Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||James Austen Laird |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||22 September 1878 |
|Died: ||14 February 1950 |
|Bio Notes: ||James Austen Laird was born at 8 Firpark Terrace, Dennistoun, Glasgow on 22 September 1878. He was the son of John Laird, stationery master, and his wife Martha Barr. His RIBA nomination paper rather oddly gives his year of birth as 1879 in his own handwriting, but the actual date is confirmed by his birth certificate which is still held by his family. The Lairds originally came from Glendaruel in Argyll where James's grandparents, James Laird and his wife Mary Clark, had a farm. Austen was not a family name but was adopted from an admiral whose career had interested Laird's father, although whether this was Francis or Charles Austen, or both, is not now known. The Lairds subsequently moved from Dennistoun to Meadowside, Kilmacolm, but connections with Glendaruel remained strong, as holidays were usually spent there. |
Laird was articled to MacWhannel & Rogerson in 1894 and remained with them for four-and-a-half years. At the end of 1898 he joined the office of John Burnet & Son, where he became John James Burnet's personal assistant. They got on well, but when Burnet raised the possibility of his being taken into partnership early in 1901, Laird left to commence practice on his own account as he found Burnet's congregationalism insufficiently evangelical for them to be compatible.
Sometime early in his apprenticeship with MacWhannel & Rogerson Laird was befriended on a train journey to Glasgow by Mary Risk, the widow of William Joseph Thomson, a wealthy Glasgow tailor who had lived at Strathmuir, Kilmacolm. She and her ten children had joined the Plymouth Brethren Assembly in Kilmacolm and Laird soon became a Plymouth Brother himself. This led to difficulties at home. His parents' increasing displeasure at his association with the Brethren and his planned marriage to Agnes Risk Thomson, born 1881 and the ninth of the Thomson children, caused him to move out and live instead with his aunt Elizabeth McLelland at Lurland, Kilmacolm, in or about 1900. He probably commenced practice there, but by early 1903 he had opened an office at 131 West Regent Street, Glasgow where family connections brought him a good general practice. This enabled him to marry Agnes at the Windsor Hotel, Glasgow on 7 September 1904. She had suffered from rheumatic fever and it was known from the outset that her life might be short. They set up together in Kilmacolm, moving to a larger house, Croftluton, sometime before 1911 to accommodate their four children, John McClelland (born 1905), Mary Risk known as Mona (born 1907), Muriel Martha Barr always known as Martha (born 1909) and Agnes Austen known as Nancy (born 1912).
Laird's early success was founded on more than Laird and Thomson family connections. He was one of the most accomplished architects to have trained in Burnet's office but from the very beginning his domestic work for friends and family in Kilmacolm, Giffnock and Milngavie tended to be influenced by the work of contemporary English architects of the arts and crafts school rather than by that of Burnet himself. His houses quickly attracted attention, particularly in Kilmacolm, and brought a wider clientele. He was admitted LRIBA on 20 July 1911, his proposers being James Salmon, who also lived in Kilmacolm, Duncan McNaughton and Robert Douglas Sandilands.
In February 1914 Agnes died from the combined effects of a cut which had become septic and a chill. By that date Laird was beginning to run into financial difficulty. The Finance Act of 1909 had affected his practice as it had so many others and he had resorted to speculative house-building on family land at Kilmacolm to keep himself and his staff employed.
After the outbreak of the First World War these houses proved difficult to sell. That and the lack of new business compelled him to close his office in 1915 and take a job with John Laing at Gretna. Croftluton was given up and the family moved to a terrace house in Dumfries. A year later, c 1916, they moved to Whinnyrigg near Annan and after a few months there they moved again to Powfoot. While at Gretna Laird appears to have supervised the building of All Saints' Episcopal Church for its architect Geoffrey Lucas, the first priest Claude O'Flaherty giving him a copy of The Ring of the Niblung as a token of his gratitude on 29 September 1917.
Shortly after the war ended in November 1918 Laird recommenced practice in his old office at 131 West Regent Street and moved his family into what had been the Barr family home, Summerlea at Kilmacolm. His son John had been sent to the Quaker Bootham school at York, but the daughters had been kept at home, and now attended St Columba's School. Throughout the war years they had been cared for by Agnes's older sister Janet, known as Nettie, whom Laird married at the Royal Hotel, Charing Cross, Glasgow in the summer of 1919.
Laird's practice gradually recovered in the 1920s, and reached its peak in 1929-30 with the building of the extremely fine English neo-Jacobean Carlung at West Kilbride for his uncle Robert Barr, a whisky and shipping magnate, and the commission for Balmore School in Possilpark, a large and handsome Wrenaissance design. The refined academicism of these buildings was in marked contrast to the absolute simplicity of his best work before the First World War. By the late 1930s some of his designs showed the influence of the modern movement, notably the moderne Keil Hotel at Southend, Kintyre, built in 1938-39.
These larger commissions enabled Laird to move from Summerlea to Merlewood, also in Kilmacolm, early in the 1930s and finally in or about 1937-38 to build his own Dunfraoich adjacent to Torridon, the large arts and crafts house he had recently designed for his brother Nigel. Somewhat unusually Dunfraoich was Scottish in character with crowstepped gables and a slated roof rather than a red tiled one.
Laird closed his practice in 1940 and his wife Nettie died in 1944. However John Thomson King appears to have taken over Laird's practice in 1947 so Laird or ones of his assistants must have re-opened it after the War. Although Dunfraoich was retained Laird thereafter spent much of his time with his daughter Mona who had become a teacher. The other members of the family had emigrated: John to New Zealand, returning to live in London in 1945; Martha to India, returning to marry and settle in Hampshire in 1947; and Nancy to Rhodesia as a missionary.
Laird died of cancer at Shrublands Nursing Home, Croydon, on 14 February 1950 and was buried at Kilmacolm with his wives Agnes and Nettie. In person he was of average height, very slim and in his earlier years extremely good looking. Throughout his life he was always elegantly dressed with spats and bow tie. His son John wrote of him that beyond architecture 'his thought went little further than an innocent and simple thankfulness for salvation from the wrath to come.' Nevertheless he had a humorous and engaging personality, much given to little poems and sayings of which that beginning 'Hae faith and ye'll get through' probably referred to the tragedy and financial vicissitudes of 1914 and the ensuing wartime years.
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|Meadowside, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, Scotland||Private||1898||1899(?)||His parents house|
|Lurland, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, Scotland||Private||c. 1899||c. 1903||Laird's aunt|
|131, West Regent Street, Glasgow, Scotland||Business||1904||1905(?)||And after|
|213, West Campbell Street, Glasgow, Scotland||Business||1909||1915|| |
|Croftluton, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, Scotland||Private||1911 *|| || |
|131, West Regent Street, Glasgow, Scotland||Business||1919||1920|| |
|55, West Regent Street, Glasgow, Scotland||Business||Before 1924||1940|| |
|Summerlea, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, Scotland||Private||1925||1931|| |
|Merlewood, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, Scotland||Private||1935||1936|| |
|Dunfraoich, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, Scotland||Private||1939||1950|| |
* 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):|
| ||Name||Date from||Date to||Position||Notes|
|Macwhannell & Rogerson||1894||1898||Apprentice|| |
|John Burnet & Son||Late 1898||Early 1901||Assistant|| |
Employees or Pupils
* earliest date known from documented sources.
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|
| ||Springfield||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1893||University of Glasgow Students' Union|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland||Western extension - as assistant in Burnet's office|
|1895||Glasgow Samaritan Hospital for Women|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland||As assistant to Macwhannel & Rogerson|
|1899 or 1900||Villa||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1901||Western Infirmary|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland||As assistant to Burnet - extensions, possibly including nurses' pavilion, steam laundry, pathological institute, operating theatre and/or dispensary|
|1902||Dunard for Robert Barr||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1903||House for D D Binnie||Giffnock|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1903||Semi-detached villa||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland||Exhibited under James Austen Laird's name only - therefore principally by him?|
|1903||Villa||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland||Exhibited under James Austen Laird's name only - therefore principally by him?|
|1903||Villa at Kilmacolm||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1904||Residence for George Jackson||Kilmacolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1906||Wimbourne for J H Barr||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1909||House ||West Kilbride|| ||Ayrshire||Scotland|| |
|1909||J J Laird Limited Works|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland||Additions|
|1910||Overton||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|c. 1910(?)||House, Knockbuckle Road||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1911||Govanhaugh Solder Factory||Govanhaugh|| ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|Before 1911||Barranca for Robert L Guthrie Esq||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|Before 1911||Factory and warehouses|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|Before 1911||Factory and works||Possil Park|| ||Glasgow||Scotland||Extension|
|Before 1911||House for C Molleys (?)||Milngavie|| ||Dunbartonshire||Scotland|| |
|Before 1911||House for David Crawford||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|Before 1911||House for Edward McCrae||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|Before 1911||House for Francis Martin Esq||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|Before 1911||House for Walter Gilmour||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1912||Empress Cinema||Gorbals|| ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|1913||Greystones||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1913||Paldehran (Puldohran)||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1917||All Saints Episcopal Church||Gretna|| ||Dumfriesshire||Scotland||Worked in some unidentified capacity on the church - received a present of a book inscribed by Claude O'Flaherty, the priest, in recompense for work there|
|1919||Daily Mail ideal workers' houses, Northern industrial area|| || || ||England||Competition design|
|1920||Daily Mail ideal home competition, labour saving home|| || || || ||Competition design|
|1924||Drumlanrig Laundry Cottages||Drumlanrig|| ||Dumfriesshire||Scotland||One cottage divided to form two cottages|
|c. 1924||Drumlanrig Mains Offices, sawmill and workshops||Drumlanrig|| ||Dumfriesshire||Scotland||Alterations|
|1929||Balmore Public School|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|1930s(?)||Ladymuir||Kilmacolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1930||Carlung House||West Kilbride|| ||Ayrshire||Scotland||Completely new house|
|1930||House for J C Ker||West Kilbride|| ||Ayrshire||Scotland|| |
|c. 1930||Ardchattan||Seamill|| ||Ayrshire||Scotland|| |
|c. 1930||Torridon||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1931||Blairheim Boarding House||Dunoon|| ||Argyll||Scotland||Reconstruction and extension|
|1937||Hillholme, Portencross||West Kilbride|| ||Ayrshire||Scotland|| |
|c. 1937||Dunfraoich||Kilmacolm/Kilmalcolm|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland|| |
|1938||Factory at Dahanoch|| || || ||Scotland||Alterations and additions|
|1938||Keil Hotel||Southend|| ||Argyll||Scotland|| |
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|British Architectural Library, RIBA||2001||Directory of British Architects 1834-1914|| || || |
|RIBA||1939||The RIBA Kalendar 1939-1940|| ||London: Royal Institute of British Architects|| |
|Walker, Frank Arneil||1986||South Clyde Estuary: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to Inverclyde and Renfrew|| || ||p89|
|Who's Who in Architecture||1914|| || || || |
|The following periodicals contain references to this architect:|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|Builder||24 February 1950||v178|| ||p 275 - obituary (misspells middle name as 'Austin')|
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|Professor David M Walker personal archive||Professor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material|| ||Additional information from Iain Paterson. Personal information to DMW from Alfred G Lochhead and John Watson II who were personal friends of J A Laird. Information from Elizabeth Laird.|
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum||RIBA Nomination Papers|| ||L v18 no1394 - confirms that middle name is spelt 'Austen'|