Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||Robert Mylne |
|Designation: || |
|Born: ||4 January 1733 |
|Died: ||5 May 1811 |
|Bio Notes: ||Robert Mylne was born on 4 January 1733, the eldest surviving son of Thomas Mylne, a leading Edinburgh master mason during the reign of George II. In 1747 he was apprenticed to Daniel Wright, a carpenter, for six years. By 1754 he was also an honorary member of Edinburgh Lodge of Freemasons which by the mid-18th century was only tenuously connected to the masons’ trade. |
Mylne worked initially as a woodcarver at Blair Atholl and then set about becoming an architect. He persuaded his father to allow him to travel abroad. He first went to Paris where his brother William joined him in October 1754 and then moved to Rome the following January. The Mylne brothers made the journey as economically as possible even ‘footing it’ when necessary. Robert was certain the experience would pay dividends – ‘a little studye will make more than one family of Architects in Scotland’. In 1758 Robert won the Silver Medal for architecture in the ‘Concorso Clementino’ at St Luke’s Academy with the drawing of a palatial public building in the grand neoclassical manner. This had never before been won by a British person. He was elected a member of the Academy in 1759. The necessary dispensations had been obtained by Prince Altieri to enable him to take his seat. Mylne was also made a member of the academies in Florence and in Bologna.
He became acquainted with Piranesi while in Rome and made some useful contacts with a view to future clients. Among the useful contacts made were Lord Garlies, Sir Wyndham Knatchbull and William Fermor of Tusmore. He was taken to Sicily in 1757 by the connoisseur Richard Phelps. Mylne made drawing so the Greek temples there with a view to publishing them as the ‘Antiquities of Sicily’. This did not come to fruition but both Piranesi and Winckelmnan both used Mylne’s information about the Sicilian temples.
On his return journey Mylne travelled through northern Italy, the Rhineland and Holland and reached London in July 1759. He had been given an introduction to Lord Charlemont by the Abbé Grant in Rome.
Mylne arrived home when the scheme for Blackfriars Bridge was being mooted, one of several major public building initiatives of the eighteenth century. There were in all sixty-nine entries in the competition. Eight entries were shortlisted. All but Mylne’s were criticised in a pamphlet entitled ‘Observations on Bridge-Building, and the several plans offered for a New Bridge’. There are indications that Mylne himself was the author. However that Mylne’s design was chosen was an outstanding achievement for a young architect who was wholly untried. He himself expressed considerable surprise at the outcome in a letter to his father. ‘’I cannot account for it myself – [that] a young man just arrived in a great city, where he knew nobody, should against the cabballing interests of city factions, contrary to the interests of the Price of Wales’ court, and in spite of the specious plausibility of the Royal Society, step at once into the head of his profession, and several hundreds a year’.
The design of the bridge was, as Colvin writes, ‘handsome and efficient’, with well-detailed masonry. Each pier was decorated with a pair of Ionic columns. There were only nine arches which were elliptical. The latter provoked much discussion and some criticism as did the employment of an unknown Scot. In the end the bridge cost £152,840, £163 less than the original estimate. Various views and plans of the bridge were published (several by his assistant R Baldwin in 1766 and later). In 1766 Mylne himself published an oblique view which was engraved in Rome by Piranesi. Mylne was also responsible for planning the approaches on either side of the river and for designing the obelisk (erected 1771) which marked the junction of the roads which splayed out from St George’s Circus.
In the wake of the Blackfriars Bridge commission Mylne obtained a range of other bridge and canal work. He made many appearances before Parliamentary committees considering canal bills. Though he did undertake bridge commissions in Glasgow and at Inveraray, his most important engineering works were in England: the Gloucester & Berkeley Ship Canal and fen drainage work above King’s Lynn. Neither was completed in his lifetime. Colvin gives a detailed list of his other engineering work.
As an architect Mylne never enjoyed the celebrity status of his contemporaries Robert Adam or James Wyatt. However he built up a network of clients in Shropshire through a group of interrelated county families. Also at Inveraray Mylne undertook extensive work for the Duke of Argyll who also employed him at Rosneath. Outwith Shropshire his main works were Cally, Kirkcudbrightshire (1763-5), Tusmore, Oxfordshire (1766-70), Wormleybury, Hertfordshire (1767-70), Addington, Surrey (1773-79) and Bickley Place, Kent (c.1780). Mylne’s style was very restrained, almost severe, which anticipates the neoclassical simplicity of the 1790s. From time to time he showed considerable originality (for example the portico at Woodhouse, Salop). The decorative style of his interiors is similar to that of Adam. They may be derived from sources in Rome or have been the result of the help of George Richardson whom Mylne employed, making payments to Richardson for drawings from time to time. Mylne rarely used the Gothic style but a notable exception to this is the folly Blaise Castle.
Mylne applied unsuccessfully for the post of Master of the Works in Scotland in 1764. This was a political sinecure and he had little real hope of success. In 1767 he was appointed surveyor to the New River Company (precursor of the Metropolitan Water Board). He carried out his duties (until 1770 jointly with Henry Mill) with great care and precision and as a result received the gift of a silver-gilt cup from the Board in 1806. He rebuilt the offices of the Board in 1770. Mylne held various other appointments: the surveyorships of St Paul’s Cathedral (October 1766), Canterbury Cathedral (October 1767) and the Clerkship of the Works at Greenwich Hospital (November 1775) where James Stuart was Surveyor. He was dismissed from this after a dispute with Stuart in 1782. He was also Surveyor to the Stationers’ Company.
Mylne did not exhibit in artistic circles – at the Royal Academy for example - but he was a member of the Royal Society from 1767. He was a member of the group of literary and scientific men who met at Slaughter’s Coffee House in St Martin’s Lane. He was also involved closely in the Society of Civil Engineers and one of the original member of the Architects’ Club (founded in 1791).
As a person Mylne was a man ‘of austere manners’ but had a violent temper and was contemptuous of other people and their work. However he was assiduous in performing his duties and a sociable man as well as a keen conversationalist.
Mylne married May Home, daughter of a surgeon in 1770. They had ten children, five of whom survived him. His son W C Mylne succeeded to the practice.
Mylne died on 5 may 1811 and was buried (on his request) in St Paul’s Cathedral close to Sir Christopher Wren. He had built a small country house at Great Amwell, Hertfordshire in 1794-7 and the rest of his family was buried there where he had erected a plain mausoleum in the churchyard.
There are various portraits of Mylne including one reproduced in R S Mylne’s ‘The Master Masons to the Crown of Scotland’. There is also a pencil portrait by Dance in the National Portrait Gallery, published in W Daniell’s ‘Collection of Portraits’ 1880-14.
A very full bibliography is given by Colvin, of which a few are noted below.
Buildings and Designs
|The following books contain references to this :|
|APSD|| ||The Dictionary of Architecture||ed Wyatt Papworth||The Architectural Publication Society (8v 1852-1892)|| |
|Colvin, Howard||2008||A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840|| ||London: YUP. 4th edition|| |
|DNB|| ||Dictionary of National Biography|| || || |
|Farington, Joseph|| ||Diary|| || ||15 May 1811|
|Gifford, John||2012||The Buildings of Scotland: Angus and Dundee|| ||Yale||p602|
|Historical Manuscripts Commission|| ||Historical Manuscripts Commission, 12th Report|| || ||x, p252 (Abbé Grant's Letter)|
|Institution of Civil Engineers||2002||Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers|| ||V.1 and 2||Entry on Mylne by Ted Ruddock|
|Mylne, R S|| ||The Master Masons to the Crown of Scotland|| || ||Chapter xiii|
|Nichols, J||1815||Literary Anecdotes|| || ||IX, pp231-3|
|The following periodicals contain references to this :|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|Builder||1864|| || ||p8|
|Civil Engineer and Architects' Journal||1847||x|| ||p340|
|Gentleman's Magazine||1811||i|| ||pp499-500|
|The following archives hold material relating to this :|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)||Gifts and deposits||GD 1/51/37|| |
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum||RIBA Drawings Collection|| || |
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum||RIBA MSS Collection|| ||Mylne diaries and early letters|