John Douglas (architect)

John Douglas
John Douglas (architect).jpg
John Douglas, photograph published in 1890
Born(1830-04-11)11 April 1830
Sandiway, Cheshire, England
Died23 May 1911(1911-05-23) (aged 81)
Walmoor Hill, Dee Banks, Chester, England
Resting placeOverleigh old cemetery, Chester
Residence6 Abbey Square, Chester
33 Dee Banks, Chester
Walmoor Hill, Chester
EducationArticled to E. G. Paley, Lancaster
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Edmunds
ChildrenJohn Percy (1862)
Colin Edmunds (1864)
Mary Elizabeth (1866)
Sholto Theodore (1867)
Jerome (1869)
Parent(s)John Douglas
Mary Swindley

John Douglas (11 April 1830 – 23 May 1911) was an English architect who designed over 500 buildings in Cheshire, North Wales, and northwest England, in particular in the estate of Eaton Hall. He was trained in Lancaster and practised throughout his career from an office in Chester. Initially he ran the practice on his own, but from 1884 until two years before his death he worked in partnerships with two of his former assistants.

Douglas's output included new churches, restoring and renovating existing churches, church furnishings, new houses and alterations to existing houses, and a variety of other buildings, including shops, banks, offices, schools, memorials and public buildings. His architectural styles were eclectic. Douglas worked during the period of the Gothic Revival, and many of his works incorporate elements of the English Gothic style. He was also influenced by architectural styles from the mainland of Europe and included elements of French, German and Dutch architecture. However he is probably best remembered for his incorporation of vernacular elements in his buildings, in particular half-timbering, influenced by the black-and-white revival in Chester. Other vernacular elements he incorporated include tile-hanging, pargeting, and the use of decorative brick in diapering and the design of tall chimney stacks. Of particular importance is Douglas's use of joinery and highly detailed wood carving.

Throughout his career he attracted commissions from wealthy landowners and industrialists, especially the Grosvenor family of Eaton Hall. Most of his works have survived, particularly his churches. The city of Chester contains a number of his structures, the most admired of which are his half-timbered black-and-white buildings and Eastgate Clock. The highest concentration of his work is found in the Eaton Hall estate and the surrounding villages of Eccleston, Aldford and Pulford.


Early life and training

A cobbled courtyard with brick buildings on three sides, some of them timber-framed. On the gatepost on the right is a blue commemorative plaque
Park Cottage, Sandiway, the birthplace of John Douglas

John Douglas was born at Park Cottage, Sandiway, Cheshire, on 11 April 1830 and baptised on 16 May 1830 at St Mary's Church, Weaverham.[1] He was the second of the four children, and the only son, of John Douglas and his wife Mary née Swindley (1792–1863). John Douglas senior was born in Northampton about 1798–1800 and his wife was born in Aldford, a village on the Eaton estate in Cheshire; her father was the village blacksmith at Eccleston, another village in the Eaton estate. John Douglas senior was by trade a builder and joiner, and also described himself as a surveyor and a timber merchant. In 1835 he acted as architect for a house at Hartford, a village between Sandiway and Northwich. At the time of the 1851 census he was employing 48 men. He owned land in Sandiway, and a house and land in the neighbouring village of Cuddington.[2]

Nothing is known of John Douglas junior's school education. He gained knowledge and experience in his father's building yard and workshop which were attached to the family house. In the mid or late 1840s he was articled to E. G. Paley, of Sharpe and Paley, architects in Lancaster, Lancashire. When his articles were completed, Douglas became Paley's chief assistant. In either 1855 or 1860 he established his own office at No. 6 Abbey Square, Chester.[3]

Family and personal life

Seen from a low angle through the branches of trees is a substantial stone house with two-three storeys, bay windows and some castellation.
Walmoor Hill, the house Douglas built for himself

Douglas's elder sister, Elizabeth, was born in 1827. His younger sisters were Mary Hannah and Emma, who were born in 1832 and 1834 respectively. Mary Hannah died five months before Emma's birth, and Emma herself died in 1848.[4] Douglas married Elizabeth Edmunds, a farmer's daughter from Bangor-is-y-Coed, Flintshire, on 25 January 1860 in St Dunawd's Church in the village, a church he was later to restore. Initially the couple lived over the office at 6 Abbey Square, and later they moved next door to No. 4. Their five children were born in these houses, John Percy in 1861, Colin Edmunds in 1864, Mary Elizabeth in 1866, Sholto Theodore the following year, and Jerome in 1869. Only two of the children survived to adulthood; Mary Elizabeth died from scarlet fever in 1868, Jerome lived for only a few days, and John Percy died aged 12 in 1873.[5]

About 1876 the family moved to live at 31 and 33 Dee Banks, Chester, one of a pair of semi-detached houses overlooking the River Dee, which were built by Douglas. His wife died in 1878 from laryngitis after a year's illness. Douglas did not remarry. His son Colin trained as an architect and worked in Douglas's office but died in 1887 at the age of 23 from consumption. His other son Sholto is not known to have had any profession but he was a heavy drinker of alcohol. During the 1890s Douglas built a large house for himself, Walmoor Hill, also at Dee Banks overlooking the river. Here he lived until his death on 23 May 1911 at the age of 81. His funeral was held at Overleigh old cemetery, Chester, where he was buried. The following Sunday a memorial service was held at St John the Evangelist's Church, Sandiway. His estate amounted to a little over £32,000 (equivalent to £2,990,000 in 2016).[6][7] Apart from his surviving buildings, only two memorials remain to his memory. One is a tablet in St Paul's Church, Boughton, the church in which he worshipped and which he had rebuilt.[8] The other is a plaque placed on one of his buildings in St Werburgh Street, Chester, in 1923 by his pupils and assistants.[9]