Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Thomson
Designation: Architect
Born: 9 April 1851
Died: 10 November 1927
Bio Notes: James Thomson was born in Edinburgh on 9 April 1851, the son of Alexander Thomson and Mary Higgins. He was articled to the civil engineer William Moffat Garvie of Edinburgh from 1867 to 1872 and attended classes at the Royal Institution. He remained with Garvie as assistant for a year after completing his apprenticeship. He was then engaged by William Mackison as chief assistant in the Burgh Engineer's office in Dundee, where he worked on the replanning of Dundee under the Improvement Act of 1871, in the later stages with James Hutton.

In 1895 Thomson, described as 'Assistant Burgh Engineer' was admitted a member of the Bonnetmaker Trade of Dundee.

On 11 May 1904 the City Architect William Alexander died and James Thomson resigned in order to apply, presumably with some assurance that he would be appointed; he did in fact complete Alexander's Arthurstone Library so the interval must have been brief. Shortly thereafter sites were given for Carnegie branch libraries at Blackness and Coldside and Thomson was commissioned to design them. At that date, like Alexander before him, Thomson had his own office and no municipal staff with a retainer for attending meetings and the usual commission for any work done. The drawings for these libraries were made by his son Frank, then with Niven & Wigglesworth in London, who also made the necessary arrangements with the sculptor Albert Hodge.

Early in 1906 the City decided to combine the posts of City Architect and City Engineer. On 23 March Mackison made a pre-emptive strike by claiming 40,000 in fees for work beyond his duties as city engineer, i.e. work which should really have been commissioned from Alexander. On 5 April he was suspended and locked out of his office at 91 Commercial Street; and on 19 July he was dismissed and succeeded by Thomson.

Thomson now had the city engineer's staff under his command and proceeded to augment it with architectural staff, the most notable of these being the very fine draughtsman William Carless (sometimes spelled Careless). Together they designed the new branch library at St Roques in 1910 and at Ward Road in 1911, the year in which he was admitted LRIBA in the mass intake of 20 July, for which he was proposed by William Fleming Wilkie and the Dundee Institute of Architects.

Thomson's real interests lay in the field of town planning. He persuaded the City to set up a Housing and Town Planning Committee in 1907 in anticipation of the acts of 1909. In that same year, 1909, Thomson visited France and Gernmany with Councillor the Reverend Walter Walsh, convenor of the housing committee in order to study recent town planning. By 1910 on the initiative of the Lord Provost Sir James Urquhart, Thomson had prepared a magnificent scheme for the unimproved parts of the central area of Dundee which extended to infilling the docks, municipal buildings on the scale of an American capitol in sixty-eight acres of formal gardens and a joint station of Vanderbilt-like grandeur. These proposals were further developed and presented to the Town Council in December 1911 and were illustrated in a series of superb watercolours by Charles William English.

These proposals suffered a severe setback in 1912 when the Harbour Authority decided it could not release Earl Grey Dock and the scheme was superseded by more modest proposals for a new city hall on the site of Shore Terrace with a city square extending across Castle Lane and the Vault to High Street, William Adam's Town House being resited at the west end of the High Street. The layout was at least partly determined by Sir James Caird who gave 100,000 towards the city hall element. As originally designed the hall was to have been absolutely simple but in 1918 Caird's daughter Mrs Marryat provided a further 70,000 for the addition of a colonnade and more elaborate interior work for which Thomson engaged Vernon Constable in 1920. The hall was completed in 1922, the interior work being executed by Scott Morton, but the austere neo-classical buildings planned to flank the square (in which his son Frank may have had a hand) were not proceeded with at that time.

Thomson was admitted FRIBA in 1916, his proposers being Patrick Hill Thoms, Alexander Lorne Campbell and John Wilson. He did not sit idle during the war years and produced a comprehensive report on the city's housing needs in 1917. Immediately after the First World War ended Thomson produced a wider report on town planning issues no less idealistic than that of 1910 which showed remarkable foresight, particularly in respect of traffic, the Kingsway and Craigiebank dual carriageways being put in hand at once and a Tay Road Bridge planned on the site of the original rail bridge. Municipal housing was zoned and put in hand in 1919 at Stirling Park, Hospital Park and Logie, the last with an experimental district heating scheme. With the help of private practices, most of them with some family link to the city's chief officials, 674 houses had been built on garden city lines by the end of 1922, mostly in Taybank and Craigiebank. His standing nationally was reflected in his being President of the Institute of Municipal and County Engineers in 1920. But by then he had made the fatal error of commissioning 'The Specimen House' at the corner of Glamis Road and Blackness Road, intended to demonstrate the virtues of electricity for household appliances. The cost of this house excluded it from subsidy under the 1919 act and after it had served its purpose he moved into it himself, there being no other obvious tenant. The ensuing publicity together with Thomson's age resulted in the offices of City Engineer and City Architect and Director of Housing being divided in September 1921, James Thomson retaining the latter post and George Baxter, previously the Water Engineer, becoming City Engineer. But after 1922 Thomson's staff was rapidly run down, and when his chief assistant Vernon Constable was made redundant, Thomson retired in May 1924 at the age of seventy-two and the post went into abeyance, his duties being taken over by Baxter. He then joined his son Frank's practice, although he was never formally a partner, mainly seeing clients and dealing with site supervision. He died on 10 November 1927 and was buried at Balgay. He left moveable estate of 5034 7s 6d.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 391, Commercial Street, Dundee, ScotlandBusiness1911 *  
Item 2 of 3324, Blackness Road, Dundee, ScotlandPrivate19111921 
Item 3 of 3The Specimen House/The Mystery House, Blackness Road & Glamis Road (NE corner), Dundee, ScotlandPrivate1921  

* 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):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 8William Moffat Garvie18671872Apprentice 
Item 2 of 8William Moffat Garvie18721873Assistant 
Item 3 of 8Dundee Burgh Engineer's Office/Dundee City Engineer's Office187319 July 1906AssistantWorking under William Mackison, Burgh Engineer
Item 4 of 8William Mackison187319 July 1906AssistantIn Dundee Burgh Engineer's Office
Item 5 of 8Dundee Burgh Engineer's Office/Dundee City Engineer's Office190519 July 1906Chief ArchitectCity Architect
Item 6 of 8Dundee Burgh Engineer's Office/Dundee City Engineer's Office19 July 1906September 1921Chief ArchitectCity Architect/Engineer
Item 7 of 8Dundee City Architect and Director of Housing DepartmentSeptember 1921May 1924Chief ArchitectCity Architect and Director of Housing
Item 8 of 8Frank Drummond Thomson1924November 1927PartnerUnofficial partner

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 4Mitchell Crichton KayAfter 1907(?)1914Assistant 
Item 2 of 4William Edward Careless (or Carless)c. 19091910Assistant 
Item 3 of 4Vernon ConstableSeptember 19141924AssistantIn Dundee Burgh Engineer's Office; except period on war service
Item 4 of 4Robert Dron19201923AssistantIn Dundee City Architect's Department


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 4Alexander Lorne CampbellMid 1916for Fellowship
Item 2 of 4Patrick Hill ThomsMid 1916for Fellowship
Item 3 of 4William Fleming Wilkie20 July 1911for Licentiateship - as President of the Dundee Institute of Architects
Item 4 of 4John WilsonMid 1916for Fellowship

RIBA Proposals

This architect proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 2James McLellan BrownMid 1919for Associateship
Item 2 of 2Alexander Garden ForgieLate 1920 or early 1921for Associateship

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 31After 1873Eastern Police Office  DundeeScotlandAs assistant to William Mackison, City Engineer
Item 2 of 31After 1873Lochee Police Office  DundeeScotlandAs assistant to William Mackison, City Engineer
Item 3 of 31After 1873Northern Police Office  DundeeScotlandAs assistant to William Mackison, City Engineer
Item 4 of 31After 1873Western Police Station  DundeeScotlandAs assistant to William Mackison, City Engineer
Item 5 of 311878Public Markets and Abattoirs, Dock Street, Ferry Road and Market Street  DundeeScotlandAs assistant to William Mackison, Burgh Engineer
Item 6 of 311880sDundee Infectious Diseases Hospital  DundeeScotlandWard block additions
Item 7 of 311887Dundee Infectious Diseases Hospital  DundeeScotlandAs assistant to William Mackison, City Engineer
Item 8 of 311900Central Fire Station  DundeeScotlandAs assistant to William Mackison, City Engineer
Item 9 of 311903Arthurstone Public Library  DundeeScotlandAs assistant to William Alexander, City Architect and completed building after Alexander's death.
Item 10 of 31After 1904(?)Sidlaw SanatoriumAuchterhouse DundeeScotlandProbably responsible for additions/alterations
Item 11 of 311905Model tenements Blackscroft DundeeScotlandProposals
Item 12 of 31After 1905Electricity Power Stations and Sub-Stations  DundeeScotlandAs Dundee City Architect
Item 13 of 311906Blackness Library  DundeeScotlandWith Frank working for his father, 1905-08
Item 14 of 311906Coldside LibraryHilltown DundeeScotlandWith Careless as assistant and with Frank Thomson working for his father
Item 15 of 311907Dundee Town House  DundeeScotlandScheme of extension to incorporate a city hall promoted by Provost Longair; superceded by proposals of 1910-11.
Item 16 of 311909Home for Dogs  DundeeScotland 
Item 17 of 311909Public Baths  DundeeScotlandMajor extension - as Dundee City Architect
Item 18 of 311910Dundee Town House  DundeeScotlandRestoration of City Chambers - as Dundee City Architect
Item 19 of 311910Municipal buildings and central station  DundeeScotlandDesigned scheme; commissioned Charles William English to prepare watercolour perspectives
Item 20 of 311910St Roques Library  DundeeScotland 
Item 21 of 311911Ward Road Library and Museum  DundeeScotlandWith Careless as assistant
Item 22 of 311913Ashludie HouseMonifieth AngusScotlandConversion to sanatorium
Item 23 of 311913Public Baths Market Gate StreetArbroath FifeScotland 
Item 24 of 311914Caird Hall  DundeeScotlandAs Dundee City Architect
Item 25 of 311919Craigie Garden Suburb  DundeeScotlandLayout
Item 26 of 311919Hospital Park Housing Scheme  DundeeScotlandPlanned scheme, as Dundee City Architect; buildings designed by James Findlay
Item 27 of 311919Logie Housing Scheme  DundeeScotlandAs Dundee City Architect/Engineer
Item 28 of 311919Stirling Park Housing Scheme  DundeeScotlandPlanned scheme, as Dundee City Architect; buildings designed by Bruce, Son & Morton
Item 29 of 311919Taybank Housing Scheme  DundeeScotlandLayout
Item 30 of 311920The Specimen House  DundeeScotlandCommissioned building - drawings done by James McLellan Brown
Item 31 of 311921Semi-detached houses, East Haddon Road  DundeeScotlandGifford states that James Thomson designed some houses in this street - M-roofed, twin gabled and with canted bays. It is possible these are the same buildings or very similar buildings elsewhere in the street.


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 4Frew, John1992James McLellan Brown Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, '100 Years of Town Planning in Dundee', pp16-22 
Item 2 of 4Miskell, Louise, Whatley, Christopher A and Harris, Bob2000Victorian Dundee: image and realities TuckwellSee Chapter entitled 'City of the Future: James Thomson's vision of the future' pp169-183
Item 3 of 4RCAHMS1992Dundee on Record RCAHMSp49
Logie Housing Scheme; view from north taken during construction (1920) p51
Craigiebank: aerial view from SW (1989) p52
View of Caird Hall from north (c.1930)
Item 4 of 4Young, J K1991'From Laissez-Faire' to 'Homes fit for Heroes': housing in Dundee 1868-1991 PhD thesis, University of St Andrews 

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Dundee Courier and Advertiser11 November 1927  Obituary
Item 2 of 3Dundee Courier and Advertiser23 October 1991  Report of opening of exhibition of work of James Thomson. Opened by granddaughter of James Thomson.
Item 3 of 3RIBA Journal26 November 1927 London: Royal Institute of British ArchitectsObituary p60 Death notice only

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2Archives of the Nine Incorporated Trades of DundeeLockit Book of the Bonnetmaker Trade of Dundee Courtesy of Innes Duffus, archivist to Nine Incorporated Trades and Iain Flett, Dundee City Archivist, sent November 2015
Item 2 of 2RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers L v21 no1626; F no1602 (microfilm reel 14)