John Douglas was born in Sandiway in 1830 and worked prodigiously in Cheshire as an architect. He became articled (bound to a firm to undertake training in order to qualify in a profession) to the prominent Lancaster architect E.G. Paley during the 1840s. Here he gained grounding in ecclesiastical commissions which would influence some of his later work. He worked on grand houses including Eaton Hall (his principal patron being the Grosvenor family), Oakmere Hall, Shotwick Park and Broxton Hall, as well as lodges in parks, and churches, even entire rows of shops! His style was very broad, as you will see from the examples below, borrowing from European architecture with a romantic, fairy-tale flair influenced by Germanic castles. His work is characterised by half-timber, brick and terracotta, a mix of Gothic and Renaissance elements, and barley sugar twist chimneys.
From 1860 he lived and worked at No.6 Abbey Square, before moving with his family to Dee Banks and retaining No.6 as his office. Douglas went on to partner with Daniel Porter Fordham, and later Charles Howard Minshull. Douglas produced the Abbey Square Sketch Book, in three volumes dating from 1872 to 1889, consisting of sketches and architectural drawings by many contributors [ref: 220399].
Sadly Douglas’s wife and four of his five children died during his lifetime. Douglas then spent the last years of his life in Walmoor Hill, Dee Banks, a building he designed, and passed away in 1911. Douglas was a member of the Chester Archaeological Society for half a century, joining in 1861, and his obituary can be found in the 1911 edition of the society’s journal [ref: 011059];
“…his reproductions of the Cheshire style in both City and Country are a pleasing monument to this memory.”So in memory of Douglas, here is a whistle-stop tour of several buildings associated with him which you can still see today in Chester:
- 1-11 and 13 Bath Street – built on land owned by Douglas in 1903. Incorporating sandstone, the houses are detailed, with conical-roofed turrets. No.13 was to have formed part of a projected street which would have linked up with Grosvenor Park Road, though this did not come to fruition.
- Grosvenor Park Lodge – a Grade II Listed building, originally the park-keeper’s lodge, built 1865-7 for the second Marquess of Westminster. The external walls bear ornamental carvings representing William the Conqueror and the seven Norman Earls of Chester. The lodge is a picturesque little building, with a stone ground storey and half-timbered above, evoking older Tudor buildings.
- Grosvenor Club and North & South Wales Bank, Eastgate Street – Douglas made additions to this building in 1908. This is now the HSBC, next to the Eastgate Clock.
- East Side of St Werburgh Street, St Oswald’s Chambers - again built on land owned by Douglas, for S.J.R. Dickson in 1898. The buildings feature ornamental carved woodwork and are gable-fronted. Douglas purchased the street to maintain a uniformity of architecture, rather than a mix of styles being produced from different owners.
- 29-31 Northgate Street – Douglas worked on part of the rebuilding of Shoemakers’ Row in 1902.
- Diamond Jubilee Memorial Clock – towering above the crowds on the streets below, you can get a fantastic view from the Eastgate Clock of the chimneys and rooftops associated with Douglas. Possibly his most famous work, the clock commemorates Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, although it was actually completed two years later in 1899.
- 6-11 Grosvenor Park Road – high steep roofs and several gables, slender octagonal turrets, moulded red bricks and tiles, all characteristic Douglas touches. Built in 1879-80, the buildings lead to the main entrance of Grosvenor Park and its lodge also by Douglas. Built at the same time, today we can still see the Grosvenor Park Baptist Church, again featuring octagonal turrets and dramatic skylines.
- Parker’s Buildings, Foregate Street – plus the two buildings flanking it, were designed by Douglas in 1888 and built by George Parker as model tenement buildings. The buildings were later modernised and re-opened in 1982 by the Northern Counties Housing Association Limited.
Although many designs by Douglas are still visible today, others have been demolished, such as his work on the Little Nag’s Head Cocoa House in Foregate Street, a half-timbered, ornately carved building. Many of his other designs and schemes remain unexecuted.
We have books, pamphlets, visual materials, correspondence, sketches, and plans at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, so if this has inspired you to research an old Cheshire building near you, or you are interested to see which other works Douglas contributed to in the county and beyond, why not get in touch? You can also visit www.cheshireimagebank.org.uk to explore our visual collection online.