Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Herbert MacNair
Designation: Architect
Born: 1868
Died: 22 April 1955
Bio Notes: James Herbert (Bertie) MacNair was born at 18 Ashton Terrace, Glasgow on 23 December 1868, the only son of the coalmaster and shipowner George Best MacNair, who came of a military family, and Frances Dorothy Dixon, who came from Rotherfield in England; there were three daughters. The family moved in 1872 to Birch Bank, Skelmorlie, a house altered for them by John Honeyman whose wife also came of a shipowning family. Herbert was educated at the Collegiate School, Greenock and although Honeyman's son William was sent to Loretto they remained firm friends until the latter's death in 1885. The elder MacNair wanted his son to become an engineer but at the end of his schooling he studied watercolour for a year under a M Haudebert in Rouen prior to being articled to John Honeyman in 1888. There he became a friend of Honeyman's new partner John Keppie and of Charles Rennie Mackintosh who arrived in the office in April of the following year. They travelled together to supervise the firm's work at Achamore on Gigha and to Iona, and were frequent weekend guests of the Keppies at Prestwick and Dunure. There MacNair became part of the predominantly female circle of artists centred on Jessie Keppie which called itself The Immortals and included his future wife, Frances Macdonald. He also studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1889 to 1894 and from 1895 to 1896.

While in Honeyman & Keppie's office MacNair developed a marked interest in furniture design in parallel with Mackintosh. When he left at the end of his articles in 1894 he set up a studio and workshop at 225 West George Street, Glasgow as interior decorator, furniture designer and maker, graphic artist and watercolourist rather than as architect. This was moderately successful and produced some important furniture; but MacNair lost his stock in a workshop fire in 1897. He then moved to Liverpool as Instructor in Design at the School of Architecture and Applied Art at University College in 1898. By that date he had become engaged to Frances and was, with her older sister Margaret and husband-to-be Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a member of the group known as The Four which had come to wider attention at the Arts and Crafts Society exhibition in London in 1896.

Herbert and Frances married at Dumbarton on 14 June 1899. Their son Sylvan was born a year later. In Liverpool they redecorated their house which featured in 'The Studio' in 1901, became friends of Augustus John and did a fair amount of private client work. They exhibited at the Vienna Secession in 1900 and at Turin in 1902 but were unable to travel with the Mackintoshes as Sylvan was too small. This run of success terminated when the University College School merged with the Municipal Art School in 1905, MacNair leaving to teach with Frances at the Sandon Studios in the same city; by that date Frances was commuting to Glasgow where she taught a course in embroidery and jewellery. The Sandon Studios were not, however, a success and the MacNairs returned to Glasgow in 1908, initially staying with the Mackintoshes at Florentine Terrace.

MacNair did not succeed in re-establishing a practice in Glasgow. His father died in 1910, an event which seems to have coincided with the collapse of the family business in 1909, bringing his private income to an end. He took to drink. The Macdonald family are said to have sent him to Canada on a one-way ticket but he managed to return. Thereafter he worked for a time as a postman and motor mechanic: Frances continued to teach at Glasgow School of Art until 1911 when an exhibition of thirty-four of their watercolours was held at the John Baillie Gallery, probably with the object of raising money.

Frances died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage on 12 December 1921. Herbert was distraught and destroyed all of the work then in her studio and vowed never to paint or draw again. He moved from Glasgow to Linlithgow where he and Sylvan ran a garage until Sylvan emigrated to South Africa in the later 1920s. Herbert then moved to Argyll to live with one of his sisters. Thomas Howarth visited him there in 1944 to obtain his recollections. MacNair died in an old people's home at Innellan on 22 April 1955.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 11Birch Bank, Skelmorlie, Ayrshire, ScotlandPrivate1872 Family home
Item 2 of 111, Buckingham Street, Hillhead, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivate1889  
Item 3 of 1129, Arlington Street, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivateBefore 1890After 1894 
Item 4 of 11140, Bath Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness(?)1894 *  
Item 5 of 11227, West George Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness(?)1895 *  
Item 6 of 1117, Park Road, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivate1895 *  
Item 7 of 11Liverpool, EnglandPrivate/business18981908 
Item 8 of 11Florentine Terrace, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivate1908 Staying with the Mackintoshes
Item 9 of 11Linlithgow, West Lothian, ScotlandPrivatec. 1921Late 1920s 
Item 10 of 11Argyll, ScotlandPrivateLate 1920sBefore 1955 
Item 11 of 11Innellan, Argyll, ScotlandPrivate1955 * Old people's home

* 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 2John Honeyman1888Late 1888 or early 1889Apprentice 
Item 2 of 2Honeyman & KeppieLate 1888 or early 18891894Apprentice 

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 21894Design for an English Church   England 
Item 2 of 21895Proposed cottage at sea coast townSkelmorlie/Wemyss Bay? Ayrshire/Renfrewshire?Scotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 1Post Office Directories     

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 1Professor David M Walker personal archiveProfessor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material Additional information (parentage and details of study at Glasgow School of Art) from research by Iain Paterson