Basic Biographical Details

Name: James Smith
Designation: Architect, Engineer
Born: 1644 or 1645
Died: 6 November 1731
Bio Notes: James Smith was born in 1644 or 1645, the son of James Smith (died 1684 or 85), a master mason living in Tarbat, Ross-shire in 1656 and who became a burgess of Forres, Moray, in 1659. In the early 1680s father and son are recorded as the builders of the town bridge in Inverness in an inscription on the bridge itself. Smith junior was destined to become a Roman Catholic priest and on 3 May 1671 he enrolled at the Scots College in Rome where he studied rhetoric, philosophy and theology. During his stay in Rome he would have had the opportunity to study contemporary Italian buildings. This is implied in a letter from Sir John Clerk in 1696. He left the Scots College on 3 October 1675 promising to return but never did so. He may have supported himself after leaving the college by working as a mason.

Smith was an educated man who had a knowledge of Latin as proved by a letter by him dating from 1714. By the time he returned to Edinburgh he would have a first-hand knowledge Italian architecture which distinguishes him from his fellow Scots and is paralleled in England only by the gentleman architect Roger Pratt. In 1715 when he offered himself as a candidate for election to Parliament he claimed to have had a ‘liberal education at schools and Colledges at home and occasion to know the world by travelling abroad’ and he refers in a receipt dated December 1677 to ‘my…necessare expenses on my voyage upon the account of Sr. William Bruce’. This demonstrates that he was in touch with the leading figure in the architectural world in Scotland by that date as well as his experience in travelling.

In 1676 Smith was working at Holyrood which had been begun under Bruce in 1671. In 1679 he married Janet Mylne, the eldest daughter of Robert Mylne, master mason to the crown of Scotland, who was overseeing the works at Holyrood, bringing Smith into contact with another prominent figure. The accounts of Holyrood show that James Smith had undertaken some of the masonry there. By right of his marriage he became a burgess of Edinburgh in December of 1679.

In 1678 Bruce had been dismissed from the post of King’s Works and this left the masons at Holyrood and elsewhere without a superior officer. In 1683 Smith was appointed Surveyor or Overseer of the Royal Works at a salary of £100 per annum on the recommendation of the first Duke of Queensberry. In this capacity he was responsible for the maintenance work at Holyrood and he designed the chapel for the chivalric order of the Knights of the Thistle (which had been revived by James II (VII of Scotland) in 1687) within the old abbey church. His post was renewed by Queen Anne’s government in 1707. However his salary stopped after the Union. He acted as surveyor of the Highland forts erected by the Board of Ordnance in the reign of George I, but in 1719 Andrews Jelfe was appointed ‘Architect & Clerk of Works’ in his place with responsibility for all fortifications under the Board’s jurisdiction. Smith visited London to try to redeem this situation but this was to no avail. In a petition to the Barons of the Scottish Exchequer as well as in a letter to Sir John Clerk of Penicuik he complained that he had been ‘disgracefully turn’d out of His Majesty’s service in the 73d year of his age’. The letter to Sir John also stated that he was forced to ‘hunt for his living elsewhere’.

From about 1700 he seems to have had an association with Alexander McGill. They worked together at Yester House from about 1700-15. In 1686 he had purchased the Whitehill estate and built a house there. He tried to develop a colliery there and was afterwards known as ‘Mr Smith of Whitehill’. This was not a financial success (Mylne states that ‘he ruined himself by a Drowned Colliery near Musselburgh’) and he was forced to sell part of the estate in 1706 and the remainder in 1726 to his son-in-law, Gilbert Smith (husband of his daughter Bella) who was a pupil and who became Master Mason to the Crown in 1715. He worked together with Gilbert Smith’s elder brother, James, also a pupil, on some building projects.

There is some evidence that Smith had a connection with Colen Campbell during the last ten years of his life which is otherwise almost undocumented. Campbell described Smith as ‘the most experience’d Architect’. The connection with Campbell is surmised because of a collection of drawings (now in the RIBA) which belonged to Campbell but are not from his hand. Several are for houses on which Smith worked (for example Dalkeith House which he remodelled in 1702-10 and Melville House). Colvin notes that there are mannerisms in these drawings which are very similar to a drawing for an unexecuted design of Cullen House by Smith and McGill. Most of the drawings are studies on Palladian themes, many with centralised plans relating to Palladio’s Villa Rotonda and other Vicenza villas and one which was the starting point for Campbell’s designs for a house in the ‘theatrical style’ (the latter published in ‘Vitruvius Britannicus’ volume ii, in 1717). This last drawing and another of Somerset House must have been known to Campbell before the date of the publication of ‘Vitruvius Britannicus’.

It is not clear if Campbell was a pupil of Smith or if the drawings were purchased by Campbell at a time when Smith was in financial difficulties. It is possible that Smith’s interest in Palladian architecture went back to his stay in Italy. If this is the case, then the origins of Palladian architecture in Britain must be traced back to Smith travels in Italy. However to offset this theory it should be noted that the parental homes of Smith and Campbell were only a short distance apart on the Moray Firth and that one of the drawings is for an updated scheme for Cawdor Castel, Nairnshire which was the seat of Campbell’s uncle Sir Hugh Campbell.

Smith did not design Palladian houses in the way that Campbell did. However he introduced some features of Continental architecture: columns sunk into the wall for example at Hamilton Palace, derived from examples such as those on Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence or Pietro da Cortona’s SS Luca e Martina in Rome; tapering pilasters such as those flanking the front door at Whitehill; and the use of continuous aprons and ornamental flashings to roof ridges inspired by French examples (such as those illustrated in Androuet du Cerceau’s ‘Plus excellents bastiments de France’ of 1576-9). Smith was also familiar with contemporary English work. In 1693 he consulted Wren’s carpenter about designs for Hamilton Palace.

Some of Smith’s details are conservative and rooted in Scottish tradition – for example turnpike stairs and flat-ended pediments, the latter to be found in earlier 17th century Scottish mannerist detailing, the construction requiring a mason’s knowledge.

Because Smith was a Catholic in a Presbyterian country, he had few church commissions: the Chapel Royal which was short-lived as it was sacked by a mob in December 1868 during the riot which followed the landing of William the Orange in England and the Canongate Kirk with its restrained Baroque façade which may owe more to Dutch examples than to those in Catholic Italy. He designed monuments to the Duke of Queensberry at Durisdeer and Sir George Mackenzie’s mausoleum in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Smith died in Edinburgh on 6 November 1731 aged 86. He was married twice. By his first wife, Janet, he had eighteen children. She was reputedly a ‘good drawer and very clever’. Smith was very proud of her and had her portrait engraved after her death. She died in 1699 aged 37. His second wife, Anna, bore him fourteen children. Not all the names of his children are known but one of his sons who was born when Smith was aged 70 was christened ‘Climacterick Smith’.

Outwith his work as an architect James Smith was a justice of the peace and in 1704 one of the Commissioners of Supply for the County of Edinburgh. He is very likely the James Smith who represented Forres in the Scottish Parliament in 1685-6 and as noted above after the Treaty of Union he sought candidacy in 1715 as an MP but this was unsuccessful.

According to Robert Mylne he was a capable sculptor. He supplied the lead statue of Charles II which stands in Parliament Square in 1685, it is not certain if he made it himself since there was a shipping cost (from London or Holland) recorded. However in the accounts of those pair for work at Holyrood ‘Mr James Smith statuary’ is recorded and his list of works includes two monuments. Smith was also familiar with engineering matters. He acted as an arbitrator in a dispute over a harbour at Cockenzie, East Lothian because he ‘had the repute to be very well skilled in works of this nature’. He was also involved in a scheme to supply Scottish towns with water. In 1701 he was given the Scottish rights to operate an engine to raise water which had been invented by Thomas Savery. In the early 1700s he carried out a survey which explored the possibility of a Forth-Clyde Canal with William Adair, Alexander McGill and George Sorocold.

Buildings and Designs

This architect, engineer 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 301678Methven CastleMethven PerthshireScotlandWas involved with a design for the house
Item 2 of 30c. 1680Drumlanrig CastleDrumlanrig DumfriesshireScotlandRebuilding perhaps on the basis of designs made by Robert Mylne, Smith's father-in-law.
Item 3 of 301681Inverness BridgeInverness Inverness-shireScotland 
Item 4 of 301683Hamilton PalaceHamilton LanarkshireScotland 
Item 5 of 301683University of St Andrews, St Salvator's CollegeSt Andrews FifeScotlandAdvice on repairs
Item 6 of 301686Queensberry House  EdinburghScotlandAdvised on completion of house which had been bought incomplete from Lord Hatton.
Item 7 of 30c. 1686WhitehillMusselburgh EdinburghScotland 
Item 8 of 301688Canongate Parish Church  EdinburghScotland 
Item 9 of 301688Holyrood Abbey  EdinburghScotlandFitted up Abbey Church as Chapel Royal for King James II. Destroyed by mob later in 1688. Smith was in charge as Surveyor of the Royal Works and was presumably responsible for the designs. In December 1687 after a visit to James II in Whitehall he was paid an extra £120 as the experssion of the king's satisfaction with 'the preformance of his duty'. William Morgan recently employed on Chelsea Hospital was the master carver and 'three images for the high altar' were carved by Grinling Gibbons'.
Item 10 of 30c. 1690Greyfriars Churchyard, Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh mausoleum  EdinburghScotland 
Item 11 of 301692Tweeddale Lodging  EdinburghScotlandRepairs to house
Item 12 of 301693Newbattle AbbeyNewbattle MidlothianScotlandRepairs from 1693 onwards. Smith's advice was sought but it is not clear whether he was the effective architect or not.
Item 13 of 30c. 1694Bothwell Parish Church and HAmilton MonumentBothwell LanarkshireScotlandMonument to the Third Duke of Hamilton (originally in Hamilton Collegiate Church)
Item 14 of 301695Parish ChurchDurisdeer DumfriesshireScotlandAisle or mausoleum forming the north transept of the church.
Item 15 of 30c. 1695Traquair HousePeebles PeeblesshireScotlandAlterations including the forecourt and gate-piers
Item 16 of 301696Surgeon's Hall and Anatomical Theatre  EdinburghScotland 
Item 17 of 301697Drumlanrig CastleDrumlanrig DumfriesshireScotlandOgee roofed pavilions added
Item 18 of 301697Melville House  FifeScotlandMay have executed the design by Bruce.
Item 19 of 301700Strathleven HouseStrathleven DunbartonshireScotlandAttribution on stylistic grounds
Item 20 of 30c. 1700Yester HouseGifford East LothianScotlandWith Alexander McGill
Item 21 of 301702Dalkeith House  MidlothianScotlandRemodelled
Item 22 of 301704Aberdeen Town House  AberdeenScotlandAdvice in connection with the north wing.
Item 23 of 301709Cullen House and estate buildingsCullen BanffshireScotlandDesigns - in McGill's hand and endorsed 'Mrs Smith & McGill's 3rd design of Cullen house'
Item 24 of 301710ChurchGifford East LothianScotlandPossibly the architect with Alexander McGill.
Item 25 of 301714Caputh Cemetery, monument to John Mackenzie and MArgaret Hay of DelvineCaputh PerthshireScotland 
Item 26 of 301716Parish ChurchDurisdeer DumfriesshireScotlandRemaining part of church probably to Smith's designs
Item 27 of 301719The Town's New HouseStirling StirlingshireScotlandIn conjunction with Alexander McGill
Item 28 of 301720s(?)Smith's Land  EdinburghScotlandBuilt as an investment
Item 29 of 30c. 1720Dupplin CastleForteviot PerthshireScotlandOffice-wings added and perhaps earlier works at the Castle. Macky states that 'Mr Smith, the Architect, lives there till he finishes it'.
Item 30 of 30Early 1700sOld Cullen HouseCullen BanffshireScotlandStables at rear - north/south arm


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect, engineer:
Item 1 of 17Acts of Parliament Acts of Parliament of Scotland  xi, p139, x, pp80, 267
Item 2 of 17Crawford, J1874Memorials of Alloa  p91
Item 3 of 17Dunbar, John (ed.)1995Minerva's Flame: The Great houses of James Smith   
Item 4 of 17Frew, John and Jones, David (eds)1988Aspects of Scottish Classicism St AndrewsA. Mackechnie: 'James Smith's Smaller Country Houses'
Item 5 of 17Historical Manuscripts Commission Xth Report  Appendix I, p197
Item 6 of 17Mylne, R S The Master Masons to the Crown of Scotland  p200
Item 7 of 17New DNB New Dictionary of National Biography   
Item 8 of 17New Spalding Club1906Records of the Scots Colleges in Douai, Rome etc New Spalding Clubp118
Item 9 of 17Privy Council Register of the Privy Council of Scotland  vi, p385
Item 10 of 17Scottish Record Society Roll of Edinburgh Burgesses 1406-1700  p456
Item 11 of 17The Political State of Great Britain The Political State of Great Britain  xlii, p522
Item 12 of 17Treasury Books Cal. Treasury Books  xxii, 469, xxiv, 257, xxv, 52
Item 13 of 17Treasury Papers Cal. Treasury Papers 1708-14  p194
Item 14 of 17Vitruvius Britannicus1717Vitruvius Britannicus  i, plate 16, ii, p3, plate 90
Item 15 of 17Wood, M and Armet, H Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh 1689-1701   
Item 16 of 17Wood, M and Armet, H Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh 1701-18  pp282-3
Item 17 of 17Wood, M and Armet, H (eds) Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1681-9   

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect, engineer:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Architectural History1974xvii Article 'A Scottish Origin for English Palladianism?' by H Colvin
Item 2 of 3Caledonian Mercury8 November 1731   
Item 3 of 3The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club1930xvii p83

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect, engineer:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 10Moray District Record OfficeMoray Archives Forres Burgh Records
Item 2 of 10NASDeeds Mackenzie58.609 
Item 3 of 10National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD 40/viii/58 
Item 4 of 10National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD 29/263 
Item 5 of 10National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD 18/5004 
Item 6 of 10National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Gifts and depositsGD 124/15Letters from Smith to the Earl of Mar
Item 7 of 10National Archives of Scotland (formerly SRO)Register House PlansRHP 2541, 4093 
Item 8 of 10National Archives of Scotland (NAS)Records Prefixed 'E'E 307/2; E 26/11/4, 317 
Item 9 of 10National Library of ScotlandManuscript CollectionMS 1103, f.171Letters from Smith to John Mackenzie of Delvine.
Item 10 of 10RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Drawings Collection