Burn, William (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

BURN, WILLIAM (1789–1870), architect, the son of Robert Burn, a successful builder in Edinburgh, and designer of the Nelson monument on the Calton Hill there, was born in Edinburgh, 20 Dec. 1789. After an elementary training from his father, he entered in 1808 the office of Mr. (afterwards Sir Robert) Smirke, then at the height of his fame, and sharing with Sir John Soane the best architectural position and practice in London. Smirke's practice was chiefly in the classical style, and young Burn was educated in the severe traditions of the period, along with (among others who afterwards became known) Lewis Vulliamy and C. R. Cockerell, afterwards professor of architecture in the Royal Academy. On his return to Edinburgh after a few years' experience in Mr. Smirke's office, he began business for himself, and almost at the outset met with signal success. In 1816 he was second to Mr. Playfair in a oompetitive design for additions to the buildings of Edinburgh University, originally designed by the celebrated Robert Adam [q. v.], and in the same year erected the custom house at Greenock, and the church of St. John, at the west end of Princes Street, Edinburgh. From this time his career was one of uninterrupted professional success. He divided with Playfair the best architectural works of the time in Scotland, and while the latter probably did more public and monumental work, Burn undoubtedly erected more and larger private and domestic buildings than any individual architect of his time. Most of the Scottish and a large number of the English aristocracy were his clients, and in 1844 he found it necessary to remove to London, leaving his Edinburgh business in charge of David Bryce [q. v.], who had become his partner a short time before. The partnership subsisted for about six years, after which Burn ceased practice as an Edinburgh architect. In London his success continued unbroken. His strength undoubtedly lay in domestic architecture, particularly in the internal arrangement of houses, and mansions of his design are to be found in almost every county in the United Kingdom. Amongt the chief of these are: In Scotland — Riccarton, for Sir W. Gibson-Craig; Niddrie, for Colonel Wauchope; Tynninghame, for the Earl of Haddington; Ardgowan, for Sir Michael Shaw Stewart; Buchanan House, for the Duke of Montrose; Dalkeith Palace and Bowhill, for the Duke of Buccleuch; and Falkland House, for Mr. Tyndall Bruce. In England — Revesby Abbey and Stoke Rockford in Lincolnshire, Lynford Hall in Norfolk, Fonthill for the Marquis of Westminster, Sandown Hall for the Earl of Harrowby, Knowsley for the Earl of Derby, and Montagu House, Whitehall, for the Duke of Buccleuch. In Ireland — Dartrey in county Monaghan for the Earl of Dartrey, and Castlewellan in county Down for the Earl of Annesley. His best-known public works are St, John's Church, the New Club, the Melville Monument, John Watson's Hospital, the Music Hall, and alterations in St. Giles', all in Edinburgh. For the last he has been much and severely criticised. But while the somewhat commonplace building which he substitute for the old picturesque exterior of the church is certainly to be regretted, his work, such as it is, was not behind the ideas of Gothic architecture then prevailing. He was also consulting government architect for Scotland, and in 1856 was one of the three judges appointed by the government to decide a competition among the foremost London architects for a design for the foreign and war offices, the other two being Professor Cockerell and Mr. Fergussun, author of the well-known 'History of Architecture.' To his conduct in that capacity an appreciative tribute is paid by Sir Gilbert Scott in his 'Life.' Burn's personal character is thus described by his friend Professor Donaldson: 'He was frank and plain-spoken, occasionally even to roughness: no flatterer, prudent in counsel, and firm in his opinion when once formed. He vas a man of the highest honour, integrity, and independence.' Habitually reticent and desirous of avoiding criticism, to which he was sensitive, he has been wrongly accused of selfishness and jealousy. He was always ready to aid less successful professional brethren. He died at his residence, 6 Stratton Street, Piccadilly, on 15 Feb. 1870, and waa buried on 19 Feb. in Kensal Green cemetery.

[Builder, 1870 and 1882.]

G. W. B.