Basic Biographical Details

Name: Robert Reid
Designation: Architect
Born: 1774
Died: 1856
Bio Notes: Robert Reid was born on 8 November 1774, the son of Alexander Reid, a prosperous developer and builder in Edinburgh’s New Town and his wife Mae or May Cochrane. Reid learnt his trade in his father’s firm. Alexander Reid seems to have worked from premises in Rose Street in the 1780s moving to 1 South Castle Street in about 1794-5 and 14 South Castle Street in 1797 but by about 1799-1800 both Alexander and Robert Reid were listed as being at 18 South Castle Street. The building is said to have been developed by Alexander Reid. At this time Alexander Reid is styled as builder although Robert Reid as architect. Charles McKean states in the DNB that both Reid and his father are described as ‘builders’ in about 1800 but this is not the case at least in Post Office directories. His father did however occasionally style himself as ‘architect’ and in his death notice (he died 7 February 1822) which appeared in the Caledonian Mercury on 1 April 1822 is noted as ‘architect and builder’.

Alexander Reid feued several properties in the New Town to prominent Edinburgh lawyers and it may be through this connection that Reid was appointed to design the new Law Courts in Parliament Square, Edinburgh. In 1808 on the back of this job he obtained a warrant authorising him to use the title ‘King’s Architect and Surveyor in Scotland’. This was not a salaried post. In 1807 Reid had been elected a burgess of Edinburgh. However when James Brodie of Brodie, the Master of Works to the Scottish Crown died in 1824, Reid succeeded in getting that office merged with his own becoming ‘Master of Works and Architect’ to the King in Scotland with a salary of £200 p.a.. Reid then persuaded the government to establish a proper Scottish Office of Works. He was to head this up and to receive a salary of £500 p.a.. However as an economy measure this office and title were abolished in 1839.

Reid acted as arbiter in a number of disputes. He was asked to report on the contract dispute at Taymouth of 1811 and the Calton Hill plans in 1813 and he was the arbiter between John Paterson and the Eglinton Trustees in 1821 in a dispute over the construction costs of Eglinton Castle.

Reid retired on full pay after the demise of the Scottish Office of Works and went to live in a house called Lowood which he acquired near Melrose. He died at his town house, 44 Charlotte Square on 20 March 1856. His was survived by his wife Sarah Wisdom. A monument to Reid is in Dean Cemetery.

Reid followed the style of the Adam brothers. His façades in Parliament Square were inspired by the University Old College building but were slightly coarsened versions. Reid’s work at the Law Courts met generally with opprobrium especially his re-fronting of Old Parliament Hall. Both the Advocates and the Writers to the Signet preferred to employ William Stark to design the interiors of their libraries. St George’s Church and the Custom House at Leith were also criticised. An Aberdeen professor expressed the opinion that it was fortunate that Archibald Simpson designed the new Marischal College instead of Reid who was ‘a dull staid personage who had acquired much discredit by the plans for the new Custom House at Leith and his repairs at St Andrews’. It is generally agreed that Reid's best work was at Paxton House with an ambitious neo-classical interior. This was his only country house commission as his official duties left little time to develop that side of his practice. Charles McKean notes that Reid effectively saved a number of Scottish monuments and without him some might not have survived. He was a pioneering conservationist: ‘I conceive that in all cases of this kind, restoration or embellishment should not be the object … but that Repairs..should be executed…with a view solely to their preservation’.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 5Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness   
Item 2 of 518, South Castle Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivatec. 1800 In about 1799 he shared this address with 'Alexander Reid builder' who was his father.
Item 3 of 514, South Castle Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate/business1811 *  
Item 4 of 572, George Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusinessc. 1819  
Item 5 of 544, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivateBefore 18301856 

* earliest date known from documented sources.

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 1H M Office of Works (later Ministry of Works, Department of the Environment and Property Services Agency)18271839Chief ArchitectArchitect for Scotland

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 2James RaeburnBefore 1819(?)1827Assistant(?)Probably there in 1819. Became principal clerk of works at Scottish Office of Works in 1827
Item 2 of 2James MillarBefore 18391840Second ClerkIn H M Office of Works, Edinburgh

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 491801Bank of Scotland Headquarters, The Mound  EdinburghScotlandOriginal building - jointly with Richard Crichton
Item 2 of 491801Terraced houses, Marshall PlacePerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 3 of 491802New Town, northern extension  EdinburghScotlandPlans drawn up - in conjunction with William Sibbald. Reid designed the main elevations including Heriot Row.
Item 4 of 491803Luffness HouseDrem East LothianScotlandAddition
Item 5 of 491803Old AcademyPerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 6 of 491804Parliament House, Supreme Courts of Scotland  EdinburghScotlandNew law courts including facade to square. Also gaol.
Item 7 of 491806New TownDunkeld PerthshireScotlandPlans drawn up - not executed
Item 8 of 49180733-34 Charlotte Square  EdinburghScotland 
Item 9 of 49180746 Charlotte Square  EdinburghScotlandAmended Robert Adam's design
Item 10 of 491807Court HouseInveraray ArgyllScotlandAbortive scheme
Item 11 of 491807Tenement, Queensferry Street and Randolph Place  EdinburghScotland 
Item 12 of 491809Edinburgh Royal Lunatic Asylum  EdinburghScotlandCourtyard scheme initially planned; only east range built. Provided plans free.
Item 13 of 491810General PrisonPerth PerthshireScotlandOriginal military prison
Item 14 of 491810George Watson's College  EdinburghScotlandDesign of hospital
Item 15 of 49c. 1810Gosford House  East LothianScotlandDesign for rebuilding
Item 16 of 49c. 1810Valleyfield HousePenicuik MidlothianScotlandConversion to single house
Item 17 of 491811Custom HouseLeith EdinburghScotland 
Item 18 of 491811St George's Church  EdinburghScotland 
Item 19 of 491812Paxton House  BerwickshireScotlandEast wing containing Library and Picture Gallery
Item 20 of 491812Perth County BuildingsPerth PerthshireScotlandPlans drawn up - not executed.
Item 21 of 491812Signet Library  EdinburghScotlandExternal shell of the Sigent and Advocates' Library (now the Upper and lower Signet Library).

Reid originally designed interiors for these libraries whoich form two storeys of the same building, but both the Writers to the Sigent and the Faculty of Advocates commissioned William Stark to design the interiors. Reid as the government architect supervised the execution of Stark's designs.

Staircase design?
Item 22 of 491812The Orphans' Hospital  EdinburghScotlandAdditional buildings
Item 23 of 491813Greenlaw Military PrisonPenicuik MidlothianScotlandAddition of timber buildings
Item 24 of 49181460 Great King Street  EdinburghScotlandWith William Sibbald
Item 25 of 49181475 Great King Street  EdinburghScotlandWith William Sibbald
Item 26 of 49181479 Great King Street  EdinburghScotlandWith William Sibbald
Item 27 of 491818New building for the University of Edinburgh  EdinburghScotland 
Item 28 of 491819Edinburgh Royal Lunatic Asylum  EdinburghScotlandNorth and south additions
Item 29 of 491819National Monumental Church for Scotland  EdinburghScotlandDesign drawn up and exhibited
Item 30 of 491822Palace of Holyroodhouse, Abbey Court House  EdinburghScotland 
Item 31 of 491822Register House  EdinburghScotlandRear portion completed
Item 32 of 49Before 1822Royal Botanic Garden, Great Stove  EdinburghScotland 
Item 33 of 49Before 1822Royal Botanic Garden, Professor's classroom  EdinburghScotland 
Item 34 of 49Before 1822Royal Botanic Garden, screenwall with two pedimented foortgates  EdinburghScotland 
Item 35 of 491823New street through Grassmarket  EdinburghScotland 
Item 36 of 491824Downpatrick Gaol  Co. DownNorthern Ireland 
Item 37 of 491824Glasgow Cathedral  GlasgowScotlandOverhauled east parts
Item 38 of 491824Palace of Holyroodhouse  EdinburghScotlandRepairs and redecoration. Rebuilding of the south east quarter which had been damaged by subsidence and refaced the south front (originally rubble) in ashlar. Parliamentary grant of £24,755 toward this.
Item 39 of 491825Parliament House, Supreme Courts of Scotland  EdinburghScotlandEastern extensions
Item 40 of 491825Sea wall, north of St Andrews CathedralSt Andrews FifeScotland 
Item 41 of 491825Town HallWick CaithnessScotland 
Item 42 of 491828University of St Andrews, St Salvator's CollegeSt Andrews FifeScotlandEast range built; also unexecuted designs for new north range
Item 43 of 491829University of St Andrews, St Mary's CollegeSt Andrews FifeScotlandGateway; two bays to west of Library ('remodelling' according to Colvin)
Item 44 of 491833Royal Botanic Garden, Old Palm StoveInverleith EdinburghScotlandReid's authorship can be assumed although no published reference.
Item 45 of 491835Arbroath Abbey and abbey buildingsArbroath AngusScotlandRepair and clearing out rubbish and fallen masonry - as architect to the Scottish Office of Works
Item 46 of 49Before 1856Dunfermline AbbeyDunfermline FifeScotlandRestoration - as Head of Scottish Office of Works
Item 47 of 49Before 1856Elgin CathedralElgin MorayshireScotlandRestoration as Chief Architect in Scottish office of Works
Item 48 of 49Before 1856Fortrose CathedralFortrose Ross and CromartyScotlandRestoration work
Item 49 of 49Before 1922Royal Botanic Garden, Head Gardener's House  EdinburghScotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 4Colvin, H (ed.)1982History of the King's Works  volume vi, pp251-3
Item 2 of 4Colvin, H M1995A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-18403rd editionNew Haven and London: Yale University Press 
Item 3 of 4New DNB New Dictionary of National Biography   
Item 4 of 4Pride, Glen L1999The Kingdom of Fife2nd EditionThe Rutland Pressp122, p124

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 4Courtesy of Henry J Noltie, Royal Botanic GardenInformation set to Professor DM Walker Sent June 2016
Item 2 of 4NASSC Archives (Sc)21971/2 Cft.1 MW/1/342 
Item 3 of 4NASSC Archives (Sc)70/91 
Item 4 of 4NASSC Archives (Sc)SC 70/4/45, p678