Alexander Smellie

Architect; JHKM employee

Glasgow architect Alexander Smellie (1889–1971) was born in Girvan, Ayrshire, the younger son of Alexander Smellie, a successful wine, spirit and provision-merchant, and Margaret Allan, an Ayrshire farmer's daughter. Alexander Senior was originally from a grocer's family in Wishaw, but had built up his own prosperous licensed grocery and property-letting business in Girvan, where he was a J.P., town councillor, and provost of the burgh from 1912 until 1921. 1

In 1891, Alexander Senior had as a trainee grocer a member of the Young family of Glasgow sculptors. The connections between the Smellie and Young families were long-lasting and reciprocal. In 1885, Alexander's sister Agnes had married stone-carver John Young (1858–after 1927), nephew of James Charles Young (1839–1923) and first cousin of better-known James Augustine Young (1871–1934). Their eponymous company, latterly James Young of 197 Dumbarton Road, Partick, 'succeed[ed] the Mossmans' as Glasgow's principal monumental sculptors. Their work included the carvings on Mackintosh's Glasgow Herald Building (1891). 2 Alexander Smellie Junior may have been introduced to the building profession through his uncle's trade or personal contacts, as it seems from their home addresses and other records, that stonecarver John Young worked for relatives, James C. and James A. Young. 3

Alexander attended the Glasgow School of Art from 1905 until 1910. 4 He was apprenticed to Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh in 1906, and first paid by them that December. 5 He did not become a qualified architect, but specialised in structural engineering, and gained a licentiateship with the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1930. After completing his training around 1911, Alexander went to work for the practice of John B. Wilson & Son, Glasgow, as an architectural draughtsman. Wilson, a former pupil of John Honeyman, specialised in church buildings, and was the president of the Glasgow Institute of Architects. Alexander became an associate member during Wilson's term of office (1911–12). 6

In August 1914, just after the outbreak of the First World War, Alexander voluntarily enlisted with a territorial unit of the Army Service Corps. He remained in the U.K., probably still working in Glasgow, until mobilised in June 1915. He spent the war in Egypt, Jerusalem and at Kantara. At one stage his duties were described as 'officer's orderly in the P.[ublic] W.[orks] D.[epartment] of A.S.C. Admin. ... E.[gyptian] E.[xpeditionary] F.[orce], (draughtsman)'. 7

On his discharge in May 1919, Alexander became a draughtsman for the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society's in-house buildings design, construction and maintentance department. 8 He returned to the renamed practice of Keppie & Henderson in 1920, and assumed a low-key role, concentrating on industrial projects. His architectural planning and technical expertise was employed on commercial bakeries forWilson Beaton, built at Dennistoun in the 1920s, and in Dundee and Drumchapel in the 1940s and 50s. 9

Following the death of his father in 1927, Alexander inherited the then substantial sum of £46,105. 10 This inheritance seems to have led to Alexander investing in Keppie & Henderson in 1930 and being made partner. His daughter, Margaret, later became an office manager with the practice. 11 Alexander became a Licentiate of the RIBA in 1930, his proposers including T. L. Taylor and John Keppie. 12

Alexander was elected a Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland in 1935, and when Keppie retired on 30 June 1937, he and Andrew Graham Henderson continued the firm, retaining the previous practice style of 'John Keppie & Henderson'. 13 Alexander looked after the practice during the Second World War, when Graham Henderson was on full-time active service. The partnership was resumed in 1945, with Alexander retiring in 1969. He died on 23 March 1971. 14


1: Glasgow Herald, 16 July 1927, pp. 1, 10; Scotsman, 19 July 19, 1927, p. 7; Statutory Births, Marriages, Deaths, Valuation Rolls, [accessed 11 April 2014].

2: Glasgow Post Office Directory, 1890–1, p. 639; 1904–5, p. 635; Census information,; Statutory Marriages, Deaths,; Gary Nisbet, 'James Charles Young (1839–1923)', Glasgow – City of Sculpture, [all accessed 11 April 2014].

3: 'James C. Young', 'Agnes G. Young', Statutory Deaths and Wills; 'Alexander Smellie', Statutory Marriages; Census, 1911 and Valuation Rolls, all [accessed 11 April 2014].

4: Statutory Marriages, Valuation Rolls, Census 1911, [accessed 11 April 2014]; Student Registers, information kindly provided by the Glasgow School of Art Archives, 12 March 2014.

5: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: John Honeyman & Keppie / Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh / Keppie Henderson cash book, 1889–1917, GLAHA 53079, p. 104.

6: 'John Bennie Wilson' and 'Alexander Smellie', Dictionary of Scottish Architects, [accessed 11 April 2014]; Glasgow Post Office Directory, 1912–13, p. 1741.

7: British Army W.W.I Service Records, 1914–1920, online resource, [accessed 10 April 2014]; David Stark, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Co., Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing, 2004, p. 217.

8: James A. Flanagan, Wholesale Co-operation in Scotland, Glasgow: S.C.W.S. Ltd, 1920, pp. 125, 342–3; British Army W.W.I Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914–1920,; 'Alexander Smellie', Dictionary of Scottish Architects, [all accessed 11 April 2014].

9: David Stark, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Co., Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing, 2004, pp. 12, 217, 226.

10: Glasgow Herald, 16 July 1927, pp. 1, 10; 18 January 1928, p. 13; Scotsman, 19 July 1927, p. 7; Aberdeen Journal, 19 January 1928, p. 6; Statutory Marriages, Deaths, [accessed 11 April 2014].

11: David Stark, personal communication, 9 April 2014; David Stark, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Co., Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing, 2004, pp. 12, 233.

12: 'Alexander Smellie', Dictionary of Scottish Architects, [accessed 11 April 2014].

13: Scotsman, 28 March 1935, p. 7; Edinburgh Gazette, 2 July 1937, p. 567.

14: Glasgow Herald, 23 March 1971, p. 26; David Stark, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Co., Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing, 2004 p. 233.