Basic Biographical Details

Name: William Cadell Burnet (or William Caddel Burnet)
Designation: Architect
Born: 1828
Died: 1914
Bio Notes: William Cadell (or Caddel) Burnet was born in 1828, the youngest child of George Burnet, sometime of the Kirkcudbright and Galloway militia, and his wife Margaret Wardlaw, who was the daughter of a Dalkeith merchant. He was presumably articled to his brother John Burnet Senior, who was fourteen years older, when the latter set up practice in 1842 or 1843, and may have remained with him as an assistant.

In December 1865 Burnet was appointed architectural clerk to the Royal Commission on the new Law Courts, replacing Alfred Waterhouse who had resigned as a result of being nominated as a competitor: this appointment indicates that he must previously have held a post of some standing, probably in the Office of Works, but he cannot be the same person as the William Burnett who was appointed to Windsor District in 1840 and to Chelsea in 1845 as assumed by M H Port and J M Crook and by Brownlee (see M H Port and J M Crook, 'The History of the King's Works', Vol 6, 1782-1851, p 221) as he was not old enough.

Burnet then set up practice as architect and surveyor at 14 Duke Street, Westminster until premises closer to the site of the law courts were found for him in the following year at 5 Portugal Street and 33 Lincoln's Inn Fields. In his capacity as the Commission's clerk he either made or completed a study of continental courts of justice, concluded they were not large enough to be relevant, and assisted the Commission in drawing up the brief; erected a temporary building in New Square, Lincoln's Inn Fields to exhibit the competition designs; and recommended George Pownall as statistical assessor. After George Edmund Street was selected as architect he worked with him on the planning of the revised design and reported on it in January 1869, but subsequently enraged him when he drew out a possible reduction of his scheme; and together with Pownall he successfully argued against the alternative Embankment location on the grounds that there was a risk of financial loss on the resale of the Carey Street site. Burnet must have retained material from his clerkship, as he appears to have made a copy of William Burges's printed competition folio available to his brother John when the latter was commissioned to design the Glasgow Stock Exchange in 1874-75. This did not escape Burges's notice as he pasted Burnet's scheme within his own copy of the folio. It may also have been through William Burnet's London connection that John Burnet became Glasgow correspondent for the Architectural Publication Society's Dictionary, although it is equally possible that he was approached simply as one of its few Scottish subscribers.

William Burnet does not appear to have sought membership of the RIBA. During his engagement on the Law Courts he appears to have been engaged in speculative development in South Hampstead with the elder Horace Field (1823-79), architect and district surveyor of Putney, who came of a family of Hampstead solicitors and was a younger brother of Edwin Wilkins Field, a distinguished solicitor who was the Royal Commission's unsalaried clerk. Burnet lived first at 20 Adelaide Road (1867 to 1880), and later at 16 Eton Villas, Provost Road (1881 to 1888). He was probably responsible for building these, but the elevations were specified by the Eton College estate surveyor, the architect John Shaw.

In 1871 Burnet built his best-known commission, the Imperial Ottoman Bank in Throgmorton Street; and at the end of his law courts commitments he moved office to 15 Coleman Street, where his elder brother George had established himself as a merchant in 1869, trading as George Burnet & Co. They shared that address until 1876 or 1877 when George moved his business to the United States where the second brother, Gilbert, had already settled. William remained in Coleman Street, combining practice with the agency of the Cape Colony Emigration Office, moving to 10 Blomfield Street, Finsbury from 1878.

In 1877, probably on William Burnet's advice, Horace Field had his son of the same name articled to Burnet's elder brother John in Glasgow, to enable him to benefit from his son John James Burnet's return from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts; but there may have been an earlier connection between the Fields and the Burnets as the elder Field's wife came from Glasgow. Two years later, in 1879, the elder Field died, William Burnet taking over his practice on a temporary basis in 1880-82 under the practice title of Field & Burnet. This was to enable Horace Field Junior to complete his articles with Colonel Robert William Edis and 'learn English ways' for the resumption of his father's practice in 1883 in partnership with their chief assistant Edwin Emanuel More (not in the British Architectural Library/RIBA 'Directory of British Architects 1834-1914') who was older and more experienced.

William Burnet briefly practised alone thereafter, but soon gave up architectural practice to concentrate on Cape Colony business with both house and office in Finsbury. He married Jessie Fairie who was probably the sister of the Helen Fairie who married his brother George. William and Jessie had three children of whom the two eldest, a boy and a girl, died young; the youngest child, Jessie Burnet, survived and returned to Scotland to live in Edinburgh. In later years William Burnet may have been less prosperous than he had previously been as John Burnet Senior left him a life rent of three thirty-fourths of his estate. He died in 1914.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 714, Duke Street, Westminster, London, EnglandBusinessDecember 18651866 
Item 2 of 75, Portugal Street, London, EnglandBusiness1866  
Item 3 of 733, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, EnglandBusiness1866  
Item 4 of 720, Adelaide Road, London, EnglandPrivate18671880 
Item 5 of 715, Coleman Street, London, EnglandBusinessAfter 18711878 
Item 6 of 710, Blomfield Street, Finsbury, London, EnglandBusiness1878  
Item 7 of 716 Eton Villas, Provost Road, London, EnglandPrivate18811888 

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 4John Burnet (senior)c. 1843(?)c. 1848ApprenticeUncertain whether William was apprenticed to his brother John, but seems likely
Item 2 of 4H M Office of Works (later Ministry of Works, Department of the Environment and Property Services Agency)After 1848Before 1865 Presumably worked in the Office of Works prior to his appointment on the law courts commission
Item 3 of 4John Burnet (senior)c. 1848Before 1865AssistantUncertain whether William assisted his brother John, but seems likely
Item 4 of 4Field & Burnet18801882Partner 

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 7December 1865Royal Courts of JusticeWestminster LondonEnglandAs architectural clerk for the Royal Commission, working under the architect, George Edmund Street
Item 2 of 71867Exhibition Building, New SquareLincoln's Inn LondonEngland 
Item 3 of 7Before 186720 Adelaide Road  LondonEnglandProbably built (elevations specified by the Eton College estate surveyor, the architect John Shaw)
Item 4 of 71871Imperial Ottoman Bank  LondonEngland 
Item 5 of 71873Villa, 66 Belsize Park GardensHampstead LondonEngland 
Item 6 of 71874Chapel, Haverstock HillHampsted LondonEngland 
Item 7 of 7Before 188116 Eton Villas  LondonEnglandProbably built (elevations specified by the Eton College estate surveyor, the architect John Shaw)


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 1Brownlee, David B1984G E Street and the Royal Courts of Justice   

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 Research by Professor Andrew Saint (11 March 1980) and Dr Bill Fawcett (11 April 2006) and family information from James John Burnet (21 April 1980)