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:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|63, Shaftesbury Road, Crouch Hill, London, England||Private||1886 *|| || |
|21, King William Street, London, England||Business||1890||1891|| |
|The Old House, Hariner Green, Willesden, London, England||Private||1904 *|| || |
|35, Linclon's Inn Fields, London, England||Business||Before 1904||After 1914|| |
* 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|
|Henry Victor Ashley||1889||Before 1896||Apprentice|| |
Buildings and Designs
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|Borland, Maureen|| ||D S MacColl: Painter, Poet, Art Critic|| ||Harpenden: Lennard Publishing|| |
|Calder, Alan||2003||James MacLaren: Arts and Crafts Pioneer|| ||Donington: Shaun Tyas|| |
|Calder, Alan||2008||Dunn & Watson : the Scottish Commissions||6||James M MacLaren Society Journal|| |
|Gray, A Stuart||1985||Edwardian Architecture: A Biographical Dictionary|| || || |
|Who's Who in Architecture||1914|| || || || |
|The following periodicals contain references to this architect:|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|Builder||2 March 1934||146|| ||p364 (by Curtis Green)|
|RIBA Journal||24 February 1934||v41||London: Royal Institute of British Architects||p418 - obituary by William Curtis Green|
|RIBA Journal||10 March 1934||v41||London: Royal Institute of British Architects||p475 - obituaries by D S MacColl and P J Waldram|
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|British Architectural Library, RIBA||RIBA Biographical Files|| || |
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum||RIBA Drawings Collection|| || |
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum||RIBA Nomination Papers|| ||A v9 p121; F v15 p52 no965 (microfilm reel 11)|