Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Marjoribanks MacLaren
Designation: Architect
Born: 12 January 1853
Died: 20 October 1890
Bio Notes: James Marjoribanks MacLaren was born on 12 January 1853, the sixth of the eleven children of John MacLaren, farmer at Middleton of Boquhapple, Thornhill, Callander and his first wife Janet Downie. The family was both Free Church and Liberal. James was educated at the village school and at Stirling High School, to which he and his brothers walked barefoot carrying their shoes until they reached Academy Street. About 1868 he joined his three elder brothers in their lodgings at 12 Willowbank Street, Glasgow and was articled to Salmon Son & Ritchie in whose office he worked alongside George Washington Browne and William Flockhart. In 1873 Browne left for Campbell Douglas & Sellars's office as an assistant, MacLaren joining him either then or shortly thereafter; Flockhart was also to obtain a place in that office in 1876. Throughout that period all three sketched intensively in Scotland, a number of MacLaren's sketches surviving in possession of the family. While still an articled pupil in Salmon's office, in 1872 MacLaren obtained honourable mention in the competition organised by 'The Building News' with a house design which drew a complaint of plagiarism from Richard Norman Shaw.

In 1875 MacLaren and Browne moved to the office of John James Stevenson in London, sharing lodgings at 60 Brompton Square. There they joined the Architectural Association, MacLaren in November and Browne in December. But from early on in his time in London, MacLaren must have assisted the London architect Richard Coad as on 7 January 1876 MacLaren entered the Royal Academy Schools on Coad's recommendation, Browne obtaining entry in the following April. Although still not in independent practice MacLaren built two large houses at Grangemouth in 1877, that for his cousin Daniel Alexander MacLaren so close in style to William Leiper's Balgray as to suggest that he must have spent some time in Leiper's office, or at least have had an entrée to it, and in 1878 an artist's house at Fulham in a more Stevenson-like style which does not appear to have been built. In May of the same year he went to Paris to design some furniture, and while there used his Architectural Association tickets to attend lectures at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The influence of these lectures, and of what he saw there, was to be in evidence for a year or two, most notably in his design for the Liverpool School of Art competition of 1881. In the course of his travels in France he visited Rouen and Fontainebleau. Later in the same year (1878) MacLaren visited Spain and Switzerland. MacLaren's movements between offices at that time cannot be securely dated but at some point he was in the office of the Surveyor of Public Buildings for the County of Surrey, Charles Henry Howell, and then in the office of Howell's former assistant William Young, probably just after Young won the Glasgow Municipal buildings competition.

In 1880 MacLaren was joined at his lodgings in 40 Montpelier Street by his younger brother Thomas, born on 19 February 1863 and also educated at Stirling High School. As James was still not in private practice Thomas was articled to Flockhart, then in partnership with another ex-assistant of Campbell Douglas, William Wallace, as Wallace & Flockhart. He attended the South Kensington classes prior to entering the Royal Academy Schools in 1882. He excelled there, winning the Academy's Silver Medal in 1883, the Gold Medal and Travelling Scholarship in 1885 and the Pugin travelling Studentship in 1887. While in London the MacLarens attended St John's Presbyterian Church in Allen Street, Kensington where the minister was the Rev Dugald MacColl from Glasgow. There they became friends of MacColl's son, the future art critic Dugald Sutherland MacColl and on 28 February 1883 James MacLaren married Dugald's sister Margaret Mathieson MacColl.

The marriage was made possible by James MacLaren's senior position at Coad's Duke Street office which developed into a partnership in 1884. The partnership seems to have been a somewhat loose one, MacLaren assisting with work for Coad's clients with freedom to enter competitions in his own name and build up a practice of his own. That arrangement lasted until late in 1887 when James MacLaren moved out to start a completely independent practice nearby at 21 King William Street, a move made possible by the competition win for Stirling High School in August 1886 and the patronage of Sir Donald Currie, MP for West Perthshire, probably obtained through his father who had been one of Currie's leading supporters in the elections of 1880 and 1885. Although he had joined the Art Workers' Guild in December 1886 and taught sketching at the Architectural Association he did not seek membership of the RIBA. There is no record of Thomas having worked full-time in either the Duke Street or King William Street office although he gave the latter as his address in March 1888 when submitting his Gold Medal design to the Royal Scottish Academy but he certainly helped out, presumably on a fee-paid basis, as did Robert Lorimer prior to joining the office full-time on MacLaren's death. Thomas's nomination papers record interior work for several of Currie's ships which may have been commissioned from his brother, but this is still uncertain. Thomas appears to have remained with Flockhart until 1888 when he became an assistant in F W Stevens's London office: it is doubtful if he spent any time in Stevens's main Bombay office as the time he spent with him was short. He commenced practice independently of his brother in March 1889, but probably continued to take in any work from his brother's office as and when required.

In 1887 MacLaren was commissioned to design a hotel for the Canary Islands Company at Las Palmas, a stopping place for Sir Donald Currie's Union Castle route, but in the winter of that year he caught a severe chill which brought on early symptoms of tuberculosis, a disease of which the MacLarens had a family history. The visits to Las Palmas helped, as did a visit to Cape Town probably on Currie business, and he took a rest at Engadine in Switzerland in the hope of a cure. At home he gave up his lease of 34 Edwardes Square after a row with the landlord and moved to the clearer air of Hampstead and a weekend house at Berkhamsted. Throughout this period he was ably supported by his leading assistants, William Dunn, born 1859 and a pupil of Duncan McNaughtan, and Robert Watson, born the son of a Leith cork merchant in 1865, who had been articled to Robert Paterson and had been assistant to Hippolyte Jean Blanc in 1884-87 and Robert Rowand Anderson in 1887. Also in MacLaren's office were William Arthur Webb and Arthur Henry Moore.

In these years MacLaren's style matured rapidly. The late Gothic adopted at Stirling High School derived from the existing building by the Hays and from his rebuilding of the cut-down Bowringsleigh in Devon, but the compostition was much more novel showing an awareness of contemporary American architecture in the low proportions of the courtyard front and an originality of the details which went beyond their inspiration in the work of Sedding and Wilson. The High School's style was reproduced in the Pinker studio house in Avonmore Road in London, but in his work for Sir Donald Currie a still greater originality was developed, the double house at 10-12 Palace Court having non period details and a shallow relief frieze, all of American inspiration. On Currie's Glenlyon estate the Godwin-Devey-like English vernacular of Balnald (1886) quickly moved into a clever synthesis of Scottish and Devon-Dorset vernacular with roughcast walls and thatched roofs at the Fortingall cottages, and into bold geometric forms at Glenlyon farmhouse. At the Fortingall Hotel and at Glenlyon House, both radical enlargements of earlier buildings which were only at sketch-plan stage when MacLaren died, a pure Scots vernacular with some original details was adopted. These buildings were published in 'The Architect' and had a profound influence, not only on his assistant Lorimer who derived the style of his Colinton cottages from them, but on Charles Rennie Mackintosh at Windyhill and the Hill House. There is no evidence as yet of any visits by Mackintosh to Glenlyon, but he certainly sketched Stirling High School and drew on its turret detail for his Glasgow Herald Building.

Early in 1890 MacLaren, Dunn and the civil engineer A D Stewart won the international competition for the Eiffel-type tower to be built at Wembley for the Tower Company Ltd, a development associated with Sir Edward Watkin and the Metropolitan Railway, but in October MacLaren's health suddenly deteriorated and he died on the 20th. He was buried at Hampstead. He was survived by his wife Margaret who did not remarry, and his five children. They were provided for by MacLaren's partnership agreement with Watson, but others hoped to secure Currie's patronage including Dunn, who had left to commence independent practice in the previous year. Dunn and Watson were persuaded to merge practices as a partnership but Dunn's agreement depended on an assurance of the continuing support of Currie himself which was successfully brokered by D S MacColl on behalf of his sister and his nephews and nieces. In this he was assisted by Howard Ince.

Margaret MacLaren died in 1908. John Leslie MacLaren and James Ewing MacLaren, the twins born in September 1884, emigrated to South Carolina where John Leslie - always known as Leslie - was an accountant and James was an architect. Record of the training of James Ewing MacLaren (died 1940) is at present lacking but it was probably with Dunn & Watson. Donald Graeme MacLaren, born 1886, became a portrait and landscape painter who was posted missing on the western front in 1917.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 460, Brompton Square, London, EnglandPrivate18751880 
Item 2 of 440, Montpelier Street, London, EnglandPrivate18801883 
Item 3 of 43, Duke Street, Adelphi, London, EnglandBusiness18841887 
Item 4 of 421, King William Street, Strand, London, EnglandBusiness1887  

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 9Salmon, Son & Ritchiec. 18681872Apprentice 
Item 2 of 9James Salmon & Son18721873Assistant(?) 
Item 3 of 9Campbell Douglas & Sellars18731875Assistant(?) 
Item 4 of 9Stevenson & Robson1875Before 1876(?)Assistant 
Item 5 of 9Charles Henry HowellAfter 1875c. 1881(?)Assistant 
Item 6 of 9Richard Coad1875 or 1876c. 1883Assistant 
Item 7 of 9William Youngc. 1881(?)Before 1884(?)Assistant 
Item 8 of 9Coad & MacLaren18831887Partner 
Item 9 of 9Richard Coadc. 1883c. 1883Senior Assistant 

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 6Walter William Bullc. 18861890Apprentice 
Item 2 of 6Robert WatsonAfter 1887Before 1890Assistant 
Item 3 of 6William Dunnc. 1887c. 1889Assistant 
Item 4 of 6William Weir1888 Assistant 
Item 5 of 6(Sir) Robert Stodart Lorimer1890(?)1890AssistantEvening and weekend work
Item 6 of 6Henry Victor AshleyAfter 1892Before 1896Assistant 

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 411872Villa in Perthshire  PerthshireScotland 
Item 2 of 411877Avon HallGrangemouth StirlingshireScotland 
Item 3 of 411877Avondhu HouseGrangemouth StirlingshireScotland 
Item 4 of 411878House for an artistFulham LondonEngland 
Item 5 of 411879St Michael's ChurchCrieff PerthshireScotlandWon competition and selected for job but displaced by Ewing. (Incorrectly appears as 'McLeran' in sources for this building)
Item 6 of 411880Liverpool School of Art  LiverpoolEnglandUnsuccessful competition design for original building, Mount Street
Item 7 of 41c. 1880Glasgow Municipal Buildings  GlasgowScotlandCompetition design entered under the pseudonym 'Aiblins'- not successful but favourably mentioned in building journals
Item 8 of 411881Norrieston Free ChurchNorrieston PerthshireScotlandRepairs and refurnishing with large classical pulpit.
Item 9 of 411881Presbyterian Church Schools and Lecture HallLongsight ManchesterEngland 
Item 10 of 411884Burnley Municipal Buildings and BathsBurnley LancashireEnglandCompetition design - with William Dunn as assistant - not successful
Item 11 of 411884St Hydren's ChurchLansallos CornwallEngland 
Item 12 of 411884St John's Presbyterian ChurchKensington LondonEnglandAlterations - ceilings removed in nave, timber roof remodelled, new pews and other alterations
Item 13 of 411885Fulham Vestry HallFulham LondonEnglandCompetition design - not successful
Item 14 of 411885Lanhydrock House  CornwallEngland 
Item 15 of 411886Balnald cottagesGlen Lyon PerthshireScotland 
Item 16 of 411886Balnald SawmillGlenlyon PerthshireScotlandReconstruction of former threshing mill
Item 17 of 411886Balnald Steading and farmhouseGlen Lyon PerthshireScotland 
Item 18 of 411886BowringsleighKingsbridge DevonEnglandMajor restoration of cut-down Tudor house
Item 19 of 411886Ledbury Park  HerefordshireEnglandRestoration and extension
Item 20 of 411886Policeman's cottage blockFortingall PerthshireScotlandFirst scheme
Item 21 of 411886Stirling High SchoolStirling StirlingshireScotlandAddition of new wing
Item 22 of 41c. 1886Cottages at EastnorEastnor HerefordshireEngland 
Item 23 of 41c. 1886Miss Menzies HouseFortingall PerthshireScotlandAdditions
Item 24 of 411887Hotel Santa CatalinaLas PalmasGran Canaria Canary Isands 
Item 25 of 411887Houses, Earl's CourtEarl's Court LondonEnglandScheme for houses - not executed as drawn. Site changed hands and MacLaren's involvement in executed scheme unclear
Item 26 of 411887Ripple CourtDeal KentEnglandNew wing added
Item 27 of 411888House and studio, Avonmore Road  LondonEngland 
Item 28 of 41188910 and 12 Palace CourtBayswater LondonEngland 
Item 29 of 411889Aberfeldy Town HallAberfeldy PerthshireScotland 
Item 30 of 411889Glenlyon FarmhouseGlenlyon PerthshireScotland 
Item 31 of 411889Glenlyon FarmsteadingGlenlyon PerthshireScotland 
Item 32 of 411889Kirkton CottagesFortingall PerthshireScotland 
Item 33 of 411889Policeman's cottage blockFortingall PerthshireScotlandScheme as built
Item 34 of 411889Presbyterian Church of St JamesDulwich LondonEnglandWon competition and secured job
Item 35 of 411890(?)Fortingall HotelFortingall PerthshireScotlandProbably made sketch scheme - executed by Dunn & Watson
Item 36 of 411890Garth HouseGlenlyon PerthshireScotlandNew interiors (completed in 1891 after his death)
Item 37 of 411890(?)Glenlyon HouseFortingall PerthshireScotlandProbably made sketch scheme subsequently executed by Dunn & Watson
Item 38 of 411890Shipping offices for Sir Donald Currie  LondonEnglandDesign exhibited under joint names of MacLaren, Dunn & Watson
Item 39 of 411890Wembley Tower and ParkWembley LondonEnglandIn association with William Dunn and London civil engineer A D Stewart
Item 40 of 41September 1890Battersea Polytechnic  LondonEnglandCompetition design - not successful
Item 41 of 41c. 1890Garth House, Power HouseFortingall PerthshireScotlandAttribution


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 6Calder, Alan1990James MacLaren Architects Journal, 17 January 1990 
Item 2 of 6Calder, Alan1990James MacLaren 1853-90, arts and crafts architect RIBA exhibition catalogue 
Item 3 of 6Calder, Alan1990Revaluating MacLaren RIBA Journal February 1990 
Item 4 of 6Calder, Alan2003James MacLaren: Arts and Crafts Pioneer Donington: Shaun Tyas 
Item 5 of 6Carruthers, Annette2013The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland: a history  pp57-60
Item 6 of 6Service, Alastair1975Edwardian Architecture and its Origins  pp100-118 (reprinted from the Architectural Review - date of birth incorrect)

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 4British Architect7 November 1890v34 pp340-341 and 361 Obituary
Item 2 of 4Builder1890v59 p348 Obituary
Item 3 of 4Building News1890v59 p672 Obituary
Item 4 of 4Stirling Saturday Observer25 October 1890  Obituary