John Honeyman


B/W photograph of Portrait of John Honeyman

John Honeyman was born in 1831, the son of a Glasgow merchant and magistrate who had residences in the city and at Belmore on the Gareloch, Dunbartonshire. 1 He was educated at home and then at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh from 1841 to 1846, after which he studied at Glasgow University with the intention of entering the Church. 2 He decided against becoming a minister, however, and after working in a London accountant's office for a year, he returned to Scotland and was apprenticed to the minor Glasgow architect Alexander Munro. 3

He set up independently as an architect in Glasgow in 1854. 4 Later accounts say that first-hand study of medieval cathedrals was central to his self-education in the early years of his practice: one obituary describes how he visited 'a great many of the cathedral towns in England, generally staying about a fortnight in each and devoting the whole of the time to measuring and laying down drawings of the buildings which interested him'. 5 This thorough grounding in Gothic architecture was the foundation of his successful career as a designer of churches.

He became a leading figure in the profession, both in Glasgow and beyond. He was already prominent at the inaugural meeting of the Glasgow Architectural Society in 1858, where he spoke of the need for a modern, 19th-century style; he served as the society's president in 1868, and as president of its successor, the Glasgow Institute of Architects, in 1881–2. 6 He was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1874 and remained one until 1901, when he eventually resigned on retiring from practice. 7 From 1876 to 1884 he served on the RIBA's Council, and he was said to have been influential in making the Institute more popular among members of the profession in Scotland. 8 He was elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1892, and a full Academician in 1895. 9

As an architect, Honeyman was chiefly noted for his churches: in 1890 the Building News recorded that he had built 16 in Glasgow alone, and 'a still larger number in other parts of the country.' 10 Outstanding early commissions were the Free West Church in Greenock (1861) and the Lansdowne United Presbyterian Church on Glasgow's Great Western Road (1862). Most were Gothic, but he was responsible for the Renaissance-style Westbourne Free Church (1880) in Glasgow's residential West End and the similarly classical United Presbyterian church (1878–80) in Cathedral Square. He also designed commercial buildings, notably a furniture warehouse for F. & J. Smith (1872) at the corner of Union Street and Gordon Street, Glasgow, with unusually large areas of glazing framed by ornamental cast iron. Important public buildings included the neo-classical Paisley Free Library and Museum (opened 1871) and the Riccartsbar Asylum (1872–6), also for Paisley. For The School Board of Glasgow he designed three schools: Rockvilla, Tureen Street and Henderson Street. 11 Most numerous, however, were his domestic commissions, including substantial country houses such as the baronial Achamore House (1882) on the island of Gigha, and suburban and seaside villas such as the classical Craigie Hall (1870–2) on Glasgow's south side and The Cliff (1874) at Wemyss Bay.

Honeyman's business records show that after the prosperous 1870s the amount of work coming into his office fell dramatically in the course of the following decade. 12 It was in these circumstances that he took John Keppie into partnership in 1889, with Charles Rennie Mackintosh as draughtsman. Keppie brought fresh capital into the practice, along with new clients from his previous employment in the office of James Sellars. 13 By the end of the century Honeyman's eyesight was failing, and in 1901 he retired from the practice under an arrangement by which he continued to take a proportion of the profits for three years. 14

Honeyman's career was closely bound up with the movement towards beautifying the architecture of Presbyterianism. In a paper read before the RIBA in 1872, he set out (for the benefit of a largely English audience) the distinctive history of post-Reformation church architecture in Scotland. 15 He explained the loss of much of Scotland's medieval architectural heritage, the reasons for the relative plainness of most early Presbyterian church buildings, and the gradual adoption of a more artistic approach to church design in the 19th century. In 1895 and 1896 he lectured on 'Church Architecture in Scotland during the Past Century', drawing attention to the increasing scholarship which underlay modern Gothic architecture north of the border. 16 He was a founding member of the Glasgow Ecclesiological Society in 1893, served as its vice-president in 1898, and continued to play an active role after it merged with its sister society in Aberdeen to form the Scottish Ecclesiological Society in 1903. 17 Honeyman acted as architect to Glasgow's medieval Cathedral, designed the reordering of its sanctuary in 1890–3 and published several papers on aspects of its history, including a chapter in The Book of Glasgow Cathedral in 1898. 18 The chief works of his final years, before blindness caused his retirement, were schemes for the restoration of important medieval churches: St Michael's at Linlithgow and the cathedral at Brechin. After retirement, he was responsible for the partial restoration of Iona Cathedral from 1903 to 1904. These projects reflected his scholarly and archaeological interests, and he contributed papers on both Iona and Glasgow cathedrals to the Transactions of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society. 19 He was a founding member of the Glasgow Archaeological Society in 1856, and its president in 1890. 20

Not afraid of controversy, in 1862 he published a paper on the conduct of architectural competitions in which he proposed that architects who submitted designs that exceeded the stated budget should be liable to a financial penalty, to discourage unrealistic proposals. 21 By his own account he abstained from entering competitions for many years, but when he accepted an invitation to participate in the contest for Glasgow's new Barony Church in 1886, he objected publicly to the way it was run, claiming that the shortlisted entrants had disregarded the stipulated cost. 22 Following his partnership with Keppie, competitions became a more important channel through which the practice sought work, and Honeyman seems to have been personally responsible for one of its unsuccessful entries in the contest for the design of the Glasgow Art Galleries.

His interests extended beyond the artistic side of architecture, and he had both a theoretical and a practical involvement with sanitary matters. In December 1858, in a lecture on 'The Drainage of Glasgow' given before the Glasgow Architectural Society, he illustrated an improved drain trap which he had designed, a device which was later patented, with modifications, by W. P. Buchan as the Buchan Trap. 23 The paper was published in 1873. 24 Another of his sanitary inventions was a rooftop ventilator devised for Roseneath Parish Church in 1886 and patented as the Honeyman Diaphragm Ventilator. 25 He lectured and wrote on aspects of working-class housing, and was a member of the Glasgow Presbytery's Commission on the Housing of the Poor. 26 At the 1900 Public Health Congress in Aberdeen, he was president of the architecture and engineering section. 27 His writings ranged beyond architecture to take in wider political and social questions, such as trade unions and taxation. 28

Honeyman was married three times. 29 His first wife died in 1864, a year after their marriage and shortly after giving birth to their son. He married again in 1867, and the following year moved with his family to Stroove, a large house he had built at Skelmorlie overlooking the Firth of Clyde. The location was convenient for sailing, a pastime he had grown up with at his father's house near Helensburgh. 30 His second wife died in 1881, and in 1884 he married for a third time and set up home at Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire. Earlier in his life he was involved with the volunteer movement, and held a captaincy in the 1st Dunbartonshire (Helensburgh) Artillery. 31 His son, Herbert Lewis Honeyman (1885–1956), also practised as an architect.


1: George Eyre-Todd, Who's Who in Glasgow in 1909, Glasgow: Gowans & Gray, 1909, pp. 91–2. Glasgow Contemporaries at the Dawn of the 20th Century, Glasgow: Photo Biographical Publishing Company, 1901, p. 152.

2: Glasgow Herald, 9 January 1914, p. 8.

3: Builder, 106, 16 January 1914, pp. 84–5.

4: Glasgow Herald, 9 January 1914, p. 8.

5: Glasgow Herald, 9 January 1914, p. 8.

6: Builder, 16, 20 March 1858, pp. 197–8; Glasgow Herald, 22 January 1868, p. 6; Glasgow Herald, 19 October 1881, p. 4.

7: Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 21, 14 February 1914, p. 238.

8: Builder, 106, 16 January 1914, pp. 84–5; Glasgow Herald, 9 January 1914, p. 8.

9: George Eyre-Todd, Who's Who in Glasgow in 1909, Glasgow: Gowans & Gray, 1909, pp. 91–2.

10: Building News, 59, 18 July 1890, p. 93.

11: Glasgow Herald, 18 February 1875, p. 4.

12: Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 1840–1980, [accessed 3 March 2014].

13: Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 1840–1980, [accessed 3 March 2014].

14: Photocopy of a manuscript copy by John Keppie of the 'Contract of Partnership between John Keppie, Architect, in Glasgow, of the first part, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Architect there of the second part', 10 October 1901. Supplied by Roger Billcliffe, 30 April 2012; original untraced.

15: John Honeyman, 'On Modern Scottish Ecclesiastical Architecture', RIBA Transactions, 23, 1872–3, pp. 11–15.

16: Glasgow Herald, 17 October 1895, p. 6; British Architect, 20 March 1896, pp. 199–200; Glasgow Herald, 4 November 1896, p. 6.

17: Transactions of the Glasgow Ecclesiological Society, 1, Glasgow, 1895, p. 3. Transactions of the Glasgow Ecclesiological Society, 2, Glasgow, 1898, p. iii.

18: George Eyre-Todd, ed., The Book of Glasgow Cathedral: A History and Description, Glasgow: Morison Brothers, 1898.

19: John Honeyman, 'The Shrine of Saint Columba at Iona', Transactions of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, 1, part 3, 1905–6, Aberdeen, 1906, pp. 271–5. John Honeyman, 'Note on the position of altars and other arrangements within the transept of Glasgow Cathedral', Transactions of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, 2, part 1, 1906–7, Aberdeen, 1907, pp. 127–32.

20: Glasgow Herald, 7 December 1882, p. 3; 11 September 1890, p. 9.

21: John Honeyman, Remarks on Proposed Rules for the Regulation of Architectural Competitions, Glasgow: MacNab, 1862.

22: British Architect, 26, 22 October 1886, p. 387.

23: Builder, 97, 11 December 1909, p. 646.

24: John Honeyman, On the Drainage of Glasgow: With Special Reference to the Disinfection of Sewage, the Ventilation of Sewers, and the Trapping of House Drains, Glasgow: MacNab, 1873.

25: British Architect, 26, 16 July 1886, p. 60; 30 July 1886, p. 118.

26: John Honeyman, The Dwellings of the Poor: Remarks on the Reports of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes and on the Working Class Dwellings Act 1885, Glasgow: MacLehose, 1890; John Honeyman, Advantages of Low Ceilings in Small Houses, London, 1883; Building News, 106, 16 January 1914, p. 83.

27: Builder, 106, 16 January 1914, pp. 84–5.

28: John Honeyman, Trades-Unionism: the Blight on British Industries and Commerce, Glasgow: James MacLehose; Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas; London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1877; John Honeyman, The Incidence of Taxation as Affecting the Housing of the Poor, Glasgow: Strathern & Freeman, 1886.

29: Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 1840–1980, [accessed 3 March 2014].

30: George Eyre-Todd, Who's Who in Glasgow in 1909, Glasgow: Gowans & Gray, 1909, pp. 91–2.

31: Building News, 106, 16 January 1914, p. 83.