Basic Biographical Details

Name: Stevenson & Robson
Designation: Architectural practice
Started: 1871
Ended: 1876
Bio Notes: John James Stevenson was born in Glasgow on 24 August 1831, the sixth of ten surviving children of James Stevenson and his wife Jane Stewart Shannan. The Stevenson family were originally Ayrshire farmers, one of whom had settled in Paisley as silk merchants; although it used to be said that there was a connection with the Glasgow merchant Alan Stevenson, with whom the Stevenson family of engineers originated, this is as yet unproven and the last member of that family D Alan Stevenson (1891-1971) was unaware of it. James had settled in Glasgow and had become a cotton broker, but in 1843 he moved to Jarrow to establish Jarrow Chemical Company. His eldest son James Cochran Stevenson joined him in the business, and became MP for South Shields from 1868 to 1895. During that period he also owned The South Shields Gazette and from 1880 to 1900 he was a member of the Tyne Improvements Commission ending up as its chairman. Associated with them in the South Shields businesses were two further brothers, Alexander and Archibald.

John James was educated first at Glasgow Grammar School, and then at the University of Glasgow in 1845-48 and Edinburgh Theological College - presumably the Free Church College - in 1852-54 while his father was based in Jarrow, and also studied for a time at Tubingen, all with a view to entering the church: although there is no mention of Tubingen in his RIBA nomination paper, a marked interest in German architecture was to be evident in his book House Architecture. His father having retired to 47 Melville Street, Edinburgh in 1854, John James returned home, a visit to Italy having induced him to change career to architecture. In 1856 he was articled to David Bryce, but transferred to George Gilbert Scott's office in London in 1858 before completing his apprenticeship. In 1860 he undertook a second visit to Italy, on this occasion a sketching tour in the company of another assistant in Scott's office, Robert James Johnson, later of Newcastle. He then joined Campbell Douglas's office in Glasgow, and was made partner in the autumn of 1860.

Although the Briggate and North Leith Free Churches, and still more excellent Scots Baronial Hartfield showed that Campbell Douglas had real ability he was content to take on a more managerial and job-getting role in his partnership with Stevenson. Stevenson's first-hand knowledge of Italy made a big impact on the Glasgow scene with his Italian Gothic Kelvinside Free Church, quickly followed by Townhead Church on Garngad Hill where the spire was of French inspiration, a development which may have been related to the arrival in the office (c.1862) of William Leiper who had travelled in France and had had experience in the office of John Loughborough Pearson and William White in London. Another outstanding draughtsman, John McKean Bryden joined the practice in the following year (1863) and remained until 1866 when he left for William Eden Nesfield's in London.

John James Stevenson inherited a substantial shareholding in the Jarrow Chemical Company on his father's death in 1866. Two years later he withdrew from his partnership with Douglas for what he described as 'an interval in the practice of my profession' travelling and writing the book eventually published as 'House Architecture' in 1880. At the end of it he settled in London in 1870, and late in the following year he formed a partnership with the London School Board architect Edward Robert Robson, born 2 March 1835, whom he had known in Scott's office and who had, like R J Johnson, also grown up in County Durham. The break with Douglas was wholly amicable and relations remained close, Stevenson's office becoming the stepping-stone to London for many of the most promising assistants from Campbell Douglas's office throughout the 1870s and 1880s, most notably George Washington Browne, John Marjoribanks McLaren, William Wallace, William Flockhart and Francis William Troup. Together Douglas and Stevenson formed one of the greatest teaching partnerships of mid Victorian times. Like Leiper's and John James Burnet's later, the office at 266 St Vincent Street was a studio rather than just a drawing office and as Campbell Douglas and his wife Elizabeth Menzies lived upstairs it had a family atmosphere, William Flockhart recollecting 'the musical At homes to which his assistants were always asked… the staff was in turn treated but as a larger family.'

In London Stevenson and Robson became the progenitors of the so-called 'Queen Anne' domestic revival, which was inaugurated by the Red House which the Stevensons built for themselves at Bayswater Hill: stylistically it incorporated features that were more of artisan James I and Charles I derivation and Stevenson himself preferred the description of 'Free Classic.' Alexander Thomson, John Honeyman and other Scottish architects are known to have been guests there. The partnership with Robson was closed in 1876, Robson remaining architect to the London school Board until 18789. About 1884 Robson became architect to the Board of Education and the Scotch Education Department, advisory ports he held until 1904. He died 22 January 1917.

In the late 1880s the Stevensons seem to have suffered some decline in their circumstances, partly from reduced returns from the Jarrow Chemical Company, which closed in 1891 and partly from a speculative development of large houses in Cadogan Square Chelsea that proved slow to sell. In 1888 the Red House was sold and the Stevensons moved to a late Georgian semi-detached house at 4 Porchester Gardens, which became house and office. In 1896 Stevenson took into partnership the Derby architect Harry Redfern, born in 1861 who had been articled to Henry Woodyer in 1876 and had subsequently worked for William Butterfield, Alfred Lawers, Alfred Young Nutt, Peter Dollar and finally William Young (1878-89) before jcommencing independent practice in Derby in 1889.

Stevenson died in London on 5 May 1908, and a monument was erected to him in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh. He left moveable estate of £29,912 4s 1d. His work in England lies outwith the scope of this dictionary but from 1880 onward he was responsible for an interesting series of Free Churches that had its origin in the commission in 1869 for the Free Church at Monzie (Gilmerton), which came to him through its minister the Rev Dr J R Omond, the uncle of his wife Jane Omond whom he had married in 1861, and with whom he had a son, Arnold, and a daughter, Mildred Shannon. He recommended Stevenson as architect for the Free Church at Crieff and its success resulted in him being nominated in the limited competition for Free St Leonard's in Perth in 1882 in which he was successful. Stevenson's other Scottish churches were all directly commissioned, the Stevenson Memorial Church in Glasgow being paid for by his cousin James Stevenson, who owned a chemical works in Glasgow as well as having a substantial shareholding in that at Jarrow. All of Stevenson's churches had a markedly Scots Gothic character and he was the first practising architect to make a serious study of late Scots Gothic, which was perhaps a reflection of Stevenson's Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings principles. Redfern had a considerable hand in the detailing of the churches in Stirling and Glasgow.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architectural practice:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 1London, EnglandBusiness   

Employment and Training

Employees or Pupils

The following individuals were employed or trained by this architectural practice (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 7William Wallace  Assistant 
Item 2 of 7Alfred J Adams Before 1875Assistant 
Item 3 of 7Edward Robert Robson1871 Partner 
Item 4 of 7John James Stevenson18711876Partner 
Item 5 of 7James Marjoribanks MacLaren1875Before 1876(?)Assistant 
Item 6 of 7George Washington Browne18751877Assistant(?) 
Item 7 of 7William Flockhart18761877Assistant 

References

Currently, there are no references for this architectural practice. The information has been derived from: the British Architectural Library / RIBA Directory of British Architects 1834-1914; Post Office Directories; and/or any sources listed under this individual's works.