Basic Biographical Details

Name: Thomson & Sandilands
Designation: Architectural practice
Started: 1886
Ended: April 1914
Bio Notes: John Thomson was born at 16 Darnley Terrace, Shawlands on 26 June 1859, the eldest surviving son of the architect Alexander 'Greek' Thomson and his wife Jane Nicholson. He was educated at Langside Academy and Glasgow High School and was articled to his father's firm on 1 April 1875. His father had died in March of that year but the Thomson Trustees still had a controlling interest in the firm which was then headed by Robert Turnbull, his father's partner since 1871. In the following year the Thomson & Turnbull practice was merged with that of David Thomson who had succeeded to Charles Wilson's practice in 1863 and it was to David Thomson that John Thomson owed his early training as a Gothic architect.

At the end of his apprenticeship in April 1880 business was at a low ebb because of the collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank. Thomson then sought experience elsewhere but it was not until 1881, probably on Campbell Douglas & Sellars's recommendation that he found a place with their former assistants Wallace & Flockhart in London. He enrolled first at the South Kensington Schools but on 4 July 1882 he enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools as a probationer, becoming a registered student on 30 December. While in London Thomson also gained experience with Professor Thomas Henry Eagles at the Royal Indian Engineering College at Cooper's Hill and with Samuel Tucker. According to his daughter, the late Mrs Stewart, he also worked for Pearson on the drawings of Truro Cathedral but this appears to have been no more than fee-paid work recruited from the more promising students when Pearson's office was under pressure. While in London Thomson travelled extensively on architectural sketching tours and in March 1885 he was awarded a letter of merit in the Soane Medallion competition. Later in that year he won the RIBA's Silver Medal with a design for 'a municipal mansion'.

Late on 1885 or early in 1886 Thomson returned to Glasgow where he was refused re-admission to Turnbull's practice, David Thomson having left in 1883. This occasioned his mother some disappointment, but in 1886 he formed a partnership with Robert Douglas Sandilands, five years his senior, who was then an employee of the Glasgow & South Western Railway's engineering department, the practice title being Thomson & Sandilands. It was probably set up with Thomson family money.

Sandilands was born at Lesmahagow on 13 April 1854, the only son of Thomas and Jane Sandilands. The Sandilands family were saw-millers and joiners at Lintfield. Sandilands was educated at Netherton School and initially joined the family business. But on 1 March 1875, at the age of twenty-one, he was articled to Alexander Petrie in Glasgow remaining with him until September 1880. There he worked alongside Ninian Macwhannell who was to remain a friend.

While with Petrie, Sandilands won an honourable mention in the RIBA Silver medal competition with survey drawings of Dunblane Cathedral and this may have helped him gain admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in November. He had to spend two years rather than one as a probationer, but after that he excelled, never receiving a valeur of less than 2.

When Sandilands returned from Paris he found employment on the Glasgow & South Western Railway improvements to the Glasgow-Largs route, apparently working mainly on Paisley Gilmour Street and Crossmyloof stations, which he retained until 1888 for income. The first few years were spent on church competitions and on tenements, but on 1 November 1889 they won the competition for Gartloch Asylum, a vast complex which established the reputation of the practice, particularly in hospital design.

In that same year, 1889, on 11 April, Thomson married Annie M Muir, daughter of James Muir, patter designer and ward of the Shields family who lived next door to the Thomsons in Moray Place. The ceremony was at the Cockburn Hotel. Although in the first few years he was the lead partner at meetings, Sandilands gradually took over the practice. It was heavily dependent on competitions for business and except for a couple of exceptional houses the private client base remained relatively small and predominantly industrial. But by the time Thomson and Sandilands were admitted FRIBA on 11 June 1906, they had carried out 1m of work since commencing practice in 1886, a very high figure for that date. Thomson's proposers were William Leiper, William Forrest Salmon and James Miller; Sandilands were John James Burnet and John Keppie, both former students of the Ecole and Thomas Lennox Watson. By that date Thomson had also made a study tour of France.

The practice suffered a decline in business after 1906 recovering only in 1910 when Sandilands won the competition for Hutchison's Girls' School. By that date money was of less concern to Sandilands: he had married an heiress, Isabella Blair Robertson, on 13 March 1898. At first they continued to live in Sandilands's modest bachelor household in Princes Square, Strathbungo, but in 1910 they acquired Kaimes House, at the junction of St Andrews Drive and Albert Drive, Pollokshields.

Sandilands was a member of the Merchants' House, the Gorbals Benevolent Society and the Society of Deacons and Free Preses. He was also a member of the Incorporation of Masons, of which he was appointed Deacon in 1903. 'The Baillie' described him as 'pleasant easy-going without any airs' and 'kind and considerate'.

Sandilands died on 10 December 1913. His moveable estate amounted to only 2,272 5s 6d, surprisingly modest for the volume of business handled. In April of the following year Thomson entered into a partnership with Alexander Hood MacLeod. MacLeod was born on 27 February 1889 and entered Thomson and Sandilands's office at the very early age of twelve, presumably as the office boy. It was not until 1910 that he enrolled in the Glasgow School of Architecture at Glasgow School of Art under Professors Bourdon, Gourlay and McGibbon. His initial period as a partner was brief as he was called up in February 1915 and not released until 1919 when he resumed partnership with Thomson.

The new partnership of Thomson Sandilands & MacLeod never engaged in large-scale competition work as it had done during Sandilands's lifetime. Initially it was based mainly on church work and private clients, mostly old ones retained from the earlier years of the practice, but from 1928 onwards it had a substantial warehouse clientele in the Glassford Street, Wilson Street and Candleriggs area. A stroke forced Thomson to retire in 1931, his wife having predeceased him much earlier. There were two sons and two daughters of the marriage. Thomson died at 19 Monreith Road on 14 August 1933, leaving estate of 5,970 11s 2d.

The practice continued under the same name. Only when Thomson retired did MacLeod seek membership of the RIBA. He was admitted on 24 February 1932, his proposers being Andrew Graham Henderson, John Watson and David Salmond. When MacLeod died at Anstruther on 31 December 1941 the practice was inherited by his chief assistant James Barr Brown Boyd. Boyd was born on 25 March 1899 at Kilmarnock but it is not yet known where he trained.

In the 1950s the practice was absorbed by the unrelated Thomson McCrea & Saunders, but apart from a few large competition perspectives, only the drawings for clients still current passed into their possession. Boyd then became an architect with the Corporation of Glasgow. He died in retirement on 22 March 1967.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architectural practice:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 3121, West Regent Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusinessBefore 1888After 1890 
Item 2 of 3241, West George Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusinessc. 18951905 or 1906 
Item 3 of 34, Jane Street, Blythswood Square, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness1905 or 1906After 1913 

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 19Robert Douglas Sandilands18861913Partner 
Item 2 of 19John Thomson1886April 1914Partner 
Item 3 of 19William Mitchell9 May 1890c. 1895Apprentice 
Item 4 of 19James Christie18931899Apprentice 
Item 5 of 19James Mitchell White Halley18941899Apprentice 
Item 6 of 19William Mitchellc. 1895c. 1897Assistant 
Item 7 of 19Robert Gordon Wilson (junior)April 1899July 1900Assistant 
Item 8 of 19Robert Henderson Motion1900c. 1905Apprentice 
Item 9 of 19Thomas Blair Moncrieff Wightman1900c. 1905Apprentice 
Item 10 of 19Daniel Walter MacMath19001906Assistant 
Item 11 of 19Andrew David Haxton19011902Assistant 
Item 12 of 19Alexander Hood MacLeod1901 or 1902Before 1914ApprenticeInitially as office boy
Item 13 of 19Gavin Lennox19031906Assistant 
Item 14 of 19Thomas Blair Moncrieff Wightmanc. 19051907Assistant(?)Possibly still an apprentice but seems more likely that he became an assistant by c.1905
Item 15 of 19Robert Henderson Motionc. 19051908Assistant(?) 
Item 16 of 19Charles James HalleyBefore 1906Before 1906Apprentice(?)Possibly
Item 17 of 19Robert Henderson Motion19081910Chief Draughtsman 
Item 18 of 19Neil Burke Moir1913April 1914Apprentice 
Item 19 of 19James Wallacec. 1914c. 1914Assistant 

Buildings and Designs

This architectural practice 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 441887Terraced house, Kenmure Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 2 of 441888Design for a villa     
Item 3 of 441888Lanark Fever HospitalLanark LanarkshireScotland 
Item 4 of 441888Tenement for W & J Brown  GlasgowScotland 
Item 5 of 441888UP ChurchGlenluce WigtownshireScotlandWon competition and secured job
Item 6 of 44After 1888Tenement for John Shand  GlasgowScotland 
Item 7 of 441889City of Glasgow District Asylum for Pauper LunaticsGartcosh GlasgowScotlandWon competition and secured job
Item 8 of 441889Design for a school     
Item 9 of 441889Stirling High SchoolStirling StirlingshireScotlandCompetition design- possibly not considered as not meeting the Stirling area residential test
Item 10 of 441891Whithorn UP ChurchWhithorn WigtownshireScotland 
Item 11 of 441892Workshop for Alexander Stewart  GlasgowScotland 
Item 12 of 441893Old Parish ChurchNairn NairnshireScotlandCompetition design - not successful
Item 13 of 441894Royal Insurance Company Building  GlasgowScotlandCompetition design submitted - design selected and secured job.
Item 14 of 441895RhuadsgeirPollokshields GlasgowScotland 
Item 15 of 441895St James Board SchoolCalton GlasgowScotland 
Item 16 of 441897Govan Town Hall and Municipal BuildingsGovan GlasgowScotlandWon competition and secured job
Item 17 of 441898Ardrossan and Saltcoats Infectious Diseases HospitalArdrossan AyrshireScotlandCompetition design - placed third
Item 18 of 441898Bangour Village AsylumUphall West LothianScotlandCompetition design for asylum - not successful, though was awarded a premium
Item 19 of 441898Four semi-detached housesNewlands GlasgowScotland 
Item 20 of 441899Cartwright Memorial HallBradford YorkshireEnglandCompetition design
Item 21 of 441899Springburn & Cowlairs District HallsSpringburn GlasgowScotlandCompetition design - placed second
Item 22 of 44c. 1899Stobhill HospitalSpringburn GlasgowScotlandSecond premiated competition design (150 premium), but awarded commission
Item 23 of 441900Eastern District Hospital  GlasgowScotlandCompetition design - not successful (placed second)
Item 24 of 441900Glasgow Royal Infirmary  GlasgowScotlandCompetition design - placed second
Item 25 of 44Late 1900 or early 1901Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College  GlasgowScotlandCompetition design submitted after invitation - unsuccessful
Item 26 of 441901Netherton of CormistonCoulter, Biggar LanarkshireScotland 
Item 27 of 441901Parish Council Offices  GlasgowScotland 
Item 28 of 441902FisherwoodBalloch DunbartonshireScotlandUnexecuted design?
Item 29 of 441902Possil Park Paint Works  GlasgowScotland 
Item 30 of 441903St Columba's ChurchGovan GlasgowScotland 
Item 31 of 441903Warehouses for the City Improvement Trust  GlasgowScotland 
Item 32 of 441904Govan Combination Poorhouse and AsylumGovan GlasgowScotlandNurses' home and two additional ward blocks
Item 33 of 441904Manchester Royal Infirmary: Oxford Road site  ManchesterEnglandCompetition design for extension - not successful
Item 34 of 441904Oil Works  GlasgowScotland 
Item 35 of 441904Warehouses for the City Improvement Trust  GlasgowScotlandMay be earlier date i.e. 1901 - see Builder reference
Item 36 of 441906Mitchell Library  GlasgowScotlandCompetition entry - not successful
Item 37 of 441907Birmingham Council House extension and Art Galleries  BirminghamEnglandCompetition design for extension - not successful
Item 38 of 441907Perth Town HallPerth PerthshireScotlandCompetition design - unsuccessful
Item 39 of 441908Stables, cattle and sheep pens for Brechin Brothers  GlasgowScotland 
Item 40 of 441910Hutchesons' Girls' School  GlasgowScotlandWon in competition
Item 41 of 441912Commercial building, 32-34 Queen Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 42 of 441912Erskine UF Church and HallBattlefield GlasgowScotlandNew church hall built and used as temporary church; church itself remained unexecuted
Item 43 of 441912Queen's Park Higher Grade School  GlasgowScotlandConstruction begun - left incomplete
Item 44 of 441912Warehouse for Simons Jacobs & Co and extension  GlasgowScotlandUpper floor of Brunswick Street section and new building after fire at 87-89 Candleriggs

References

Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architectural practice:
 Author(s)DateTitlePartPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 1Mireylees, Suzanne2005In the shadow of Gartloch: The life and work of John Thomson & Robert Douglas Sandilands Unpublished PhD thesis, University of St Andrews