Greek influence of Glasgow architect

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Iain McGillivray gave an interesting talk on the Scottish and Glasgow architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson to over 40 members of the Arran Historical Society at their September meeting.

His talk was accompanied by slides, drawings, details and photographs of his vast portfolio of buildings designed by him and his companions. Alexander lived in the 19th century from 1817 to 1875. He came from humble origins, his father was a bookkeeper and he was the 17th of 23 children. He was apprenticed and trained under the prevalent fashions as a draughtsman and architect over a number of years before setting up his own practice. His training included the classical Roman, Greek architecture and he introduced them into his own work.

One of his first commissions was an ‘Italianate villa’ in Cove. This building ‘Craig-Ailey’ has features: parallel high narrow bay windows up to the underside of the low-pitched bay roof with a wide eaves. The Italianate style roof and the small Roman arches were features of the window-head. The arch seems to have become less favourable to him, but the vertical lines and horizontal lines and symmetry continued and developed in future commissions.

The masonry and the timber used by Thomson was of high quality. The workmanship of the masons and joiners producing the ornamental details was exceptional. The timber was imported from America and seasoned in water on the mudflats of the Clyde. The lines of timber piles bays used remain as lines of stumps today. His favourite stone was white sandstone, processed, carved and squared in a deep quarry outside Glasgow. This is now gone. He adapted and detailed the new materials: wrought iron and cast iron castings detailing was illustrated. He had his own style of doors, windows and varied them to suit the location. He complimented external and internal details with some furniture and gas lighting details. Plaster friezes and cornices and wall illustrations had classical origins and included painting of the Trojan Wars.

The classical details included fluted columns in the classical Greek and lotus flower and obelisks in the Egyptian tradition. These were used in eaves, chimney stacks, church towers, bay windows and door canopies. He was influenced by other contemporary detailers and architects both in Germany and in Great Britain and his style is present in buildings overseas in Milwaukee and New York and also by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The vast number of buildings attributed to him such as villas, churches, terraced housing, warehouses, and commercial buildings was fully illustrated by the speaker along with their history. The Thomson Society is restoring a villa with one of his finest interiors, Holmwood House in Cathcart.

The next meeting of the historical society is on Monday October 21 in Brodick Hall at 2pm. The speaker is Derek Alexander, chief archeologist of the National Trust for Scotland, who will talk about the latest archeological findings on Arran and elsewhere in Scotland.

                                                                                                                                   Hugh Brown

Speaker Iain McGillivary with society secretary Hugh Brown. NO_B42historical01