John Douglas

Place of Birth

  • Born:     11 April 1830
  • Died:     23 May 1911

John Douglas was born at Sandiway, Cheshire on 11 April 1830, the son of John Douglas and his wife Mary Swindley. The elder Douglas commenced his working life as a labourer but was a joiner by 1830, then a builder, and finally a surveyor: his wife was born and brought up on the Eaton Hall estate, later to become his son's most important client.

Douglas was articled to Edmund Sharpe & Edward Graham Paley of Lancaster c.1846 and remained with Paley after he began to practise on his own as chief assistant. Although he may have begun independent practice while still in Paley's office as early as 1855 he did not open his 6 Abbey Square, Chester office until 1860. It was initially both house and office and on 25 January of that year he married Elizabeth Edmunds of Bangour Is-coed. They had five children of whom only two lived to be adults; of these the elder surviving son, Charles Edmunds, born 1864 joined his father's practice c.1880 but died of consumption in 1887.

From the first Douglas was an accomplished Gothic designer, initially Early Decorated for churches and Old English, usually half-timbered, for domestic work. It was based on a profound study of old work by Douglas and his staff, their measured drawings and sketches of English and Welsh buildings being published in 1872 in the Abbey Square Sketch Book. But from the mid-1860s Italian Gothic and Romanesque designs began to appear, and in 1869 he became architect to the 3rd Marquess and 1st Duke of Westminster. Thereafter some of his work became distinctly cosmopolitan with marked French German and Netherlandish influences in the 1870s and early 1880s. His one Scottish house, Dansfield, 1883, belongs to his small group of French chateau-like houses of which The Paddocks at Eccleston (1882) was the premier example. By the later 1880s and 1890s he had returned to a refined English Tudor and neo-Jacobean. At its best Douglas's work challenged comparison with Shaw, Nesfield, Devey and George and attracted the attention of Hermann Muthesius and the French architect Paul Sedille.

In January 1884 when it became apparent that his son Colin was unlikely to be able to continue the practice Douglas took Daniel Porter Fordham (born 1845 or 1846) into partnership. Fordham had been in the office since at least 1872 and was an excellent draughtsman, but he too became consumptive. He never married and had to retire in 1898, moving to Bournemouth where he was cared for by an unmarried sister. He died there in the following April. Charles Howard Minshull, born 1858 and the son of a Chester bookseller, replaced Fordham as partner in 1898. He had been articled to Douglas in 1874 and had remained with him as an assistant. The partnership of Douglas and Minshull was dissolved in 1909. The reasons are not known, but communication may have been difficult as Douglas was by then very deaf and dependent on an ear trumpet and his son, Sholto had become an alcoholic. Minshull then established his own practice in Chester in partnership with the somewhat obscure E J Muspratt. Despite the high profile of the practice at the Royal Academy and in the building journals none of the partners ever sought membership of the RIBA.

Douglas died on 23 May 1911 at Walmoor Hill, Dee Banks, Chester, a massive Tudor pile which he had built for himself and his son Sholto, his wife Elizabeth having died in 1878. Although slow in sending out accounts he left a moveable estate of £32,088 17s 6d in addition to his substantial heritable properties in Chester. His remaining practice was then absorbed by Minshull & Muspratt under the title of Douglas, Munshall & Muspratt. Minshull died in 1934.

Mr. John Douglas, of Chester, was a pupil of Mr E. G Paley, of Lancaster. He began practice in 1860, his first important work being the rebuilding of the south front of Vale Royal Abbey for Lord Delamere, who afterwards gave him the memorial church of St. John's, Over, Cheshire, and other works. He has been much employed in Ecclesiastical and domestic work in Cheshire and other counties. Barrow Court, near Chester, is one of his works. He has built the following parish churches - Aldford, Tattenhall, Dodleston, Pulford, Hartford, Altcar, Warburton, Colwyn Bay, Criccieth, and the churches in conjunction with his partner, Mr. Fordham, at Barmouth and Haydock. He has also restored the parish churches of Bangor Monachorum, Northop, Holt Llanaimon, Llanfechain, Cilcain, Bettws Gweifil Goch, Weaverham, Whitegate, and the fine old churches of Malpas and Tilston, St. Peters, and portions of St. John's Priory Church, Chester. His domestic work, besides grammar and other schools, includes the Grosvenor Club and County Offices, Chester, and consists of various buildings on the estates of several noblemen, notably the Eaton and Halkyn of the Duke of Westminster. He has also built the following mansions : — Appleton Hall, Oakmere Hall, Bronwylfa- Wygfair, Stratton Park, Shotwick Park, Elford House, Rowden Abbey, Llanerch Parma, the Gelli Malpas, Plas Mynach, Cornist Pabo Hall ; additions to the Plas Tan-y-Bwlch, Jodrell and Glossop Halls, Halkyn and Hawarden Castles, and recently, in conjunction with his partner, Abbeystead. for the Earl of Sefton. He has built the memorial fountains at Whitchurch and Ruthin. [Building News 16 May 1890 page 706]




Name Designation Formed Dissolved Location
Douglas and Fordham Architectural practice 1884 1898 Chester