Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||William Macdonald Mackenzie |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||1797 |
|Died: ||25 February 1856 |
|Bio Notes: ||William Macdonald Mackenzie was baptised at St Martins, Perthshire on 20 July 1797, the second son of Alexander Mackenzie, architect-builder and his wife Janet Davidson: his middle name derived from Janet’s grandmother. Janet’s parents were David Davidson (b. 1744) and Margaret Ower (b. 1743), the latter bringing subsequent family links to the civil engineers and architects of that name in Dundee. |
William became his father’s right-hand man from an early age, designing large additions to Megginch for Admiral Sir Adam Drummond in 1817-18 when still only twenty, leaving him little time to gain wider experience. No further major country house commissions have been identified, but from 1824 onwards there was a steady growth in church, manse, school and estate work which probably owed something to the parallel rise of his Mackenzie cousins at Stormontfield bleachworks, two of whom became prominent Perth lawyers: Alexander who became Town Clerk, and David a Writer to the Signet in private practice.
In 1825 William laid out King James’s Place and King’s Place for King James VI’s Hospital and in or about the same year he became Superintendent of the Town’s Works in Perth, a part-time appointment which ultimately became that of City Architect. The post encompassed the care and insurance of the burgh’s buildings, the maintenance and cleaning of its streets and bridges, the filtration of its water supply and action in respect of neglected buildings. His experience in laying out new streets and improving old ones appears to have commended him to the 4th Duke of Atholl who commissioned him to cut Bridge Street through Dunkeld in 1827, the feuars being required to conform to Mackenzie’s elevations.
Throughout the later 1820s Mackenzie’s work grew rapidly in sophistication as distinctive broad-eaved cottage and Jacobean villa designs were introduced, reaching a peak of excellence in the large house-block at 20 Charlotte Street, Perth, in 1830. This had a Greek Doric ground-floor colonnade and an elegant bow comparable with the very best Edinburgh work of the time. While his younger brother David (b. 1805) may have had Edinburgh experience, this new level of accomplishment most probably resulted from a rigorous programme of self-improvement as it continued after David’s departure for Dundee in 1830/31. William’s Builder obituarist records that he had much business in London giving evidence to Parliamentary committees, enabling him to study the best contemporary London architecture, see the designs exhibited at the Royal Academy and visit the bookshops.
Mackenzie’s father had died in 1827, leaving William responsible for his youngest son Thomas, then aged thirteen. Somewhere about 1824 William had married his mother’s niece Jean Davidson (born 1804); and in 1831 he wrote a thirty-three page will which indicates that he was then reasonably prosperous. But only three years later he found it necessary to write a codicil of which a pencil draft dated 4 July 1834 has survived. This records that he had advanced £400 to his brother David to commence practice in Dundee and as he prospered there in the mid to late 1830s and early 1840s that was probably repaid. But it also shows that he had met with losses from the failure of his wine merchant brothers Alexander (b. 1803) and John (b. 1799) and ‘to a much greater extent’ from obligations arising from his brother-in-law James Davidson (b. 1805) a wright at St Martins, and from David Davidson a spirit merchant in Dundee, in all totalling about £1,400, a very substantial sum at that time. James Davidson subsequently emigrated to Argentina to join his brother John, dying there in 1847. Although John Davidson was to provide financial assistance, these debts were to cloud the rest of Mackenzie’s life and result in hardship for his widow and family.
Nevertheless most of Mackenzie’s best work dates from the mid-1830s. The round-arched Neo-classicism of his St Leonard’s Church in Perth of 1834 shows an acute awareness of contemporary French architecture, his City & County Infirmary of 1836-38 combines Graeco-Egyptian elements with Roman motifs drawn from Thomas Hamilton’s Dean Orphanage in Edinburgh while the incised classical detail of his Exchange Coffee House of 1836 draws on what he had seen of Sir John Soane’s work in London.
Mackenzie had no further opportunities to design on that scale, his Perth City Hall of 1845 being a makeshift structure between existing buildings and in or about 1835 he lost the assistance of his gifted younger brother Thomas who left to join David in Dundee; and within the next few years he had to face serious competition from Andrew Heiton senior, particularly after the return of Andrew Heiton junior from David Bryce’s office in the later 1840s. But he seems never to have been short of work, particularly in respect of church building. His parish church of 1831 at Cargill is still elegantly classical, but those built from 1839 onwards at Liff, Clunie and Rhynd seem to have been modelled on those by William Stirling of Dunblane, simple gothic rectangles with crenellated and pinnacled towers: that at Liff, where he superseded William Burn, has a spire. His Builder obituary credited him with forty to fifty churches, a figure which can only be explained by his being responsible for the Free churches built in and around Perth. These were low and wide nave-and-aisles structures based on David Cousin prototypes, the biggest being Free St Leonard’s and Free Middle Church in Perth, and Erroll. In all three the width of the church was skilfully masked by short three-stage twin towers with distinctive stepped pyramid roofs. The smaller parishes had simplified versions of the same formula, all with broad four-centred arched windows and Y-tracery. Although cheaply built Mackenzie’s churches achieved far greater individuality than was usual in early Free Church design. Their sheer number suggests that Mackenzie had become a Free Churchman himself: if so they were probably unremunerative.
Of what must have been an extensive farmhouse and steading side to Mackenzie’s practice only one is documented, Easter Elcho of 1827 which brought him a Highland Society prize of 20 guineas and was illustrated in John Claudius Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Villa and Farm Architecture of 1846.
Mackenzie’s practice was based at 14 Charlotte Street in 1837 and 5 George Street in 1841. But from 1848 he appears to have worked from his house, Bankside in Byerswell (now Bowerswell Road), apparently because of declining health as well as declining finances. His second son William (1826-64) trained as a civil engineer as well as an architect but did not stay with the practice, moving to Liverpool Water Office some time before 1853, later becoming Superintendent of St George’s Hall.
William Macdonald Mackenzie died on 15 February 1856. His four executors – two of whom were his lawyer cousins – had all died and his estate was initially sequestrated as insolvent. An inventory made up almost exactly a year later (16 February 1857) shows that his Scottish Widows Fund policy was cancelled out by a loan from them at 4% and another made jointly by David Mackie, Perth and John Davidson in Buenos Ayres (sic) amounting to £320. Shares worth £400 having been sequestered by the bank, the value of his estate was £586 13s. 2d., £150 of that sum consisting of fees due to him. Jean continued the business with the assistance of her third son David (1832-75) but found herself obliged to sell it to David Smart in 1858. Jean, her sons David and Alexander (a plumber) and her daughters Jane Ann and Jessie then moved to live with William Mackenzie in Liverpool where the youngest member of the family, James Stalker (b. 1840) had just died. David appears to have taken his place in Liverpool Water Office where he remained for twelve months, moving early in 1860 to Dundee to work for William Scott, the Town’s Architect and Surveyor, at first living in lodgings. By 1864 Scott was in poor health and David set up practice in Dundee on his own: and in the same year William died, leaving David responsible for his mother and sisters. In 1866 they moved to Dundee to join him in a newly-built house in Garland Place.
Viscount Davidson adds the follwoing information:
'William Macdonald Mackenzie's wife and family had all moved to Dundee, (via Liverpool) following his death in 1856 so he must have been in close touch with them, including his sister Matilda whose venture into matrimony with her cousin John Davidson Jr from Argentina failed miserably in the 1880s and she returned home to housekeep for brother George at 24 Garland Place, Dundee.'
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|14, Charlotte Street, Perth, Perthshire, Scotland||Business||1837 *|| || |
|5, George Street, Perth, Perthshire, Scotland||Business||1841 *|| || |
|Byerswell Road (Bowerswell Road), Perth, Perthshire, Scotland||Private/business||1848 *|| || |
|Bankend, Bridgend of Perth, Perthshire, Scotland||Private||1856 *|| || |
* earliest date known from documented sources.
Employment and Training
Employees or Pupils
Buildings and Designs
|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|| |
|Scotlands People Website|| ||Wills & Testaments|| || ||Perth Sheriff Court Sc49/31/63|
|The following periodicals contain references to this architect:|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|Builder||29 March 1856|| || ||p174 - obituary|
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|Courtesy of Viscount Davidson, great great nephew of William Macdonald Mackenzie's wife.||Information sent via 'Contact Us' on website|| ||Sent February 2013 and April 2015|
|Professor David M Walker personal archive||Professor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material|| ||Information from Smart Stewart & Mitchell, 1963|