Skip to main content

Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Sir James Gowans (1821–1890)

Architect, quarry master, railway engineer and sculptor. Born at Blackness, near Linlithgow, West Lothian, he was brought up in Stockbridge, Edinburgh. He began training as an architect in the office of David Bryce, but in his mid-twenties turned to railway construction, building parts of the Edinburgh & Bathgate, Caledonian and Highland railway lines; he also laid all the lines for the first tramway system in Edinburgh (1871–72). As an architect, he was deeply committed to the creation of public housing for the working poor, but also designed substantial private villas, including his own ‘Rockville’ (1858, now demolished), the best example of his eccentric style based on an arcane system of modular geometry. He was also one of the promoters of the failed Edinburgh Theatre (1877), which nearly ruined him financially. He became a town councillor in 1868 and the Dean of Guild in 1885, and was knighted for organising the International Exhibition in Edinburgh in 1886. He was married to Mary Brodie, the daughter of the sculptor William Brodie.

Bibliography: R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 1, pp. 60–61, 288–91, 304–06, vol. 2, pp. 315–16; Scotsman, 27 June 1890, p. 5 (obit.).

Ray McKenzie 2018