Basic Biographical Details

Name: William Atkinson
Designation: Architect
Born: 1774 or 1775
Died: 22 May 1839
Bio Notes: William Atkinson was born in 1774 or 1775 in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. He trained as a carpenter. His father who was probably also William Atkinson was employed as a builder at Auckland Castle in the 1760s and who signed the drawings connected with James Wyatt’s works at the Castle for Bishop Barrington in the 1790s. The younger William Atkinson, probably through the influence of Bishop Barrington, obtained a place in the office of James Wyatt in London. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1796 and won the Gold Medal the following year. He exhibited occasionally at the Royal Academy until 1811. In 1805 he published ‘Views of Picturesque Cottages’. This comprised asymmetrical elevations with picturesque landscapes and irregular plans designed for utility rather than design effect.

Atkinson also had a business venture in marketing his invention ‘Atkinson’s Cement’ which he introduced into the London market. The raw material, lime-bearing calcareous clay, was imported from Lord Musgrave’s estates near Whitby to Atkinson’s own wharf in Westminster. It could be used as both an external render and to form mouldings. It was through the influence of Lord Musgrave that Atkinson succeeded Wyatt as architect to the Board of Ordnance, a post which he held from 1813-1829 when the Board was abolished.

Colvin states that between 1812 and 1816 Atkinson had an office in Manchester and that he wrote letters from Manchester, exhibited at the Liverpool Academy and appears in directories of Manchester for 1815 and 1816. However it has been conclusively proved by Neil Darlington that there was an entirely different architect of the name William Atkinson working at this time in Manchester. He has no relationship with William Atkinson who was born in County Durham.

Atkinson was mainly a country house architect especially favouring the Gothic style. Between 1804 and 1834 he built twelve country houses in the Gothic or castle style. Usually the buildings have an asymmetrical plan and many pinnacled gables and battlements. His Gothic details are not scholarly nor are they fanciful like other 18th century Gothic detail. His interior of Broughton Hall is one of his most successful. His work as architect to the Board of Ordnance comprised alterations to numerous public buildings which were all in England. The National Records of Scotland holds a number of letters in the Buccleuch Papers which relate to work for the family, though it is not clear if some relate to Scotland.

Atkinson’s most significant Scottish work is Abbotsford for Sir Walter Scott. A variety of other people contributed to the design including the architect Edward Blore and Scott himself. The workers on the site also contributed some of the details.

Outwith his career as architect he was a keen chemist, geologist and botanist. He collected rare specimens of trees and his gardens were decorated with different sorts of stone. He planted rare species at his villa which he built for himself at Grove End, Paddington in 1818. In about 1830 he bought the estate of Silvermere in Surrey and his interest in horticulture and planting were given full expression in the large gardens there.

Atkinson was an able architect and was accomplished in both theory and practice. The Architectural Publications Society Dictionary states that he 'particularly excelled in alterations to existing edifices'. He attracted many pupils.

Atkinson died on 22 May 1839. He was buried at Walton-on-Thames. He was survived by his two sons, the younger of whom became an architect.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 1London, EnglandPrivate/business17961811 

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 1James Wyatt1790s Assistant 

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 151803Scone PalaceScone PerthshireScotlandReconstruction
Item 2 of 151805Millburn TowerGogar EdinburghScotland 
Item 3 of 151807Rossie PrioryInchture PerthshireScotland 
Item 4 of 151810Scone PalaceScone PerthshireScotlandStables. Also perhaps designed the mausoleum.
Item 5 of 15c. 1810Biel HouseStenton East LothianScotlandAdditions
Item 6 of 151812Dalkeith House  MidlothianScotlandGD224/669/36
Item 7 of 151812Drumlanrig CastleDrumlanrig DumfriesshireScotlandPlans for alterations?
Item 8 of 151813Bowhill HouseSelkirk SelkirkshireScotlandAdditions - continued the Stark work
Item 9 of 151814AbbotsfordMelrose RoxburghshireScotlandIncorporated suggestions by Edward Blore.
Item 10 of 151817Tulliallan Castle, gardens and lodgeKincardine-on-Forth FifeScotlandOriginal building
Item 11 of 151818Taymouth CastleTaymouth PerthshireScotlandExtensive Gothic additions
Item 12 of 151820Dabton HouseThornhill DumfriesshireScotland 
Item 13 of 151822Canonbie ChurchCanonbie DumfriesshireScotland 
Item 14 of 151827Taymouth CastleTaymouth PerthshireScotlandExtensive Gothic additions
Item 15 of 151829Finlarig Castle, Breadalbane Family MausoleumKillin PerthshireScotland 


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 6APSD The Dictionary of Architectureed Wyatt PapworthThe Architectural Publication Society (8v 1852-1892) 
Item 2 of 6Brayley, E W  Topographical History of Surrey  Volume II, 1841, p368
Item 3 of 6Brown, Malcolm1996William Atkinson, FGS, FHS Archives of Natural History, 23 (3) 
Item 4 of 6DNB Dictionary of National Biography  Entry by Richard Riddell.
Item 5 of 6Farington, Joseph Diary  18 September 1813.
Item 6 of 6Smith, J T1905A Book for a Rainy Day  pp312-313

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 4National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD 112/74/30, 34, 35, 37Correspondence with the Earl and Lady Breadbalane regarding Taymouth and also 100 Park Lane, London
Item 2 of 4National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD 224/666/1Correspondence about mines at Wanlockhead etc (Duke of Buccleuch)
Item 3 of 4National Library of ScotlandManuscript CollectionMS 587, no1202Letter about planting at Silvermere.
Item 4 of 4PROWills PCC 339 Vaughan