Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Byres
Designation: Architect
Born: 1734
Died: September 1817
Bio Notes: James Byres was born in 1734, the eldest son of Patrick Byres of Tonley, Aberdeenshire who was a Jacobite supporter and a Catholic who fled with his young son James to France after the ’45. James was brought up in France and may have served in the French army. He returned to Britain for a brief spell in 1756 and then went to Italy to study to become a painter. In 1758 Robert Mylne reported that ‘Mr Byres’ who was a student of painting was on his way from Aberdeen to Rome.

In Rome he became a pupil of Raphael Mengs. He was not sufficiently talented to be a successful oil painter. After trying his hand as a miniaturist he turned to architecture. In 1763 he won a prize in the Concorso Clementino at the Academy of St Luke, thus becoming an honorary member. However he failed to establish a practice in Rome. He had a penchant for big extravagant schemes in the late Roman Baroque style but taste was turning to the more restrained neo-classicism of Robert Mylne and William Chambers.

Byres instead became one of the most successful cicerones who guided English gentlemen on the Grand tour around Rome. He escorted around a number of distinguished patrons including Edward Gibbon and the Dukes of Hamilton, Northumberland and Grafton. He also dealt in antiquities. He visited other parts of Italy – for example in 1766 he toured south Italy with the Wilbrahams and visited Pompeii, Paestum and other Greek sites. However he was particularly interested in Etruscan antiquities. A scheme to publish a work on this subject came to nothing at the time although the plates were published after his death.

Although he visited England from time to time he remained in Italy for thirty years. The French Revolution prevented many from making the Grand Tour and his work as as cicerone came to an end. He moved back to the family seat at Tonley in Aberdeenshire.

Byres died in September 1817 at the age of 83.

There are protraits of Byres in the Academia di S Luca, a Tassie medallion and a group family protrait in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There is also an engraved portrait by J Bogle dating from 1782 and a portrait by Raeburn (illustrated in J Greig, 'Sir Henry Raeburn').

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 1Tonley, Aberdeenshire, ScotlandPrivate   

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 81768House, St Andrew's Square  EdinburghScotland 
Item 2 of 81768Royal College of Physicians  EdinburghScotlandScheme for circular domed library
Item 3 of 81768Sleat Parish ChurchSleatSkyeInverness-shireScotlandMonument to Sir James Macdonald who died in Rome in 1766.
Item 4 of 81773Fyvie Castle and ancillary buildingsFyvie AberdeenshireScotlandTwo chimneypieces (of which that in the Drawing Room survives)
Item 5 of 81773King's CollegeOld Aberdeen AberdeenScotlandDrawings attributed to James Byres - Colvin does not state what they are of - attribution by David M Walker
Item 6 of 81790sCastle Fraser  AberdeenshireScotlandMay have been involved. May have acted as agent providing bas relief sculpture for Moses Well in grounds.
Item 7 of 81798Aquorthies HouseInverurie AberdeenshireScotlandColvin gives 1796-99
Item 8 of 81808Cluny Churchyard, Fraser Family MausoleumCluny AberdeenshireScotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 7Burke2001Burke's Landed Gentry of Great Britain: the Kingdom of Scotland19th edition  
Item 2 of 7Colvin, Howard2008A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 London: YUP. 4th edition 
Item 3 of 7DNB Dictionary of National Biography   
Item 4 of 7Fleming, John1959Some Roman Cicerones and Artist-Dealers Conoisseur Year Bookpp24-26
Item 5 of 7Gill, A J M1835The Families of Moir and Byres   
Item 6 of 7Ingamells, J1997Dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy, 1701-1800  pp169-172
Item 7 of 7Stillman, D1973British Architects and Italian Architectural Competitions, 1750-1780xxxviJournal of the Society of Architectural Historians 

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 2Apollo1974xcix pp446-60
Item 2 of 2Architectural Heritage1991ii 'James Byres of Tonley' by H G Slade.

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 3Courtesy of David W WalkerInformation sent to Dictionary Sent January 2013
Item 2 of 3National Library of ScotlandManuscript CollectionDeposit 184 
Item 3 of 3Wiltshire Record OfficeLetters from Fr Thorpe to Lord Arundell of WArdour in Arundell archive