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:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 414, Charlotte Street, Perth, Perthshire, ScotlandBusiness1837 *  
Item 2 of 45, George Street, Perth, Perthshire, ScotlandBusiness1841 *  
Item 3 of 4Byerswell Road (Bowerswell Road), Perth, Perthshire, ScotlandPrivate/business1848 *  
Item 4 of 4Bankend, Bridgend of Perth, Perthshire, ScotlandPrivate1856 *  

* 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):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 2Thomas Mackenzie  Apprentice 
Item 2 of 2David Mackenzie II (or David McKenzie II)18491854ApprenticeRemained as assistant.

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 371817Megginch Castle  PerthshireScotlandWork to east completed and NE wing and N porch added
Item 2 of 371824Congregational ChurchPerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 3 of 3718251-3 King's Place, 1-3 King James Place and 55-57 King StreetPerth PerthshireScotlandPlanned development. Building begun about 1830. Not completed to Mackenzie's designs.
Item 4 of 371825Methven Parish ChurchMethven PerthshireScotlandRemodelling
Item 5 of 371826Barnhill HousePerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 6 of 371827Bridge StreetDunkeld PerthshireScotland 
Item 7 of 371828Arngask Manse, GlenfargArngask PerthshireScotland 
Item 8 of 371828St Leonard's BankPerth PerthshireScotlandPlots of land laid out for feuing
Item 9 of 371829Kinnoull MansePerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 10 of 371829Kinnoull TowerPerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 11 of 371830Charlotte Place, Charlotte Street and North PortPerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 12 of 371830Manse of MethvenMethven PerthshireScotland 
Item 13 of 371831Cargill ChurchChurch PerthshireScotland 
Item 14 of 371831Kinnaird Manse  PerthshireScotland 
Item 15 of 371831ManseKinnaird PerthshireScotland 
Item 16 of 371832Kinfauns Parish SchoolKinfauns PerthshireScotland 
Item 17 of 371834SchoolhouseKinnaird PerthshireScotland 
Item 18 of 371834St Leonard's ChurchPerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 19 of 371836City and County InfirmaryPerth PerthshireScotlandCentre block and lodge
Item 20 of 371836Dron ManseDron PerthshireScotlandAdditions
Item 21 of 371836Exchange Coffee RoomsPerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 22 of 371838Over Kinfauns FarmhouseKinfauns PerthshireScotland 
Item 23 of 371839Dron SchoolDron PerthshireScotland 
Item 24 of 371839Forteviot Old SchoolForteviot PerthshireScotlandReconstruction
Item 25 of 371839Liff ChurchLiff AngusScotlandNew design which superseded Burn scheme
Item 26 of 371840Clunie ChurchClunie PerthshireScotland 
Item 27 of 371840Kinfauns Old Parish ChurchKinfauns PerthshireScotlandAddition of aisle
Item 28 of 37c. 1840Easter Elcho FarmhouseElcho PerthshireScotland 
Item 29 of 371842Rhynd Parish ChurchRhynd PerthshireScotland 
Item 30 of 371842Triumphal Arch for visit of Queen VictoriaPerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 31 of 371844(Old) City HallPerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 32 of 371846Kinfauns ManseKinfauns PerthshireScotlandEnlargement (to east)
Item 33 of 371846Public Baths and wash-housesPerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 34 of 37Before 1846Elcho Castle FarmElcho PerthshireScotland 
Item 35 of 371847Coupar Angus ManseCoupar Angus PerthshireScotland 
Item 36 of 371847Kinloch ManseKinloch PerthshireScotland 
Item 37 of 371850Kilspindie ManseKilspindie PerthshireScotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 2Colvin, H M1995A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-18403rd editionNew Haven and London: Yale University Press 
Item 2 of 2Scotlands People Website Wills & Testaments  Perth Sheriff Court Sc49/31/63

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 1Builder29 March 1856  p174 - obituary

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2Courtesy 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
Item 2 of 2Professor David M Walker personal archiveProfessor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material Information from Smart Stewart & Mitchell, 1963