Basic Biographical Details

Name: John Douglas
Designation: Architect
Born: c. 1709
Died: 20 June 1778(?)
Bio Notes: John Douglas practised as an architect in Edinburgh in the mid-18th century. In the ‘Depositions in the Cause William Adam v. Lord Braco’ it is stated that ‘since the year 1730 he has built several houses…for private Gentlemen’ and that ‘he has made Draughts of several houses, which he has afterwards been employed to build’. In 1746 he was described as ‘one John Douglas at Edinburgh next in character to Mr Adams [who] has built several houses’. He seems to have been the builder/architect in much the way William Adam was. However his practice was relatively small by comparison. He never built a major country house or public building.

Douglas’s style can be gleaned from the collection of his drawings held in RCAHMS which includes plans and elevations copied from James Gibbs’ ‘Book of Architecture’. Douglas’s copy of this book is held in the collection. Though he borrowed a number of motifs from Gibbs, Douglas’s work is recognisably Scottish, for example in the large proportion of wall to window, the use of turnpike stairs. He also liked using polygonal shapes in the octagonal church at Killin, the octagonal steeples at Leuchars and Lochmaben and the canted bow at Archerfield. He favoured large faceted urns as a decorative feature.

Douglas seems to have elicited criticism from various people. This may have been partly due to his personality and perhaps simply due to professional rivalry. While building a house at Haddo, John Baxter had been annoyed when John Douglas made adverse comments about his workmanship. Baxter told Sir John Clerk of Penicuik that Douglas was ‘apt to break his toas on stons that lyes not in his road’. He was ‘sorry to see such a cub who could nevor work a piece of good work all his days sett up for a judge’. However Sir John Clerk’s daughter noted in 1751 that Finlaystone House was ‘not so bad…as some people represent’. The fact that Douglas enjoyed the patronage of a number of distinguished clients, such as the Duke of Atholl, Lord Sinclair (to whom Douglas supplied timber) and the Earl of Dalhousie indicates that his work generally found favour although a number of his plans were never executed. He must have been prospering in the year 1758 as he took a tack of part of the island of Inchkeith that year.

Colvin suggests that John Douglas was the same as John Douglas architect in Leith who became a burgess of Edinburgh in 1745 and was still living in Leith in 1773-1774 and that he was probably the John Douglas of Pinkerton whose will (dated 26 March 1773 in Leith), was proved in June 1778. However it is clear that he had Edinburgh property as well. The ‘Caledonian Mercury’ of 18 February 1858 carried an advertisement for a sale of pictures at the ‘House of John Douglas architect’ at the top of the scale stair, head of Flesh Market Close to take place on Monday 19 February. The sale was to continue until ‘all are sold off’. This suggests that John Douglas was living in Edinburgh rather than Leith at this point and that he had a collection of pictures. It is possible he had property in both places. The 'Edinburgh Recorder' confirms that he owned property in High Street, north of Fleshmarket Close (Thomson's Close) as well as at Old Provost's Close, East Head.

Douglas would seem to have died on 20 June 1778. In his will he bequeathed his lands and estate of Pinkerton, Crail by deed of entail on his brother William Douglas and any of William's heirs, suggesting he had no off-spring himself. At his death he had a number of debts owing to him including that by David Orme, writer in Edinburgh, John Leslie of Lumquhat, Robert Hamilton, Provost of Kinghorn and William Brown of Gladmyres, granted to Mrs Jean Forbes relict of John Farquharson of Invercauld.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 3Leith, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate/business(?)1740s  
Item 2 of 3Flesh Market Close, High Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate/business1750s  
Item 3 of 3Leith, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate/business(?)1770s  

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 32 Holy Trinity Parish ChurchSt Andrews FifeScotlandPlans for rebuilding church. Not executed.
Item 2 of 321733Freeland House  PerthshireScotlandContract for alterations drawn up between Lord Ruthven and John Douglas architect.
Item 3 of 321735Murthly CastleMurthly PerthshireScotlandEntrance Block built and probably designed by John Douglas.
Item 4 of 321735Quarrell House  StirlingshireScotlandWas involved with the enlargement of this house. Design ultimately was that of James Gibbs.
Item 5 of 321736Achnacarry, walled garden  Inverness-shireScotlandPayments made to Douglas during this period
Item 6 of 321736Blair CastleBlair Atholl PerthshireScotlandDesigns for remodelling Blair Castle. Not executed
Item 7 of 321737Abercairney  PerthshireScotlandExtensive repairs
Item 8 of 321737Lochnell CastleBenderloch (near) ArgyllScotlandMay have been responsible for the design of new house 1737-39.
Item 9 of 321740Galloway House  WigtownshireScotlandDrew up designs which were implemented by John Baxter. Holly Kinnear gives 'late 1730s'.
Item 10 of 321741Arbroath HarbourArbroath AngusScotlandAdvised on how to alleviate silting up of harbour.
Item 11 of 321743Amulree ChurchAmulree PerthshireScotlandAlthough Colvin lists this under the work of John Douglas of Edinburgh, he notes that the design is vernacular in character and unlike other churches by Douglas. It is therefore possible that the design is by John Douglas of Perthshire who designed the parish school at Dull.
Item 12 of 321743Killin ChurchKillin PerthshireScotlandHis design is mentioned in a letter of 1743 from Lord Breadalbane's chamberlain. He therefore presumably designed the church built in 1744.
Item 13 of 321744Kilmahew CastleCardross DunbartonshireScotlandMay have been responsible for the remodelling in the gothic taste.
Item 14 of 321744Parish Church of St AthernaseLeuchars FifeScotlandOctagonal tower
Item 15 of 32c. 1744Traquair HousePeebles PeeblesshireScotlandProposed re-fronting of the house
Item 16 of 321745Archerfield  East LothianScotlandWork on house
Item 17 of 321745Fullarton House, piers terminating forecourt walls and stables  AyrshireScotlandMay have been responsible for the house - attribution
Item 18 of 321745Lochmaben Town HallLochmaben DumfriesshireScotland 
Item 19 of 321746Blair CastleBlair Atholl PerthshireScotlandPlans for addition of entrance lobby drawn up - not executed.
Item 20 of 321746Finlaystone HouseLangbank RenfrewshireScotlandDouglas contracted to build new house of three storeys onto the west end of the north front.
Item 21 of 321746Taymouth CastleTaymouth PerthshireScotlandAlterations. 'Plans of the dining room, entry to the house, & other things' mentioned in accounts of Lord Glenorchy who was supervising the estate of behalf of his octogenarian father.
Item 22 of 321747Archerfield  East LothianScotlandDate of contract for addition, probably on the north side and two pavilions (£2360).
Item 23 of 321747TolboothWigtown WigtownshireScotland 
Item 24 of 321748Dysart HouseDysart FifeScotlandPlan for alteration or rebuilding. Not executed.
Item 25 of 321751Fothringham HouseInverarity AngusScotlandDrew up plans - received 5 guineas
Item 26 of 321754Palace of Holyroodhouse  EdinburghScotlandRepairs. With mason-developer James McPherson.
Item 27 of 321754University of St Andrews, St Salvator's CollegeSt Andrews FifeScotlandArcaded building on north side - later demolished by Nixon.
Item 28 of 321757Wardhouse  AberdeenshireScotlandAttribution
Item 29 of 321758Campbeltown Town HouseCampbeltown ArgyllScotland 
Item 30 of 32Mid 1750sHolyrood Abbey  EdinburghScotlandEstimate for repairing the roof of the Abbey Church. Replacement of roof truss with diaphram walls. Collapsed 2 December 1768.
Item 31 of 321760sDalhousie Castle  MidlothianScotlandAlterations - including new roof.

Sir Walter Scott states that the castle was 'mangled by a fellow called I believe Douglas, who destroyed as far as in him lay its military and baronial character and roof'd it after the fashion of a Poor's house'. A pyramidal Georgian roof is visible in views of the castle prior to Burn's restoration of 1826-7.
Item 32 of 32Before 177Glasserton House  WigtownshireScotlandGave John Baxter a 'hint' for rebuilding of this house (which preceded the Adam house?) which was recently destroyed by fire.


Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 3National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD164/693 
Item 2 of 3National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD 224/168/51758
Papers relating to tack of island of Inchkeith, proposed to be taken by John Douglas, architect, and James Rutherford, clerk of Kinghorn, formerly set to brother of John Orrock, land surveyor at Alva.
Item 3 of 3New Register HouseWills and TestamentsCC 8/8/124(2)