Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Millar
Designation: Builder
Born: 26 July 1839
Died: 30 October 1912
Bio Notes: James Millar was born on the 26th of July 1839 in New Vennel Glasgow, the second son and only surviving child of Thomas Millar, journeyman joiner, and his wife Ann Banks, both of whom were from Perthshire. James attended Freelands School in Taylor Street and at the same time went to classes at ‘The School of Art in Ingram Street, corner of Montrose Street from 7 till 8.30 in the mornings’ where he learnt freehand and architectural drawing in classes taught by the architect David Thomson. After Freelands, James went to Lindsay’s Commercial Academy in George Square.

In 1852 James took a job as assistant to a print cutter moving subsequently to the pattern room of a muslin and trimmings manufacturer but he had trouble with his eyes and had to leave. He subsequently secured a post as clerk to a fire engine maker in Broad Close, though his true ambition was to go to sea. His parents dissuaded him from this and he was apprenticed to the wrights, Robert Miller & Son, of Stirling Street where his father was employed.

Thomas Millar subsequently set up in business on his own, renting a workshop in Glebe Street and was joined by his son. During this period James enrolled in evening classes at the Athenaeum, the Mechanics Institute and the Classical Academy. In 1860 when he was twenty-one he matriculated at Glasgow University. During term time he kept the books for the business and supervised the outworkers and in the holidays he did his share of manual labour.

During this time, the family lived opposite Glasgow Cathedral and James’s day started at 5.30am with ringing the Cathedral bell. He then studied for a couple of hours at a special desk he had made so that he could study standing up. The link with the Cathedral was strengthened when his father was contracted to erect scaffolding for glaziers putting in new painted glass windows in the church. James also helped organise a penny savings bank on Saturday evenings in the mission hall.

During his first session at the University James studied Latin and Greek, followed by Mathematics and Logic in the subsequent session and in 1863 he attended Natural Philosophy and English Literature classes. He was hampered by deafness but succeeded in passing his exams. However the business took up more and more of his time and in the end he did not graduate.

The business prospered and by 1864 Thomas was able to buy ground to build his own workshop in Parliamentary Road. There was sufficient room to build tenements at the front of the site with the workshops and yard at the rear. James then drew up plans to be submitted to the Dean of Guild Court. On this first occasion, Thomas found an influential citizen to be his advocate at a meeting with the Master of Works and the plans James had drawn up were passed by the Dean of Guild Court without comment and a building warrant issued. Plans for a further tenement submitted to the Court were criticised by the Master of Works as being amateurish but were later passed by the Court. The success of these first efforts in property development led Thomas and James to develop this side of the business.

In 1868 at the age of sixty-eight Thomas retired from business leaving James, now twenty-nine, in sole charge. The next project was at Cowlairs where he built nine tenements fronting a new street which he named Millarbank Street after his parents. These tenements were the first to be fitted out without shutters as James found that tenants preferred Venetian blinds. The Millarbank Street tenements were followed by another four blocks in Springburn Road. These had shops on the ground floor and flats above. After the Springburn Road tenements James undertook his first commission for a client.

James’s next project was more complex. He bought a house and stable standing on ground at the south West corner of Parson and St Mungo Streets with a small field adjacent. Plans were prepared for two tenements on the garden plot, for a building on the field and for the addition of a further storey and attics to the house which would contain a flat of nine apartments for their own use. The site on the field was too narrow for the regulation width behind tenements of four stories but James managed by means of oriel windows to scrape the required space in the tenements and width behind. This solution impressed the Master of Works at the Dean of Guild Court.

In about 1877, James married Agnes Broom Miller, the youngest daughter of John Stevenson Miller, a turkey red dyer. John Stevenson Miller had retired to the north Ayrshire coast and James and Agnes took a cottage nearby for the summer after their wedding. Through his local contacts James became involved in the building of a new free church in West Kilbride and in about 1879 was contracted to execute the carpentry and joinery works for the new St Brides’ church. James lost £150 on the contract but he was extremely proud of the work in the church and commented: ‘When the church was finished the fittings of pitch pine, every log of which I had personally selected, were a great success and much admired by the experts’.

Once the church was finished James went on to a similar contract doing all the joinery for a new Academy in Ardrossan. At the same time James bought land in Seamill and in about 1886 he began to sketch plans for a house on this site. The house, later named The Meadow, was not at first intended to have an attic but James admired the view from the scaffolding so much that he decided to raise the gables sufficiently to have a good attic. This was at first used as a playroom for the children and was afterwards divided into two bedrooms.

From 1885 it is possible to track James’s building activities in Glasgow through the plans submitted to Dean of Guild Court. Between 1885 and 1904 James is mentioned as architect or client in relation to about 50 separate planning applications to the court, 45 or so as architect and 5 as client. By this time James’s main business was as a property developer, buying and refurbishing old properties, rather than as a builder and the majority of these later plans are small alterations to property he owned or had built.

In the late 1890s through a former tenant, James was able to acquire a prime site at 144 St Vincent Street, Glasgow: ‘Forthwith I was invested with the property which I pulled down and erected a small skyscraper on the site. The adjoining proprietors opposed me all they could in the Dean of Guild Court and were defeated. I expected them to appeal to the court of session but they did not and the building went on apace’. He employed James Salmon as architect and although initially the building was to be nine storeys in height, this was refused by Dean of Guild and it had to be reduced to eight storeys. There is as yet no evidence that James himself supervised the construction or that he acted as builder.

Shortly after the “Hatrack” was built, James visited New York especially to look at its skyscrapers. He enjoyed the trip but did not think that he had much to learn from it from a building point of view. ‘Every special site needs special consideration and I do not think that the American ideas previously acquired would have led me to build differently from what I did.’

After 1904 James retired to his house at Seamill and concentrated his attention on establishing a golf course there and on his wide circle of family and friends. He died at The Meadow on 30 October 1912 and is buried in West Kilbride cemetery.

James’s eldest son, Thomas Andrew Millar, was a qualified architect. He operated in partnership with Alexander McInnes Gardner whom he had met while he was a fellow assistant in James Miller's office.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this builder:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 65, Claremont Terrace, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivate   
Item 2 of 6134, Parliamentary Road, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness1876 *  
Item 3 of 6147, Kennedy Street, Glasgow, ScotlandBusiness1876 * Must have had two workshops or yards at this date.
Item 4 of 681, Parson Street, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivatec. 1876 *  
Item 5 of 69, Hillside Gardens, Glasgow, ScotlandPrivate1891 *  
Item 6 of 6152, 158, Parliamentary Road, Glasgow, ScotlandBusinessc. 1896c. 1908 

* earliest date known from documented sources.

Buildings and Designs

This builder 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 301886Premises for A & G Tod  GlasgowScotlandChimney stalk
Item 2 of 301888347-349 Springburn Road  GlasgowScotland 
Item 3 of 301889Premises at Hydepark Street  GlasgowScotlandAddition of workshop
Item 4 of 301889Warehouse, Drury Street, Renfield Street and Gordon Street  GlasgowScotlandAlterations to shops
Item 5 of 301890Thomas McCoull's warehouse with shops at ground level, Gourlay StreetSpringburn GlasgowScotlandAlterations to shopfront
Item 6 of 301891Coachhouse and hall, Cowlairs Road  Gl;asgowScotlandAlterations and additions
Item 7 of 301891Thomas McCoull's warehouse with shops at ground level, Gourlay StreetSpringburn GlasgowScotlandAdditions to shop.
Item 8 of 301892Victoria Drill HallsSpringburn GlasgowScotlandAddition of gymnasium
Item 9 of 3027 October 1892Shops, 158 Parliamentary Road and 152 Townhead  GlasgowScotlandAlterations and additions
Item 10 of 301893Shop, 160-162 Parliamentary Road  GlasgowScotlandAlterations to shopfront
Item 11 of 301894Tenements, 174 Millburn Street and 188 Garngadhill  Glasgow Addition to WCs to tenements
Item 12 of 301894Tenements, Garngad Road, Royston Road and Dunolly Street  GlasgowScotlandAddition to WCs
Item 13 of 301895Tenement, 79 Parson Street  GlasgowScotlandAlterations
Item 14 of 301895Tenement, Kennedy Street  GlasgowScotlandAddition of toilets to top floor flat.
Item 15 of 30189633 St Mungo Street  GlasgowScotlandAlterations to bsement storey
Item 16 of 301897House, Sauchiehall Street and Renfrew Street  GlasgowScotlandDivision of house into 2.
Item 17 of 301898Thomas McCoull's warehouse with shops at ground level, Gourlay StreetSpringburn GlasgowScotlandAddition of saloon to no 19
Item 18 of 301899251-253 Renfrew Street  GlasgowScotlandSubdivision of 11 apartment house into 2 houses of 4 and 6 apartments.
Item 19 of 301899Tenement, New Keppochhill Road  GlasgowScotlandConversion of flats to shops at 8, 12, 16 and 18. Additions to shop at no 14.
Item 20 of 301899Tenement, Parson Street  GlasgowScotlandConversion of ground floor flat into shop
Item 21 of 301899Villafield Bakery  GlasgowScotlandNew ovens added
Item 22 of 301900(?)Six tenements, Albert Road  GlasgowScotlandAddition of WCs, alterations to house and shops
Item 23 of 301900Villa, Thistle Street  GlasgowScotlandAlterations to entrance hall
Item 24 of 301900Warehouse, Gourlay Street  GlasgowScotlandConversion of warehouse to shops
Item 25 of 301901Premises, Albert Road  GlasgowScotlandAlterations
Item 26 of 301902Commercial premises, 14-24 West Nile Street  GlasgowScotlandAlterations including alterations to shops.
Item 27 of 3019033, 4 and 5 Claremont Terrace  GlasgowScotlandAlterations and additions to no 5
Item 28 of 301903Performing Animals Shelter  GlasgowScotlandAlterations and additions to commercial premises and alterations to shops.
Item 29 of 301903Thomas McCoull's warehouse with shops at ground level, Gourlay StreetSpringburn GlasgowScotlandAlterations to warehouse at no 13.
Item 30 of 301904Shop, Millarbank Street  GlasgowScotlandAlterations to shop front


Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this builder:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 1Courtesy of Alison Logan, great grand daughter of James MillarInformation via website from Alison Logan Sent 23 March and 20 October 2008