Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||George Mathewson |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||19 March 1809 |
|Died: ||20 February 1873(?) |
|Bio Notes: ||George Mathewson was born on 19 March 1809. He was the eldest of the six children of William Mathewson, tailor, and his wife Margaret Finlay. His mother's family were notable seafaring people in Dundee and this connection was important for George's later career. The Mathewson family were in commerce. Nothing is yet known of George Mathewson’s education and training. A training with William Macdonald Mackenzie and his sons in Perth is possible as his work is stylistically more akin to theirs than to the Dundee town architect David Neave or his successor James Black. He probably had a thorough training in surveying, judging by his later work. He may have spent some time in London, perhaps with a practice there. His brother William had served his tailoring apprenticeship in London and his uncle Thomas Finlay and his wife had married in Middlesex in 1812 and it is possible that Mathewson visited for short or longer periods. |
Mathewson’s first recorded commission was a layout of the planned railway village of Newtyle. This was followed soon after by a similar plan for the village of Ardler, later Washington. These were followed by a plan which was lithographed in 1834 for parts of Dundee which were to be developed by the Town Council. Between 1832 and 1834 Mathewson was invited to enter three competitions organised by the Town Council. He was not successful in any of them but this was perhaps partly due to the fact that he was the youngest competitor.
During the 1830s Mathewson found steady employment drawing up feuing plans for the landed gentry in Angus. These included a plan for the area around West Ferry. Mathewson went on to design several villas West Ferry, including his own house, Beach Cottage in 1838-39. Details in the cottage indicate a knowledge of pattern book examples. Fort William a short distance west of Beach Cottage is a much grander villa but shows a number of Mathewson’s favourite details: deep bracketed eaves and elaborate stacks as does the villa Harecraig which was complete by 1844.
In 1836 Mathewson drew two feuing plans in Blairgowrie. It is not yet clear how he obtained these commissions. His sister Helen later married Thomas Conacher, ironmonger in Blairgowrie and there may therefore have been some earlier family connection to the town. On stylistic ground it would seem that Mathewson also designed some villas in Blairgowrie in the later 1830s and 1840s: a villa and gardener’s house in Newton Terrace which shows strong affinities to Fort William in West Ferry though on a much smaller scale and Brownsville just south of the Blairgowrie.
Following a feuing plan of parts of Barnhill, Mathewson received a commission for a villa at Broughty Ferry, Abertay Cottage, which is perhaps Mathewson’s most elaborate villa design. It dates from the early 1840s and was designed for a Dundee merchant, Alexander Browne. It has some elements in common with other Mathewson villa designs (asymmetrical plan, bracketed eaves with small round-headed windows in the gables and decorative stacks) but it is remarkable for the elaborate interior decorative scheme. The drawing room of the original house has panelled walls, and a deep coved ceiling. There is fine plasterwork throughout but that in the hall and dining room is of particular note with dragons and human heads, vaulting and decorative ogee niches.
A further feuing plan for an area of ground bounded by Seafield Place, Magdalen Yard Road and the lands of Bellfield to the west was drawn up by Mathewson in 1835. Mathewson may have designed a number of villas in this area but there is as yet no documentary evidence for this. However Elm Lodge at the north end of Magdalen Place was certainly designed by him: contracts were advertised in July 1849.
Alongside his work on feuing plans and cottages, Mathewson received a steady stream of church work. His first commission, St Andrews RC Church Nethergate, Dundee dates from 1835-36. It is arguably the best piece of Dundee-designed Gothic in the city at that date and indicates a knowledge of contemporary Edinburgh and Glasgow church and chapel architecture. This was soon followed by a commission for the Catholic Church in Tomintoul. Further commissions for churches funded by the Church of Scotland Extension Committee followed, both of which used the Neo-Norman style. Dudhope is a very original design with the tower set back with a deep traceried recess screening the gallery window. Details of the church may have been borrowed from Thomas Hamilton’s Alyth Parish Church, also Neo-Norman in style. Alyth is only five miles from Blairgowrie where Mathewson was working about this time. Mathewson’s most idiosyncratic church design was St David’s in Dundee which was opened in 1844. The elevation is divided into three sections with separate wide pitched roofs over each one – not unlike the arrangement at the villa Fort William.
After a gap of nearly ten years the Catholic Church employed Mathewson twice more: the Wellburn Institution of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Liff Road (1848) and St Mary’s Church in Forebank Road (1850-51). The latter was in Mathewson’s favourite ‘Saxon’ style; the long nave and ‘cathedral-like ‘ appearance of the interior were remarked on that the time.
Mathewson designed a number of school buildings which were all Tudor Gothic in style. He also designed a small number of commercial properties perhaps the most interesting being a classical block at the north east corner of Union Street. The shop at ground floor level was for the drapers Moon & Langlands with the ‘New Albion Warehouse’ above. It was almost certainly designed to match the earlier Royal Hotel on the opposite corner of Union Street designed by David Neave. A second adjacent building in Union Street was where Mathewson’s father and brother ran their drapery business.
In 1841 Mathewson advertised for a draughtsman for his office which must have been busy enough at this point to rquire additional help.
In 1852 or 1853 Mathewson left Scotland for Australia. He had first-hand knowledge of the new colony as his first cousin was the Dundonian shipmaster John Finlay Duff who made regular journeys to and from Australia from 1835 onwards. No doubt Mathewson travelled on Duff’s ship. By early 1853 Mathewson had a post in the Department of Surveyors in Adelaide and when the post of Surveyor of Main Roads fell vacant Mathewson was appointed. However he only stayed in the post until June 1853 when he tendered his resignation. It is unclear where he went between mid-1853 and 5 June 1854 when he arrived in Portland, Victoria as successor to Mr Green, draughtsman in the survey office there. At this point he adopted the middle name ‘Mawer’ (his maternal grandmother‘s name) probably to avoid confusion with George Matheson who was a merchant in Portland and a Trustee of Port Philip Savings Bank. He also worked in independent practice in Portland and obtained various commissions, including St Stephen’s Church, the Mechanics Institute, a hotel and a villa. He was appointed Portland’s first town Surveyor and Engineer in 1856.
However things went wrong for Mathewson shortly after this. He was in dispute with the Trustees of St Stephen’s over their failure to pay his account. The Trustees were dissatisfied with the service he had provided claiming the roof of the building leaked and that this was because he had been drunk and unable to supervise the construction of the building as he should have done. He vigorously denied these charges but in court appeared ‘very ill and was accommodated in a chair’. In fact he was awarded £40 by the court. Mathewson also brought an action against the secretary of the Mechanics Institute but failed to appear in court.
Mathewson left Portland on the ‘Frances Henty’ bound for London on 20 March 1858. The illness mentioned during the court case had perhaps forced him to return home. In 1861 he was back in Beach Cottage with his sister Lauretta. In the census of that year he is described as ‘architect’ rather than ‘late architect ‘ as he was in 1871. No work by him in the 1860s has yet been discovered.
Mathewson died at Beach Cottage on 20 February 1873. The cause of death was given as insanity and consumption. The Australian connection continued as William Mathewson, George’s brother supplied a tailor in Portland, Victoria, with ‘Mathewson’s superior clothing’ until the mid-1860s. John Finlay Duff’s daughter Eliza Dixon Duff or Stafford received a bequest from William on his death in 1892.
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|West Ferry, Dundee, Scotland||Business|| || || |
|6, Castle Street, Dundee, Scotland||Business||1834 *|| || |
|7, Exchange Buildings, Shore, Dundee, Scotland||Business||c. 1837||c. 1846|| |
|Beach Cottage, West Ferry, Dundee, Scotland||Private||Late 1830s|| || |
|7, Exchange Street, Dundee, Scotland||Business||1850 *|| || |
* 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|
|James Foggie||c. 1849(?)||c. 1854(?)||Apprentice|| |
Buildings and Designs
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|Dundee Post Office Directories|| || || || || |
|RCAHMS||1992||Dundee on Record|| ||RCAHMS||St Mary's RC Church, Forebank Road; View from the east (1989) p46|
|The following periodicals contain references to this architect:|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|Architectural Heritage||2011||22, i|| ||Page 53-75. Article 'George Mathewson: a far-travelled Dundee architect' by Yvonne Hillyard. Australian research undertaken by Bill Stuchbery.|