David Bryce: An Introduction
INDEX | INTRODUCTION
Bryce joined the office of architect William Burn in 1825, aged 22. By 1841, when Burn left for London, Bryce had risen to be Burn's partner. This picture of Balcarres shows on the left and centre Burn's 1834 work, and behind to the right Bryce's 1863 additions. Bryce was also responsible for the garden terraces in 1867, a less common pursuit for him.
Leny, near Callendar, is a small country house dating from 1845, the year that Burn and Bryce formally dissolved their partnership. It has an 'L' shaped plan borrowed from Burn, with the drawing room on the corner flanked by a library and dining room. On the outside, Bryce has introduced his characteristic trademarks of a canted bay and tourelle, both on the right in this photo, with only the tip of the tourelle visible. The circular entrance tower to the left was re-used many times.
Although not apparent from this angle, Leny is an extension of a much earlier house. Sometimes, such as at Cringletie or Seacliff, Bryce recased an earlier house in a new style, but more often he built onto it, enveloping it on most sides. In most cases the new work contains the principal rooms and is on a grander scale, dominating the older part.
Balfour Castle, on Shapinsay in the Orkneys, is a significant early work dating from 1846 to 1850. Balfour is a large extension to an existing house, and has features which Bryce was to reuse in many of his houses. The principal rooms are on the first floor, and the various Scots Baronial features are gathered in a seemingly haphazard yet ultimately cohesive and successful manner.
The tower is a unifying element with no practical purpose, and apart from the entrance and billiards room, the ground floor is given over to the servants. The bartizans (square corner towers on the second floor) are taken from Pinkie Castle. Bryce copied many of his architectural features from old castles, particularly those illustrated in Billings' Antiquities.
Tollcross, in Tollcross Park, Glasgow, is a Scots Jacobean house of 1848. The term Scots (or Scottish) Baronial is reserved for the full-blown designs of places like Balfour, and when those elements are found on a smaller scale it is termed Scots (or Scottish) Jacobean.
Each of Bryce's houses is unique, but some are more so than others! Tollcross features unusual scalloped quoins, and its smaller scale gives more prominence to the varied features found on the entrance front.
Torosay, on the Isle of Mull, is an 1856 Scots Baronial house, with the wings gathered around a central unifying tower, an element of many of Bryce's houses. Here, as elsewhere, the tower also serves as an oversized porch, focusing the visitor on the entrance.
Visible on the second floor of the tower is an aediculed window, a Bryce feature first used on the entrance gable of Seacliff.
Bryce was not limited to houses, and his public buildings are equally fine. Most were in Edinburgh, where his office was based, although others can be found as far afield as Orkney and Northern Ireland.
His banks were the most extravagent of his commercial buildings, and the head office of the 1846 British Linen Bank in St Andrew's Square was the most elaborate of Edinburgh's New Town. The interior is said to be equally impressive. Many of his buildings on George Street and the surrounding area are in this palazzo style, although few also feature a Corinthian colonnade.
Occasionally Bryce was called upon to refurbish an interior. Bryce's larger country house interiors are perhaps surprising to those who only know his exteriors, as they are luxurious and classical in style, harking back to 18th century continental decor, with only the elaborate plaster ceilings taking their design from Scots Baronial examples.
One rare survival of a Bryce commercial interior is the 1835 refurbishment of 87 George St., Edinburgh, then and now a jewellers. Not to be outdone by the merchandise, Bryce created this Baroque palace which hides behind the modest frontage of Hamilton and Inches.
One of Bryce's largest public buildings in Edinburgh was Fettes College. Built between 1864 and 1870, it dominates Fettes Avenue, and features the French Gothic style that also featured in some of his largest country houses. Bryce was responsible not only for the grand main block, but also the gabled boarding houses and the Headmaster's house to the rear, with its corner window supported by a pillar reminiscent of a medieval cathedral.
Bryce was responsible for a number of churches, including the 1867 to 1869 Free St. George's Church on Shandwick Place, Edinburgh. The exteriors are usually impressive but not always obviously church-like, and the interiors are complex, in this case featuring cast iron pillars supporting a large vaulted roof.
The Bank of Scotland, mostly recased by Bryce in 1864-71, is perhaps the best known of his buildings, being featured on many banknotes. It dominates The Mound from most angles.
Not all commissions were large, and the bread and butter work of any architect's office would often include smaller projects, such as a number of monument bases around Edinburgh. This one in Princes Street gardens is more complex than the usual marble plinth, featuring small turrets and cannon downspouts, and remembers the poet Allan Ramsay.
Seacliff was designed by Bryce in 1841, surrounding an earlier house, and was later sympathetically extended before being burnt out in 1907. Fortunately its shell has not been demolished, unlike many of Bryce's houses.
Seen here is the rear view, with its unusual angled bay window looking North over the Bass Rock. The wall on the right protected the south-facing conservatory from the sea breezes.
Craigends House, in Renfrewshire, was a completely new building designed in 1857 and one of Bryce's largest Scottish Baronial works. Shown here is the symmetrical garden front, with its garden suite of principal rooms. The complex entrance facade combined the arch of Fyvie Castle with Baronial and French Gothic inspired features. The house was demolished in 1971 to make way for a large housing development. This picture is taken from an old postcard of unknown date.
Dargavel, near Bishopton, is an 1849 reworking of an earlier tower house. Bryce's works were often later altered, here by P. McGregor Chalmers, an architect better known for his restoration of Iona Abbey. Chalmers added the crenellated tower (containing an additional staircase) and porch when he refitted the interior in 1915 after a fire, somewhat confusing Bryce's simpler treatment of the original exterior.
Avallon is a small villa in the East Morningside district of Edinburgh dating from 1860. It is thought to be by Bryce, but there is no documentary evidence to confirm this. A number of houses, many now demolished, are possibly by Bryce, but this attribution can only be made on grounds of style or tradition. Bryce's papers are mostly long lost, and some houses known to be by architects such as Peddie and Kinnear or Brown/Reid and Wardrop are almost impossible to distinguish from Bryce's work.
In the case of Avallon, the arguments for it being a Bryce building are many. It is next door to a now demolished villa known to be by Bryce, and it has a large number of typical Bryce features. However, it is the large number of those features on such a relatively small scaled building that raises the suspicion that it might not be by Bryce. Ultimately, we will never know whether the designer was Bryce himself, perhaps with his tongue in his cheek, or someone heavily influenced by him. This does not change the fact that Avallon is a fantastic and fun small essay in Scots Baronial well worthy of its Category A listing, whoever the architect.
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