© All rights reserved. Quiz 14 September 1893.  Series of Glasgow Architects, no14 (Courtesy of Iain Paterson) 

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Basic Biographical Details

Name: William Gardner Rowan
Designation: Architect
Born: 1846
Died: 30 June 1924
Bio Notes: William Gardner Rowan was born in Dunbartonshire near Duntocher c.1846, the son of John Rowan, a steam hammersmith at 534 Gallowgate. Although not mentioned in his nomination paper, Alexander McGibbon, his obituarist, recorded that he was initially apprenticed to a civil engineer, presumably from 1860 to 1861, 'a course of instruction he afterwards advocated as a helpful training in accuracy of drawing and scientific building instruction … when text books were few and meagrely illustrated and schools of architecture practically non-existent'. In 1862 he was articled to George Penrose Kennedy for five years, a period which somewhat surprisingly made no allowance for his year or so as a civil engineering apprentice. He remained with him for a further two years as an assistant before returning to civil engineering as assistant first to the railway engineer James Fairie Blair in Westminster and then to Carruthers & Ketley in Glasgow. In 1872 he formed a partnership with John McKissack, in which he appears to have done most of the design work.

Rowan's earliest major works, the Free Church at Pollokshields and St John Wesleyan Church on Sauchiehall Street, were both neo-Greek of the Sellars' school, a choice determined by 'outside influence' in the case of the former, but thereafter his churches were either Gothic or Romanesque. The earliest followed English Early Decorated models, those at Galashiels and Girvan having tall Honeyman-like spires, but from 1885, beginning with his small church at Scone, he paralleled the work of J J Stevenson in reviving late Scots Gothic, sometimes with Norman detail, because, as McGibbon commented presumably quoting Rowan himself, there was a considerable affinity between Scots 15th-century Gothic and 12th-century Norman, a theme that Burnet was also to exploit a few years later. Unique among Rowan's churches was the Wynd Free Church in which he made an altogether exceptional foray into American Romanesque of the H H Richardson School.

Rowan had little taste for the 'shoddy' tenement side of McKissack's practice and early in 1890 the partnership was amicably dissolved. Rowan continued on a sole practitioner basis at 234 West George Street until the First World War. He had very few regular clients and his practice was dependent on success in competitions. Throughout his career he had to contend with ill-health, and probably because of that 'he never attacked big subjects contenting himself with churches and schools principally' most of them medium-sized and less likely to have attracted big-name entrants so that the excellence of his draughtsmanship would stand out and give him a better chance of success. His motto was 'Art for Art's sake': McGibbon gives an interesting insight into his practice and his preference for English late Gothic models, beginning with the excellent college chapel-like Trinity at Pollokshields in 1891. Because of his ill-health 'He did not travel to see architecture, book acquaintance with the masterpieces was all he had … One or two much prized trips he had with congenial brother architects to England, seeing the churches of men he revered - Austin & Paley, Bodley, Gilbert Scott, Bentley, and others'. The 'others' we may be sure included Sedding. 'Illustrations of the works he admired he always had beside him, and over these he pored, deliberating on details, and redrafting his designs with a particularity that often tried both client and tradesman and penalised himself, as when over rough full size details for the measurer's schedule he laboured on the nicities of a variant of the 'Bassae' Ionic and this for work he did not carry out…a good deal of the interest that attaches to his work was the outcome of this devotion to his art. For a bit of carving, precious because of the compelling economy elsewhere, he would cheerfully give time and trouble, while ordinary painter work became decoration by his labouring over quaint lettering or ornamental device that cost little but effected much'.

Rowan was never attracted to 'professional public interests' and did not seek admission to the RIBA as fellow until 1906. For reasons that have yet to be established his acceptance was delayed until 2 March 1908, but his proposers - John Keppie, William Leiper and John James Burnet - were a measure of the esteem in which he was held.

McGibbon described Rowan as 'a cheery and likeable companion, the most vivacious of conversationalists, alert in mind over most questions of the day to the last'. In appearance he was of slight build and bearded. His only recreation was fishing. He married Elizabeth _____ and they had had five children by the time of the 1891 census: Lizzie (born c. 1883), Jennie (or Jenny) G (born c. 1884), George N (born c. 1886), John R N (born c. 1887) and Isabella A (born c. 1890). While Rowan was in practice the family lived at 48 Herriet Street, Pollokshields, but on his retirement they moved to Kittochsyde, Auldhouse Road, East Kilbride, where he died on 30 June 1924 leaving moveable estate of £6,310 8s 7d. As he himself observed, his long years of practice had brought him 'neither poverty nor riches'. He was survived by his daughters Lizzie, Jenny and Isabella.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 6175 (or 176), St Vincent Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusinessBefore 1875After 1880 
Item 2 of 615, Leven Street, Pollokshields, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivate1888  
Item 3 of 6234, West George Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusinessc. 1888After 1909 
Item 4 of 648, Herriet Street, Pollokshields, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivateBefore 1891c. 1914 
Item 5 of 6237, West George Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusinessBefore 1914After 1925 
Item 6 of 6Kittochsyde, Auldhouse Road, East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, ScotlandPrivatec. 191430 June 1924 

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 5George Penrose Kennedy18621867Apprentice 
Item 2 of 5George Penrose Kennedy18671868 or 1869Assistant 
Item 3 of 5James Fairlie (or Fairie or Farrie) Blair1868 or 18691870 or 1871Assistant 
Item 4 of 5Carruthers & Ketley1870 or 18711872Assistant 
Item 5 of 5McKissack & Rowan1872Early 1890Partner 

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 4John Nichol Scott18841885Assistant 
Item 2 of 4Robert Miller18921893Assistant 
Item 3 of 4William John Brockie Wright19001905Apprentice 
Item 4 of 4Alexander Graham Glen19071911Apprentice 


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 3(Sir) John James Burnet2 March 1908for Fellowship
Item 2 of 3John Keppie2 March 1908for Fellowship
Item 3 of 3William Leiper2 March 1908for Fellowship

RIBA Proposals

This architect proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 4John FairweatherEarly 1916for Fellowship
Item 2 of 4William Ferguson (junior) (or William Moncrieff Ferguson, or Willie Ferguson)24 June 1912for Licentiateship
Item 3 of 4Alexander Gairns Laskie24 June 1912for Licentiateship
Item 4 of 4John Watson2 December 1912for Fellowship

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 69After 1872Brockley Presbyterian ChurchLewisham LondonEngland 
Item 2 of 69After 1872East Free ChurchBlantyre LanarkshireScotland 
Item 3 of 69After 1872Keppochhill Free ChurchKeppochhill GlasgowScotland 
Item 4 of 69After 1872King Street Mission Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 5 of 69After 1872Rose Street UF Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 6 of 691874Paisley Road Free ChurchKinning Park GlasgowScotland 
Item 7 of 691874Tenements, Douglas Street and Walker Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 8 of 691874Whiteinch Free ChurchWhiteinch GlasgowScotland 
Item 9 of 691878Bridgeton Free ChurchBridgeton GlasgowScotland 
Item 10 of 691878Pollokshields Free ChurchPollokshields GlasgowScotland 
Item 11 of 691878Tenement, East Clyde StreetHelensburgh DunbartonshireScotland 
Item 12 of 691879Church at FairlieFairlie AyrshireScotland 
Item 13 of 691880Livingstone Memorial ChurchBlantyre LanarkshireScotland 
Item 14 of 69c. 1880(?)Tenements, Findlay StreetDennistoun GlasgowScotland 
Item 15 of 691881Business Premises, 252-256 Paisley Road West and 2-6 Harvie StreetPlantation GlasgowScotland 
Item 16 of 691881Tenements, Herriet StreetPollokshields GlasgowScotland 
Item 17 of 691882Finnart UP ChurchGreenock RenfrewshireScotlandWon competition to secure job
Item 18 of 691882Girvan Parish ChurchGirvan AyrshireScotland 
Item 19 of 691882Mure Memorial ChurchBaillieston GlasgowScotland 
Item 20 of 691882Renfrew Free ChurchRenfrew RenfrewshireScotland 
Item 21 of 691882St John's Wesleyan Methodist Church  GlasgowScotlandWon competition to secure job
Item 22 of 691882Zetland Free ChurchGrangemouth StirlingshireScotland 
Item 23 of 691883Bo'ness UP Church and hallBo'ness / Borrowstouness West LothianScotland 
Item 24 of 691883Greenbank Church and hallClarkston/Busby Glasgow/LanarkshireScotland 
Item 25 of 691883Independent ChurchGirvan AyrshireScotland 
Item 26 of 691884Ladhope Free ChurchGalashiels SelkirkshireScotland 
Item 27 of 691885Bo'ness Liberal ClubBo'ness / Borrowstouness West LothianScotland 
Item 28 of 691885Scone UP ChurchNew Scone PerthshireScotland 
Item 29 of 691885Tarbert Parish ChurchTarbert ArgyllScotland 
Item 30 of 69c. 1885Cambuslang West Parish ChurchCambuslang LanarkshireScotland 
Item 31 of 691886Queen's Park Baptist Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 32 of 691886Strathbungo Parish ChurchStrathbungo GlasgowScotlandDemolished and rebuilt
Item 33 of 691886Victoria Bread and Biscuit Works  GlasgowScotlandOriginal building
Item 34 of 691887McKechnie InstituteGirvan AyrshireScotland 
Item 35 of 691887St Martin's Episcopal ChurchPolmadie GlasgowScotland 
Item 36 of 691887Tenements, Duke Street and East Miller Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 37 of 691888Wynd Church Manse  GlasgowScotland 
Item 38 of 691889Wynd Church, Dr Still Medical Mission  GlasgowScotland 
Item 39 of 69c. 1890Mission Church for the Established Church, GrangepansBo'ness / Borrowstouness West LothianScotland 
Item 40 of 691891Trinity UP ChurchPollokshields GlasgowScotland 
Item 41 of 691892 or 1893(?)Belmont Parish ChurchHillhead GlasgowScotlandCompetition design - not successful
Item 42 of 691893Cathcart UP ChurchCathcart GlasgowScotland 
Item 43 of 691893Clydebank Union ChurchClydebank DunbartonshireScotlandThird premiated competition design (£10)
Item 44 of 691894Juniper Green ChurchJuniper Green EdinburghScotlandUnsuccessful competition design
Item 45 of 691894St Andrews Free Church and hallAyr AyrshireScotlandCompetition design - not successful
Item 46 of 691895Five tenements, Anderson Street and King Street  GlasgowScotland 
Item 47 of 691895Mission HallKinning Park GlasgowScotland 
Item 48 of 691895Scone UP ChurchNew Scone PerthshireScotlandButtresses added
Item 49 of 691895Somerville Memorial Free Church  GlasgowScotland 
Item 50 of 691897Thornliebank Public SchoolThornliebank RenfrewshireScotlandDesign only - Clifford secured job
Item 51 of 691898Greenbank ManseClarkston/Busby Glasgow/LanarkshireScotland 
Item 52 of 691898Terrace of housesBo'ness / Borrowstouness West LothianScotland 
Item 53 of 691899(?)Caer-EdinBo'ness / Borrowstouness West LothianScotlandAttribution in McWilliam (1978)
Item 54 of 691899CottageShettleston GlasgowScotlandDesign exhibited
Item 55 of 691899Cunninghame Free Church  GlasgowScotlandCompetition design exhibited - H & D Barclay won competition and secured job
Item 56 of 691900St Margaret's ChurchTollcross GlasgowScotland 
Item 57 of 69c. 1900Busby SchoolBusby LanarkshireScotland 
Item 58 of 69c. 1900Eastwood Public SchoolThornliebank (near) RenfrewshireScotland 
Item 59 of 691901Villa, Maxwell DrivePollokshields GlasgowScotland 
Item 60 of 691902Blantyre Parish ChurchBlantyre LanarkshireScotlandRenovation
Item 61 of 691902Eastbank Church of ScotlandShettleston GlasgowScotland 
Item 62 of 691903Schiller's Lunch Rooms  GlasgowScotland 
Item 63 of 691908Tennant Mansion, 195 West George Street  GlasgowScotlandProposed alterations and addtions
Item 64 of 691909Beuvne HousePollokshields GlasgowScotlandAlterations and additions
Item 65 of 691911Barrhead School  GlasgowScotlandAddition
Item 66 of 691912Pollokshields Established ChurchPollokshields GlasgowScotlandCommunion table
Item 67 of 691913Barnbeth HouseBridge of Weir RenfrewshireScotland 
Item 68 of 691915EasterhillBridge of Weir RenfrewshireScotlandExtension to rear
Item 69 of 69Before 1924Kingston Mission  GlasgowScotlandAddition?


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 2Post Office Directories     
Item 2 of 2Walker, Frank Arneil1986South Clyde Estuary: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to Inverclyde and Renfrew  p85, p136

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Builder18 July 1924  Obituary
Item 2 of 3Builders Journal1 April 1963  Men who build series
Item 3 of 3RIAS Quarterly192411Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)Obituary

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2Professor David M Walker personal archiveProfessor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material Personal information from Alfred G Lochhead and Alexander Wright; family research by Iain Paterson
Item 2 of 2RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers F v19 p104 no1404 (microfilm reel 12)


© All rights reserved. Quiz 14 September 1893.  Series of Glasgow Architects, no14 (Courtesy of Iain Paterson) 

© All rights reserved. Quiz 14 September 1893. Series of Glasgow Architects, no14 (Courtesy of Iain Paterson)