This is the first in a series looking at the history of a particular property in Strathbungo and its former residents, and illustrating how the database and other resources can be used to trace the history of a house. Where else to start than the first house in Strathbungo, and the one occupied by Alexander “Greek” Thomson himself – One Moray Place.
See the property record for One Moray Place on BygoneBungo.
There are many excellent biographies of Thomson, including one on Bygone Bungo, so this account of him is brief, looking at his origins, and his family, as well as those who followed him in the property.
Thomson was born at Endrick Cottage, Balfron, on 9 April 1817, the seventeenth child of John Thomson and the ninth child of his second marriage to Elizabeth Cooper.
John Thomson was the bookkeeper at Kirkman Finlay’s cotton works in Balfron. John, who already had eight grown children from his previous marriage, died when Alexander was seven. The family consequently moved to the outskirts of Glasgow, but tragedy struck when the eldest daughter, Jane, and three of her brothers died between 1828 and 1830, the year that Alexander’s mother also died. The remaining children moved with one of the older brothers, William, a teacher, and his wife and child to Hangingshaw, off Prospecthill Road.
Thomson trained in the 1840s as an architect under John Baird (Primus), as did his younger brother George.
On 21 September 1847, he married Jane Nicholson, grand-daughter of the architect Peter Nicholson, in a double wedding ceremony. Her sister Jessie married another architect, John Baird (Secundus), who was unrelated to Thomson’s boss.
In 1848 Thomson set up his own practice, Baird & Thomson, with his new brother-in-law, the firm lasting nine years. In 1857, with significant successes in villas already behind him, he entered into practice with his brother George (1819–1878). However, in 1871 George left to become a Baptist missionary in Cameroon, where he combined his religious activities with a passion for botany. Thomson took on Robert Turnbull as his new partner in 1874.
Thomson’s health was failing however, and he died on 22 March 1875 at his home in Moray Place. He was buried in the lair adjacent to that in which his five deceased children were laid to rest, in Gorbals Southern Necropolis, on 26 March 1875.
George came back from the Cameroons to help settle his affairs and marry Isabella Johnston, who returned with him to the Cameroons to help run the missionary hospital he had designed and built in 1874. He died of a fever at Victoria on 14 December 1878 .
Jane Nicholson, Thomson’s wife, was born in St Pancreas, on Christmas Day, 1825, to London architectural draughtsman Michael Angelo Nicholson (1795-1841) and Agnes Gibson (1791-1845). When they married in 1847, he was 30, and she 21.
She was the second of 10 children. Michael Angelo died in 1841, before the birth of his youngest child. Sometime after the family moved from London to Glasgow, where Agnes lost her eldest daughter at 21, her youngest at 3, and then her own life, all between March and December of 1845.
Michael Angelo was in turn the son of Peter Nicholson (1765-1844), a famed mathematician and architect, born the son of a stonemason at Prestonkirk, East Lothian. Peter trained as a cabinet maker, and moved to London, opening a school for mechanics in Soho. He published ‘The Carpenter’s New Guide’ (1792) and a three volume ‘Principles of Architecture’ in 1798.
After his first wife’s death he moved back to Scotland in 1800, designing buildings and bridges for the Laurie brothers, in what became Laurieston. He was the architect of Carlton Place on the south bank of the Clyde in Glasgow, the work being completed by John Baird, Alexander Thomson’s teacher. He also built an elegant timber bridge across the Clyde to Glasgow Green, but it was replaced first by a larger stone bridge, then the current Albert Bridge (built by the firm that built the Strathbungo footbridge) .
He laid out the town of Ardrossan for the 12th Earl of Eglinton, in conjunction with the Earl’s plan for a canal from Ardrossan to Glasgow to terminate on Eglinton Street, never completed, and which subsequently became the Paisley Canal railway line.
Nicholson, possibly through his association with Thomas Telford who designed Ardrossan’s harbour, later worked as Surveyor to the County of Cumberland, and constructed the Courts at Carlisle. He returned to London in 1810 and wrote ‘The Architectural Dictionary’ (1819), but after losing money on an even grander book project, spent his latter years in Newcastle. He died in Carlisle in 1844.
His great mathematical ability helped with solving complex architectural problems, such as finding sections of prisms and cylinders, prospective drawing with his invention the centrolinead, and how to build skewed arches, allowing construction of non right-angled bridge crossings .
The Thomson family
The couple lived initially at 3 South Apsley Place in Laurieston. Although then still a good address, it proved vulnerable to the Glasgow cholera epidemic. This might may explain why of the couple’s first five children, only Elizabeth Cooper Thomson, named for Alexander’s mother, survived. Agnes, Alexander, Jane and George all died aged under 5 between 1854 and 1857.
In 1857 the Thomsons moved to Darnley Terrace in Shawlands, a Thomson-designed row of housing later demolished to make way for the Shawlands shopping arcade. There they had more success, with three further healthy children, Amelia, Jessie Williamina and John.
In 1861 they moved to the newly completed 1 Moray Place, just in time for the birth of Helen in July, followed by Catherine Honeyman (1863), Michael Nicholson (1864) and Peter Nicholson (1866). All survived except Peter, who died within a week. Thus Jane and the seven surviving children are all recorded at 1 Moray Place in both the 1871 census with Alexander, and again in 1881 after his death.
By 1891 however, only Jane, her long-time servant Christina Morrison, and her unmarried daughter Catherine remained. Jane Thomson passed away on 28th May 1899 and was buried with her husband in the Gorbals Southern Necropolis.
Thomson’s eldest surviving daughter (the only child of the first five to reach adulthood) married Thomas Forrest, a lace bleacher, in 1884 and moved to London Road, Kilmarnock. Their house, Arden, is now the Douglas Hotel. Their sons John Gordon Scott Forrest and Alexander Thomson Forrest were staying at their uncle John Thomson’s house in the 1901 census, and the pair moved to Rhodesia for a while, farming an estate known as Arden, near Salisbury. John died at 136 Queens Drive in Glasgow in 1914 at the age of 29; the circumstances are unclear. His brother married in Rhodesia and returned to the UK in 1939 with his son, John Gordon Scott Forrest, named after his late uncle. John studied medicine in Cambridge, played rugby for Scotland and joined the Fleet Air Arm, but died in 1942 in a mid-air collision over Cheshire, flying a Spitfire. Alexander died at another ‘Arden’, in Rouken Glen Road, in 1957.
Amelia Thomson married William Anderson but died shortly after the birth of her first and only child; the child, Emily, lived under one year.
Jessie Thomson married Adam Cairns, a rubber merchant, in 1888. A Cairns & Co were listed as rubber proofers and manufacturers of rubber and asbestos goods in the Glasgow PO Directories. They had four children; one son died as a child, and one in France in the Great War; two daughters survived to old age. Jessie died in 1928 at 21 Monreith Road, Newlands, next door to her brother John’s house.
John Thomson was born at 16 Darnley Terrace, Shawlands on 26 June 1859, the eldest surviving son. He was educated at Langside Academy and Glasgow High School and was articled to his father’s firm on 1 April 1875. He spent the early 1880s training in London, but returned to Glasgow, and in 1886 formed a partnership with Robert Douglas Sandilands, another Strathbungo resident. They designed Gartloch Hospital amongst other projects .
On 11th April 1889, John married Annie McGregor Muir, daughter of James Muir, a shawl designer from Paisley. The Muirs were living at Elgin Place on Pollokshaws Road in 1871, but by 1881 Annie was a ward of the Shields family, who had been near neighbours of the Thomsons at 3 Moray Place, but were then at 37 (now 35) Regent Park Square. The ceremony was at the Cockburn Hotel, Bath Street (a building developed by Robert Turnbull, Greek Thomson’s partner, but demolished in 1970). It is noteworthy that Annie was born in 1861 at 5 Darnley Terrace. The Thomson family, including a one year old John, lived at 3 Darnley Terrace at the time; the Thomson and Muir families were presumably long acquainted.
They lived at Ingleneuk, 19 Monreith Road, Newlands, and in the 1901 census John’s parents’ faithful servant, Christina Morrison, was living with them, aged 60.
Sandilands died in 1913. A stroke forced Thomson to retire in 1931, his wife having predeceased him in 1917. There were two sons and two daughters of the marriage. Thomson died at Ingleneuk on 14 August 1933, leaving estate of £5,970 11s 2d.
Helen Thomson married James Black Anderson, of Anderson Brothers Hat Manufacturers, in 1889. She died in October 1938 in Newlands, at 25 Monreith Road, near her brother and sister’s houses at 19 & 21.
Michael Thomson was admitted to the Institution of Civil Engineers in April 1891, and married Agnes Robertson in 1892, but died in 1895 in London, while his wife was in Glasgow, living at 9 Grantly Gardens. The Dictionary of Scottish Archtects has this to say: “Michael Nicholson Thomson practised as an architect and engineer in Glasgow, living at 1 Moray Place, Strathbungo. He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He moved to London and appears to have worked for Matheson & Co, the London correspondents of Jardine, Matheson & Co of Hong Kong. He died intestate on 15 October 1895 at 185 Filmer Road, Fulham, London, SW, although ‘Confirmations and Inventories’ state that he died at 1 Queen’s Road, Brownswood Park.”
When Jane Thomson died in 1899, the house was sold. In one of those weird and misleading co-incidences so detested by family history researchers, after her daughter Elizabeth married one Thomas Forrest, the family sold the house to a completely unrelated Thomas Forrest, who came from a large southside medical family.
Thomas’ grandfather, also Thomas, was born in 1814 in Edinburgh, Midlothian. He trained as a doctor, partly apprenticed in his youth to an uncle in Edinburgh, a “surgeon & druggist”. He practised in Galston, Ayrshire, and had two sons and two daughters with Janet Wardrop between 1840 and 1848, but died in Galston on 17 September 1848 during a typhus epidemic, at the age of only 34.
Both his sons grew up to be doctors; Robert Wardrop Forrest (b. 1840) and William Forrest (b. 1846) practised together in the Gorbals, with a surgery in Cumberland Street, and later in Crown Street. William lived at 45 Abbotsford Place, and then 595 Shields Road, while Robert married Margaret Dick at 4 (now 10) Queen Square, Strathbungo in 1868, and raised his family of 11 children at Mayfield, 14 Butterbiggins Road. (At that time this was countryside; maps show only one house on Butterbiggins Road, called Hayfield, at the corner of Cathcart Road). He moved to Monkton, near Prestwick, for a while c 1901, before retiring to 60 Dalziel Drive in Pollokshields.
In addition to their medical practice. these two brothers had an interest in chemistry and metallurgy, and worked with a talented chemist, John Stewart MacArthur, supporting his experiments in a room in their practice in the Gorbals. The results of their endeavours in 1887 was a new method of extracting gold from base ore using cyanide. This became known as the MacArthur-Forrest process, and revolutionised gold mining in South Africa when it was tested there in 1890. It has become the standard technique for extracting gold and is still in use today. Unfortunately, difficulties proving their patents were sufficiently unique meant they did not reap the full benefits of their efforts; MacArthur and Robert Forrest were both in court in Pretoria in 1896 in a failed bid to defend them .
Robert was honorary president of the Southern Medical Society, delivering his address “Then and now: Some Reminiscences and Professional Recollections” in 1909. He died at 6 Claremont Terrace in 1919 and is buried in Cathcart Cemetery .
Of Robert’s 11 children, nine outlived him, and of the seven boys who reached adulthood, four trained in medical specialties. Thomas, the eldest, was born in 1869, and trained as a physician and general practitioner; James Dick Forrest (1870-1957) trained as a dental surgeon; Robert Wardrop Forrest (1872-1951) also became a GP. Hugh Forrest (1885-1945) practised both dentistry and as a GP.
By 1895 Thomas had acquired a house at 114 Dixon Avenue, and lived there with his brothers, while practising at his father’s surgery in Crown Street, and at the Victoria Infirmary’s Tradeston Dispensary (out-patient department), but around 1899 he purchased 1 Moray Place as a house, following the death of Jane, Alexander Thomson’s widow.
In the 1901 census he was living at 1 Moray Place with his wife Maria (nee Jamieson) and 10-month-old son, Andrew Jamieson Forrest, but their 3-year-old son Robert Dick Forrest was living with his uncles and aunts in Dixon Avenue. One wonders if this was because of the building works at Moray Place.
Thomas had decided to have his practice at his home in Moray Place, and so sought to have an extension built on the terrace, extending out towards Nithsdale Road, with a separate entrance for patients. He needed an architect, and as the Surgeon Lieutenant to the 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, he naturally chose his friend and fellow volunteer, Major John Bennie Wilson. The extension was built in a style very sympathetic to Alexander Thomson’s original design. The surgery subsequently became known as 81 Nithsdale Road, while the house remained 1 Moray Place.
Robert meanwhile lived on at 112 Dixon Avenue, while James and Hugh practised dentistry next door at 114 Dixon Avenue, while living with their father in Dalziel Drive.
By 1911 Thomas also had a practice surgery at 533 Victoria Road in 1911, with his brother Robert, and in 1925 his younger brother Hugh was also practising there. Hugh was by then a Strathbungo resident himself, living at 45 Queen Square, and renting a garage at 50 Queen Square.
Thomas’ wife died in 1925, and he married Barbara Selkirk Smith on 6 October 1934 at Trinity UP Church in Pollokshields. He died at Moray Place on 12 July 1936, at the age of 67.
His eldest son Robert Dick Forrest, having joined the RAF in 1917, also trained in medicine, the ninth doctor in the family. He married Ruby Elisa Winning, also I believe a doctor; they likely trained together at Glasgow University. In 1941 he was practising from 1 Moray Place himself, though he lived elsewhere, at 691 Shields Road, formerly the home of his uncle, Robert. Tenants in the house were Mrs Sutton & Miss FH Baillie. Robert died in 1954, and Ruby in 2001.
Dr Hugh Kennedy
Thanks to Howard Brodie, who added another character to the list; Dr Hugh Kennedy, who lived and practised from 1 Moray Place after the war, as well as at a surgery in Eglinton Street, probably until 1990. His obituary appeared in the Herald . Howard recalls “…him telling me as a child that when he delivered me (at home) he caught me in his bowler hat!”
Gavin Stamp (1948-2017) was an architectural historian and campaigner whose scholarship and enthusiasm promoted the understanding and reputation of several great but neglected architects, and helped save many fine 19th and 20th century buildings (he would say not nearly enough) from the wrecker’s ball. Under the pseudonym Piloti he wrote a regular column in Private Eye, ravaging modern property developers and planning authorities over their destruction of Britain’s built heritage.
He came to Glasgow in 1990 to lecture at the Glasgow School of Art, moved into 1 Moray Place. He set about restoring Alexander Thomson’s reputation. He published “Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson” in 1999. However the house was in a poor state structurally and decoratively, and he found its restoration beyond his means. He returned south in 2003 .
His successors in the house continue its restoration to this day, and helped organise major repairs, and the restoration of the railings and lampposts, of the entire terrace.