David Bryce (1803-1876) was the most prominent of Scotland's mid-Victorian architects. It is misleading to say that he "adapted Victorianism to Edinburgh" (Turnor 94): rather, as the chief figure in "the confident mid-nineteenth-century expression of the 'national'" (Glendinning et al. 277), he himself had an influence far outside his own country.

The son of a mason who became a builder, Bryce was born in Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh, and educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, after which he probably attended his elder brother William's Architectural Academy in East or (later) South St James Street. Following William's death at the end of 1823, Bryce took his place at the office of William Burn (1789-1870), a prestigious Scottish architect whose architectural practice is said to have been the biggest in Britain at that time (Durant 160). Burn specialised in country houses, and Bryce's training here gave him a thoroughly practical approach to planning such houses himself. He became Burn's partner in 1841, and effectively took over the practice in 1844 when Burn moved to London, although the partnership held until 1845. According to several sources it was not formally dissolved until 1850 (e.g. see "David Bryce").

While Bryce's "wide-ranging interests and eclectic tastes" (O'Reilly) meant that he could successfully turn his hand to Palladian or Italian styles for public buildings, his main importance lies in his promotion of the Scottish Baronial style. Here, he had learnt much not only from Burn, but also from the details in his friend Robert Billings's Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland (1841-52). Nevertheless, "his distinctive contribution to the vocabulary of Victorian forms — the Scottish Baronial style — was in essence Bryce's creation alone" (Placzek 316). Craigends, the country mansion in Renfrewshire that he built for Alexander Cunninghame, was perhaps the fullest expression of his work in this style. Such a building was "in perfect sympathy with mid-Victorian Scotland" (O'Reilly), but it also proved highly popular elsewhere: see the section on the Scottish Baronial Style in "Styles in Domestic Architecture." Sadly, Craigends House was demolished in 1971, despite a campaign to save it.

Most would agree that Bryce's work in general is characterised by "adaptability to circumstances and position, and propriety of plan and arrangement"; but the comment that his public buildings are also characterised by "breadth and solidity of treatment rather than by beauty and delicacy to detail" might raise some hackles. Note, however, that his splendidly proportioned and finely detailed Fettes College (1863-9) escapes this general criticism ("David Bryce RSA 1803-1876").



"David Bryce RSA 1803-1876." Viewed 5 January 2010.

"David Bryce" (Dictionary of Scottish Architects site; this gives the most detailed biographical info0rmation). Viewed 5 January 2010.

Disley, Alastair. "The Architecture of David Bryce".

_____."Craigends House: David Bryce's Lost Masterpiece." Viewed 5 January 2010.

Durant, David N. The Handbook of British Architectural Styles. London: Barry and Jenkins (Random House), 1992.

Gifford, John, et. al. Edinburgh (The Buildings of Scotland series). London: Penguin, rev. ed. 1991.

Glendinning, Miles and Aonghus MacKechnie. Scottish Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Glendinning, Miles, Ranald McInnes, and Aonghus MacKechnie. A History of Scottish Architecture: From the Renaissance to the Present Day. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996.

O'Reilly, Séan. "Bryce, David (1803-1876)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 5 January 2010.

Placzeck, Adolf K, ed. Entry on Bryce in The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects, Vol. I. London: Macmillan, 1982 .

Turnor, Reginald. Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford, 1950.

Last modified 31 October 2023