John Keppie


Photograph of John Keppie, 1909
Family background

John Keppie was born in Glasgow on 4 August 1862, the son of James Keppie, a prosperous tobacco merchant. 1 From c. 1879 the family home was at 42 St James Street, an affluent address in the leafy West End district of Hillhead (the Keppies subsequently moved to no. 16, and the street was later renamed Hamilton Park Terrace). They had a second home at Prestwick in Ayrshire, and consequently Keppie went to school at Ayr Academy. 2

Apprenticeship and training

Keppie became an apprentice of the leading Glasgow architects Campbell Douglas & Sellars, though exactly when he entered their office is uncertain. The family were living at 13 Granville Street for most of the 1870s, and during school holidays Keppie would have seen James Sellars's neo-classical masterpiece, St Andrew's Halls (1873–7) rising directly across the street. To supplement his office training, he seems to have begun studying at the Glasgow School of Art in the 1878–79 session (his younger sisters Helen and later Jessie also attended the School). 3 He also studied Mathematics at the University of Glasgow for two sessions from 1879. 4 In the School of Art register for 1881 his occupation is given as 'Apprentice Architect', but as 'Architect' the following year. This suggests he began his five-year apprenticeship in 1877, when he would have been 15 (the same age as Mackintosh when he commenced his apprenticeship with John Hutchison).

From Glasgow, Keppie went to Paris to continue his studies at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Atelier Pascal. The dates of his Parisian stay are uncertain, but in January 1887 the Glasgow Herald reported that he had been at the Atelier Pascal 'for the last twelve months'. 5 Towards the end of this year abroad he visited Italy: some sketches of Lucca dated September 1886 were published in the Glasgow Architectural Association Sketchbook the following year, and he gave an illustrated talk on his Italian tour to the Association in May 1887. 6 It was perhaps in Paris that he made the design for a classical church which won him a medal of merit in the Royal Institute of British Architects' Tite Prize competition at the end of 1886; he repeated this success the following year with a design for a post office. 7

Practice and professional life

Back in Glasgow, Keppie returned to the office of Campbell Douglas & Sellars, where he assisted Sellars on the temporary buildings for the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition in Kelvingrove Park. 8 Sellars died on 9 October 1888, and in December Keppie left to form a partnership with John Honeyman, the name of the new practice being John Honeyman & Keppie. 9 One of its first jobs was Anderson's College Medical School, a project that had come with Keppie from Campbell Douglas & Sellars. Charles Rennie Mackintosh joined the new practice as assistant in 1889, and his relations with Keppie – only six years his senior, but from a more privileged social class – seem to have been amicable. Photographs record that Mackintosh and James Herbert McNair, who also worked in the office, spent time at Keppie's Prestwick house with the circle known as 'The Immortals', who had come together through the Glasgow School of Art and who included Jessie Keppie.

On Honeyman's retirement in 1901, Keppie entered into partnership with Mackintosh, and the practice became Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh. Mackintosh left at the end of 1913, and the partnership was dissolved. Keppie went on to form a new partnership with Andrew Graham Henderson, another former assistant, which became effective on Henderson's return from the First World War, the firm then being known as John Keppie & Henderson. 10 How much designing Keppie did after this is not clear. Alexander Smellie became a partner in 1929, and at the end of June 1937 Keppie retired. 11

Important early works by John Honeyman & Keppie for which Keppie seems to have been personally responsible include the Skin and Hide Market and the Cheapside Street grain stores, both of which show the influence of Sellars (A. G. Henderson wrote that Sellars was 'the principal formative influence in Keppie's architectural life'). 12 Later important works include the mansion Dineiddwg at Milngavie, the Parkhead branch of the Savings Bank of Glasgow and the rebuilding of Pettigrew & Stephens department store in Sauchiehall Street, as well as three other prominent commercial blocks in this important thoroughfare, for the Trustees of Dr Walker at 137–143, for James Simpson & Sons at 309–313, and for T. & R. Annan & Sons at 518. The best of these show that Keppie was an able designer in styles derived from 17th-century architecture, although not a particularly imaginative one. His outstanding work is the very large tenement at 307–335 Hope Street, Glasgow, part of a street improvement scheme for Glasgow Corporation.

Design was only one aspect of Keppie's professional life. A tireless committee man, he held numerous official posts that made him a central figure in the architectural establishment of Glasgow, and his reputation extended beyond the city. Already by August 1888 he had become President of the Glasgow Architectural Association, the local organisation for apprentices and junior members of the profession. 13 Two years later he became a member of the senior professional body, the Glasgow Institute of Architects, and was elected to its Council in 1893, becoming Vice-President in 1903, and serving as President in 1904 and again in 1905 14 He was elected in 1898 to the council of the newly established Scottish Society of Art Workers. 15 Other professional organisations in which he played a leading role included the Incorporation of Wrights, in which he was elected a deacon in 1906, and the Glasgow Building Trades Exchange, a forum for those involved in the construction industry. 16 In 1905 he acted as assessor in the highly important competition for the new Mitchell Library in Glasgow. 17

In 1904 Keppie became a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and in 1906 was selected to give evidence to the RIBA's Registration Committee on the controversial question of whether architects should be required to undergo a prescribed programme of training and examination before calling themselves architects (he was in favour). 18 He became Vice-President of the RIBA in 1929, having previously served as President of the Incorporation of Architects in Scotland in 1924–6. 19

Keppie's long professional association with the Glasgow School of Art began in 1892, when he was listed for the first time as an examiner for local competitions in Design. 20 In 1904 he joined the Board of Governors, but resigned in February 1907 to avoid a conflict of interests when Honeyman Keppie & Mackintosh were appointed architects for the completion of the School's Renfrew Street building. 21 He rejoined the Board in 1923, serving as Vice-Chairman from 1926 to 1931, Chairman from 1931 to 1937, and Vice-Chairman again from 1937 until he retired in 1944, the year before his death. 22 In 1923 he endowed two scholarships at the School, in Architecture and Sculpture.

Private life

Keppie was a keen golfer, and served as captain of the Glasgow Golf Club in 1909. 23 However, art seems to have been his major interest outside work. He was elected an artist-member of the Glasgow Art Club in 1889, becoming Honorary Secretary in 1891, Vice-President in 1897, and President in 1906 24 He became an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1920, and a full member in 1937. 25 His watercolours were regularly included in the annual exhibitions of the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, beginning in 1898 with the first of several views of Moorish architecture in Spain and North Africa. 26 . He showed work every year from 1910 to 1936, Scottish subjects gradually outnumbering European and North African ones. He also exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, where his titles included East Anglian views. Examples of his watercolours are in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. His personal art collection was said to consist mostly of works by Glasgow painters, a number of whom were his friends. 27 He bequeathed watercolours and oil paintings by Joseph Crawhall, Maurice Greiffenhagen, George Henry, Gerald Kelly, Bessie MacNicol, Macaulay Stevenson and E. A. Walton to Kelvingrove, as well as sculptures by Benno Schotz (including a 1922 bust of the donor). He was a regular guest of the artist E. A. Hornel at Broughton House, Kirkcudbright, a building for which he designed major additions. 28 He never married.


By the time Keppie died, in 1945, Mackintosh's elevation to the role of neglected genius was already underway, and Keppie's posthumous reputation has suffered by comparison with his more illustrious associate. When his death was announced in the RIBA Journal, the opening sentence summed him up as 'partner of Charles Rennie Mackintosh' – this despite a long and productive career of his own, with major buildings to his credit, and a lifetime of behind-the-scenes work on behalf of architecture in Glasgow and beyond. 29 The comprehensive investigation of the work of John Honeyman & Keppie / Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh carried out for the Mackintosh Architecture project has allowed a fuller picture of his achievement to emerge (see also Essays: The Architectural Career of C. R. Mackintosh and The Office 1888–1913).


1: James Keppie died in 1889 leaving a personal estate of £22,494 17s 7d: Glasgow Herald, 16 February 1891, p. 8.

2: George Eyre-Todd, Who's Who in Glasgow in 1909, Glasgow: Gowans & Gray, 1909, p. 107; Glasgow Contemporaries at the Dawn of the 20th Century, Glasgow: Photo Biographical Publishing Company, 1901, p. 154 .

3: There are no surviving registers before the 1881–2 session. The 1882–3 register states that Keppie was admitted to the School in 1878 (Glasgow School of Art Archives: Glasgow School of Art Alphabetical Register 1881–1892, REG 2/1).

4: Glasgow University Archives Service: Matriculation records.

5: Glasgow Herald, 24 January 1887, p. 6

6: British Architect, 27, 11 February 1887, p. 112; Glasgow Herald, 12 May 1887, p. 6.

7: British Architect, 27, 21 January, p. 48; 1 April 1887, p. 259 and illustrations; Glasgow Herald, 21 January 1888, p. 6.

8: Glasgow Weekly Herald, 28 October 1933, p. 3.

9: British Architect, 30, 14 December 1888, p. 418.

10: Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 1840–1980, [accessed 23 January 2014].

11: Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 1840–1980, [accessed 23 January 2014]; Edinburgh Gazette, 2 July 1937, p. 567.

12: Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, September 1945, p. 340.

13: Glasgow Herald, 9 August 1888, p. 6.

14: Glasgow Herald, 22 October 1890, p. 4; Glasgow Herald, 24 October 1893, p. 4; British Architect, 59, 17 April 1903, p. 275; British Architect, 61, 15 April 1904, pp. 287–8; British Architect, 63, 28 April 1905, p. 289.

15: British Architect, 50, 23 December 1898, p. 473.

16: Glasgow Herald, 30 April 1945, p. 4; British Architect, 44, 29 November 1895, p. 378.

17: British Architect, 63, 6 January 1905, p. 15.

18: British Architect, 65, 30 March 1906, p. 219.

19: Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 1840–1980, [accessed 23 January 2014]; Scotsman, 14 June 1924, p. 7.

20: Annual Reports of the Glasgow School of Art.

21: Glasgow School of Art Archives: Governors' Minutes, GOV 2/5, 25 February 1907.

22: Annual Reports of the Glasgow School of Art.

23: David Stark, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Co., Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing, 2004, pp. 226–7.

24: British Architect, 30, 21 December 1888, p. 436; British Architect, 34, 5 December 1890, p 420; Glasgow Herald, 28 November 1896, p. 6; British Architect, 64, 29 December 1905, p. 477.

25: Glasgow Herald, 11 February 1937, p. 11.

26: When Keppie lectured to the Edinburgh Architectural Association on Moorish Architecture in Spain in 1905, the paper was said to have been based on a visit made several years previously (British Architect, 64, 17 November 1905, p. 342). It was published in the Association's Transactions in 1910.

27: Glasgow Weekly Herald, 28 October 1933, p. 3.

28: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: letter from Keppie to Mackintosh, 31 December 1914, GLAHA 41394.

29: Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 52, June 1945, p. 242.