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John Macvicar Anderson

John MacVicar Anderson was born in Glasgow on the 11th July 1835. During the course of his long life he designed and improved numerous fine buildings, many of which survive. He also produced handsome, scenic works of art which though typical of their period, remain sought after and highly valued today. During his later years he was elected to the presidency of the Royal Institute of British Architects and throughout his life, epitomised the qualities of energy, stolidity, leadership and public-minded conservatism much admired during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Born into the merchant-class and educated at Glasgow's Collegiate School and University, Anderson left at sixteen to be apprenticed in the architectural practice of William Clarke and George Bell, former pupils of his uncle William Burn, an eminent architect who had pioneered the Scottish Baronial style. Upon completing his articles at Burn's London practice he was taken into partnership around 1868 and succeeded Burn upon the death of the latter in 1870. Anderson and his wife Janet continued to live at 6 Stratton Street, Picadilly for the remainder of their lives until 1926.

The course of Anderson's architectural practice continued to follow his uncle's style and content throughout the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The hub of this portfolio concerned the design of country houses in England, of which Cheswardine Hall, Shropshire, and Iden Manor, Kent, are surviving examples. Though based in London,Anderson accepted a number of commercial and ecclesiastical commissions from Scottish clients, including St.Columba's Church in Pont Street, London, and alterations to Alloway Parish Church in Ayrshire. In 1874 he completed the work commenced by Burn to Bowhill House, Selkirk, for the Duke of Buccleuch. He also produced successful designs for The Carlton Club, Lloyd's Bank, the classical facade of Coutts Bank, and the Threadneedle Street offices of The British Linen Bank, (acquired by the Bank of Scotland in 1971 and now houses HBOS plc). Anderson was also engaged to create additions and alterations to the historic Palladian house, Powerscourt, in County Wicklow, Ireland, and in 1878, significant re-modelling work to Sundridge Park, Bromley, Kent. This fine mansion had been designed by John Nash around 1799 and had become a favourite haunt of the future King Edward VII. Despite his considerable output Anderson also found time to paint London scenes and during 1878 composed his "View of Westminster from the River Thames".

Four years previously Anderson had worked closely with the engineer Wilfrid Airy (1836-1925) in the designing of the building and equipment for the new Orwell Park Observatory commissioned by Colonel George Tomline (1812-1889). Tomline had engaged William Burn to design the house and Water Tower. Following Burn's death, Anderson completed the commission with their important additions. The Observatory is currently in regular use and astronomers still use the 26cm, f/15 'Tomline Refractor' telescope that dates from 1873.

Anderson continued to work on successful projects into the early years of the twentieth century including a massive north extension to the range of buildings of Croxteth Hall on Merseyside. Between 1902-04, his bold design closed off the courtyard to create a vast Edwardian mansion for the 5th Earl of Sefton. The hall and grounds are presently in the care of Liverpool City Council and open to the public.

Anderson became Honorary Secretary to the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1881 and elected president in 1891. He was honoured with a portrait by Charles W. Furse in 1893. During his presidency Anderson was called upon to deal with challenging issues, not least of which being his arbitration for the dispute between the master builders and carpenters and joiners, which had led to a strike in 1891.

Anderson died on the 9th June 1915. The legacy of his work, while not proving to be innovative or 'avant garde', he could perhaps best be encapsulated by the following description of Cheswardine Hall that: "...was built in 1875-7...for Charles Donaldson Hudson, and survives little altered as the beau ideal of the well-planned, undemonstrative mid-Victorian country house. The materials are red brick and a pinky-grey ashlar for dressings, the style, if style there is, a quiet neo-Elizabethan". (Newman & Pevsner 2006, 196). Anderson's work as an architect is accordingly described in the Dictionary of Scottish Architects as "having solid if very conservative merit". Nevertheless, as many of his buildings stand in the private and public domains, their merits remain to be enjoyed and judged by present and future generations.


Newman J. and Pevsner N. (2006) The Buildings of England. Shropshire Yale Press: Newhaven and London DSAArchitect Biography Report, (accessed 8.11.08 & foll) (accessed 8.11.08) (accessed 8.11.08 and foll) (accessed 11.11.08) (accessed 9.11.08) (for William Burn:accessed 9.11.08) (accessed 10.11.08) (also) (accessed 10.11.08) (accessed 9.11.08 and foll)

Contibutor: Jonathan Cass

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