Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||William Nixon |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||20 February 1811 |
|Died: ||24 March 1848 |
|Bio Notes: ||William Nixon was born in London on 20 February 1811 the first son of William Nixon, builder and surveyor in Cumberland, and his wife Elizabeth (likely Glazard). He was christened at St Mary’s Church on St Marylebone Road on 15th May 1811 and went to a private school in Brighton. William and Elizabeth had at least three further children, daughters Mary and Eleanor (b.1816) and a son Charles. Charles (1814-1873) became a successful civil engineer and railway developer in Ireland. |
William Nixon Sr was Clerk of Works for John Nash and worked with him on several projects including Buckingham Palace, where he was the main Clerk of Works with three clerks serving under him. From 1815 the family moved to Brighton where Nixon Sr supervised the construction of the Royal Pavilion. Nash’s regard for him is evident in a discussion over expenses; ‘… but Nixon more than me is entitled to this praise – he is the most diligent attentive and most honest Clerk of the Works I have ever met’ Nixon Sr died in 1826. His son Charles worked for John Nash from 1832-5 as an agent or manager and it is therefore probable that William also began his career in Nash’s office. In any case he soon after entered the Public Works Office and was transferred to Phoenix Park, Dublin in the latter 1830’s. In or before 1835 he married Fanny Taylor and they had a son William born in England in 1836.
In April 1840 he transferred to Edinburgh to serve in the Office of HM Woods, Forests, Land Revenues, Works and Buildings ( Office of Works). He was appointed in a downgraded role from the previous incumbent Robert Reid whose role as ‘Sole Master of our works and general Overseer and Inspector and Architect and Surveyor of all our Palaces and public buildings in Scotland’ was abolished in 1839. Nixon is variously described as either architect or clerk of works, but on at least one occasion he is noted as ‘Queen’s Architect’, perhaps his own description.
The role, as the previous title describes, involved the maintenance and repair of Crown owned buildings. Nixon himself was involved in works to the Cathedrals at Elgin, St Giles, Glasgow, St Andrews, Kirkwall and Dunfermline Abbey. With the latter he surveyed the building with a view to reroofing and glazing the building at a cost of £2000. He also dealt with Crown buildings and planned works to Holyrood Palace, its approaches, and the extensive road system around Arthur’s Seat.
In Edinburgh he was involved in alterations to the law complex at Parliament Square including the provision of four new Outer House courtrooms. Today two of these plain and austere courtrooms remain intact. He also designed the new Police Office on the corner of Parliament Square and High Street following the resignation of Robert Paterson (1790-1846). His appointment to this job sparked debate about whether it was appropriate that a Public works architect should be chosen. The architect David Bryce spoke of Mr Nixon with the highest respect, but added that his connection with the Woods and forests Office was ‘the very reverse of a recommendation’. Nixon also designed the interior fittings of Gillespie Graham’s General Assembly Hall in the Tolbooth Church.
In St Andrews he finished the United College of St Salvator and St Leonard began by his predecessor Robert Reid in 1829. Nixon designed the north wing, cloister and screen walling. He also designed the West Infant School (1844) and the Martyrs Monument (1842). The monument is a 10m obelisk dedicated to the martyrs of the Protestant reformation, and featured unusual heavy neo-classical decoration on its base.
In 1846 he was involved with the location of the remains of Queen Mary of Guelders during the proposed demolition of the Trinity Church in Edinburgh, which went ahead in 1848.
In 1847 he became ill and had to resign as the architect for the Police Offices on the High Street in November that year.
After around six months of illness he died on 24th March 1848 at his home at 2 Duncan Street, Newington, Edinburgh, his cause of death being recorded as an abcess. An obituary in the Scotsman of March 29 1848 noted;
‘Mr Nixon received his appointment under her Majesty’s Commissioners of Woods and Forests about eight years ago, and since that time his zeal and assiduity in the public service, and kind and courteous demeanour, acquired for him universal esteem’.
Obituaries tend to express the better nature of their recipients but a less praiseworthy analysis appeared a few years later in an article on recent architecture in Edinburgh (Scotsman Sep 14th 1850) which discussed the ‘parasite’ buildings attached to the Parliament Hall. It is not clear whether the article refers to the Parliament Square range designed by Robert Reid, but as these has been there for some time, it is much more likely to refer to the court rooms added to the south elevation of Parliament Hall in 1840.
‘Most of the later buildings were, we believe, the work of the deceased Mr Nixon. He was a man of great ability and practical skill – but as for taste ! we shall not venture to characterise his’
His will left his estate to his wife and son who continued to live in Edinburgh until the early 1850’s when they moved to London. By 1857 when his widow was writing her own will their only son had died (1854) and her estate was to pass to William’s sisters Mary and Eleanor, with an allowance for Alice Nixon (b.1854) the young daughter of his brother Charles Nixon and his wife Elizabeth Alice Grant who lived next door to Fanny at Upper Belgrave Place, London
Nixon was succeeded in his post by his former assistant Robert Matheson.
Research and biography by Steven Robb
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|Phoenix Park, Dublin, Eire||Business||After 1825||April 1840|| |
|2, Duncan Street, Edinburgh, Scotland||Private||1848 *|| || |
* 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 Millar||1840||September 1840||Second Clerk||In H M Office of Works, Edinburgh|
|Jesse Hall||1842||1848||Clerk of Works|| |
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 started||Building name||Town, district or village||Island||City or county||Country||Notes|
|After 1831||Royal Botanic Garden, Head Gardener's House|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Probably Nixon responsible for remodeling.|
|After 1841||Dundrennan Abbey||Dundrennan|| ||Kirkcudbrightshire||Scotland||Repairs - Nixon as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works|
|1842||Martyrs Monument||St Andrews|| ||Fife||Scotland|| |
|1842||Palace of Holyroodhouse|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Internal alterations - as architect for Scotland in the Office of Works|
|1842||Tolbooth Church|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Furnishing|
|1844||Madras Infant School||St Andrews|| ||Fife||Scotland|| |
|1844||University of St Andrews, St Salvator's College||St Andrews|| ||Fife||Scotland||New north range and alterations to east range - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works. Colvin states that the buildings by Reid were completed to a 'simplified design'.|
|1845||Dunblane Cathedral||Dunblane|| ||Perthshire||Scotland||Iron gates - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works|
|1845||Dunfermline Abbey||Dunfermline|| ||Fife||Scotland||Restoration - Nixon as architect in charge of the Office of Works in Scotland, with Matheson as assistant|
|1845||Police Office, High Street|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||As Architect for Scotland in the Office of Works|
|1845||St Andrews Cathedral||St Andrews|| ||Fife||Scotland||New entrance - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works|
|1846||University of St Andrews, Chapel of St Salvator||St Andrews|| ||Fife||Scotland||Cloister behind chapel, and scheme for enclosure of area to south of chapel - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works|
|1846||University of St Andrews, St Salvator's College||St Andrews|| ||Fife||Scotland||Boundary walls|
|1847||Brechin Cathedral||Brechin|| ||Angus||Scotland||Apex of spire and ball finial replaced. Also semi-ciruclar wooden platforms and ladders added to round tower.|
|1847||Kirkwall Cathedral||Kirkwall||Mainland||Orkney||Scotland||Restoration and removal of post-Reformation furnishings - as architect of Office of Works|
|1848||Parliament House, Supreme Courts of Scotland|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Alterations below Lord Ordinary's Court, as architect to the Office of Works (completed in 1849, after Nixon's death)|
|Before 1848||Glasgow Cathedral|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland||From 1848 onwards general repairs and new west front to design by Edward Blore. Nixon as clerk of works in the Office of Works in Scotland|
|Late 1840s||Elgin Cathedral||Elgin|| ||Morayshire||Scotland||Restoration - as Architect for Scotland in H M Office of Works|
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|Colvin, H M||1995||A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840||3rd edition||New Haven and London: Yale University Press|| |
|Pride, Glen L||1999||The Kingdom of Fife||2nd Edition||The Rutland Press||p122|
|Summerson, John||1980||The Life and Work of John Nash, architect|| || || |
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|Courtesy of Steven Robb||Information via website|| ||Sent 2012|
|Irish Architectural Archive||Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720-1940|| || |
|New Register House||Warriston Cemetery Records|| ||March 24 1848|