November 1909for Associateship
Item 2 of 5Percy Benjamin French Freeman27 February 1911for Licentiateship
Item 3 of 5Arthur Fyfe20 March 1911for Licentiateship
Item 4 of 5Gilbert Francis Molyneux Ogilvy20 July 1911for Licentiateship
Item 5 of 5Arnold Dunbar Smith3 December 1906for Fellowship

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 551884Burnley Municipal Buildings and BathsBurnley LancashireEnglandCompetition design - as assistant to James MacLaren - not successful
Item 2 of 551890Wembley Tower and ParkWembley LondonEnglandIn association with James MacLaren and London civil engineer A D Stewart
Item 3 of 55After 1890Ashfold  SurreyEnglandRestoration/additions
Item 4 of 55After 1890Barnwell Castle  NorthamptonshireEnglandRestoration/additions
Item 5 of 55After 1890Cokethorpe  OxfordshireEnglandRestoration/additions
Item 6 of 55After 1890Cork FactoryLeith EdinburghScotland 
Item 7 of 55After 1890Flore House  NorthamptonshireEnglandRestorations and/or additions
Item 8 of 55After 1890Pitsford Hall  NorthamptonshireEnglandConversion to school
Item 9 of 55After 1890Shottesbrooke  BerkshireEnglandRepairs and alterations
Item 10 of 55After 1890Waddington Old Hall  LancashireEnglandRepairs and alterations
Item 11 of 55c. 1890Crouch Hill Presbyterian ChurchHaringey LondonEnglandAdditions - new classrooms
Item 12 of 551891Business premisesPlymouth DevonEngland 
Item 13 of 551891Glenlyon HouseFortingall PerthshireScotlandReconstruction from sketch by MacLaren
Item 14 of 551891Offices for Sir Donald Currie  LondonEngland 
Item 15 of 551891Offices, Lombard Street  LondonEnglandNew board room (and other work?)
Item 16 of 551891Shipping offices for Sir Donald Currie  LondonEnglandDesign exhibited under joint names of MacLaren, Dunn & Watson
Item 17 of 551892Fortingall HotelFortingall PerthshireScotlandFrom sketch scheme by MacLaren?
Item 18 of 55After 1892Garth HouseGlenlyon PerthshireScotlandCompleted the MacLaren work
Item 19 of 551895Edinburgh Life Assurance Company Building  EdinburghScotlandAlterations and additions
Item 20 of 551895Scalpay House SkyeInverness-shireScotlandRestoration/additions to house and new thatched cottages on Scalpay and Pabay
Item 21 of 551896Water tower  AradRomania 
Item 22 of 55c. 1896Mount Nelson Hotel  Cape TownSouth Africa 
Item 23 of 551898Keltney Burn BridgeFortingall/Aberfeldy PerthshireScotland 
Item 24 of 55Before 1899St John's InstituteWalworth LondonEngland 
Item 25 of 551900Fortingall Parish ChurchFortingall PerthshireScotlandRebuilding, incorporating belfry of previous church
Item 26 of 55c. 1900ArdtrasgartFortingall PerthshireScotland 
Item 27 of 551905Scottish Provident Institution  LondonEngland 
Item 28 of 551908Dunkeld CathedralDunkeld PerthshireScotlandRefurnishing
Item 29 of 551909Aberfeldy Cottage HospitalAberfeldy PerthshireScotland 
Item 30 of 551909Lilford Hall  NorthamptonshireEnglandRepairs and alterations: heightening and extensions of the north wings
Item 31 of 551910Edinburgh Life Assurance Office  LondonEngland 
Item 32 of 551912Glenlyon HouseFortingall PerthshireScotlandLaundry and garages (plans for additions to stables dated 1912)
Item 33 of 55Before 1912Abechurch  London?EnglandAltars, pulpits, screens, organs etc
Item 34 of 55Before 1912Blocks of flatsChelsea LondonEngland 
Item 35 of 55Before 1912Farm buildings     
Item 36 of 55Before 1912GoldhillFarnham SurreyEngland 
Item 37 of 55Before 1912Hazelbech  NorthamptonshireEngland 
Item 38 of 55Before 1912HouseOverstrand NorfolkEngland 
Item 39 of 55Before 1912House at HaileyburyHaileybury Hertfordshire?England 
Item 40 of 55Before 1912KildowieMaidenhead BerkshireEngland 
Item 41 of 55Before 1912Marconi Company's factory and officesChelmsford EssexEngland 
Item 42 of 55Before 1912Office block  East LondonSouth Africa 
Item 43 of 55Before 1912Office block  Cape TownSouth Africa 
Item 44 of 55Before 1912OldhouseFulmer BuckinghamshireEngland 
Item 45 of 55Before 1912Scottish Widows Office  BristolEngland 
Item 46 of 55Before 1912Scottish Widows Office  LondonEngland 
Item 47 of 55Before 1912Ship interiors (saloons) for Union Castle Line ships     
Item 48 of 55Before 1912Shottesbrooke ChurchShottesbrooke BerkshireEngland 
Item 49 of 55Before 1912Union of London and Smiths BanksHull YorkshireEngland 
Item 50 of 55Before 1912Union of London and Smiths BanksBarnsley YorkshireEngland 
Item 51 of 551913British Bank of South America  LondonEngland 
Item 52 of 551913Fortingall Parish ChurchFortingall PerthshireScotlandReseating and reredos
Item 53 of 551914The New CottagesFortingall PerthshireScotland 
Item 54 of 551915Scottish Provident Institution  LondonEngland 
Item 55 of 55Before 1916Office block  DurbanSouth Africa 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 5Borland, Maureen D S MacColl: Painter, Poet, Art Critic Harpenden: Lennard Publishing 
Item 2 of 5Calder, Alan2003James MacLaren: Arts and Crafts Pioneer Donington: Shaun Tyas 
Item 3 of 5Calder, Alan2008Dunn & Watson : the Scottish Commissions6James M MacLaren Society Journal 
Item 4 of 5Gray, A Stuart1985Edwardian Architecture: A Biographical Dictionary   
Item 5 of 5Who's Who in Architecture1914    

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Builder2 March 1934146 p364 (by Curtis Green)
Item 2 of 3RIBA Journal24 February 1934v41London: Royal Institute of British Architectsp418 - obituary by William Curtis Green
Item 3 of 3RIBA Journal10 March 1934v41London: Royal Institute of British Architectsp475 - obituaries by D S MacColl and P J Waldram

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 3British Architectural Library, RIBARIBA Biographical Files  
Item 2 of 3RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Drawings Collection  
Item 3 of 3RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers A v9 p121; F v15 p52 no965 (microfilm reel 11)