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:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|121, West Regent Street, Glasgow, Scotland||Business||Before 1888||After 1890|| |
|241, West George Street, Glasgow, Scotland||Business||c. 1895||1905 or 1906|| |
|4, Jane Street, Blythswood Square, Glasgow, Scotland||Business||1905 or 1906||After 1913|| |
Employment and Training
Employees or Pupils
Buildings and Designs
|The following books contain references to this architectural practice:|
|Mireylees, Suzanne||2005||In the shadow of Gartloch: The life and work of John Thomson & Robert Douglas Sandilands|| ||Unpublished PhD thesis, University of St Andrews|| |