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'Facile Princeps': The Country Houses of David Bryce (1803–1876)

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Wade, Ralph St Clair 


This thesis offers the first doctoral study of Scotland’s leading Victorian architect, David Bryce, R.S.A. (1803–1876). Its scope is Bryce’s extensive country house practice. Despite being praised by obituarists as the head of the Scottish profession, Bryce has yet to be the subject of a full-length book, or of an indexed journal article. Accordingly, this thesis represents the most extensive work on Bryce since the publication of a well-produced exhibition catalogue in 1976.

The work is monographic insofar as Bryce’s artistic character must be established largely from scratch, without the support of an extensive secondary literature. Its achievements fall into two categories: points of historical record which, in turn, support the critical narrative of the thesis. The historical achievements are biographical, attributional – but principally archival. Bryce’s unpublished manuscripts are presented, for the first time, as a systematic corpus. This has been enabled by the discovery of a collection of Bryce drawings in the British Architectural Library, hitherto misattributed to William Burn. This discovery forms part of an extensive programme of archival and material fieldwork which, in turn, has enabled twenty-one new or revised attributions to David Bryce. These are presented systematically in the Gazetteer, and have in two cases informed the revision of the Buildings of Scotland (Lothian).

These evidential achievements buttress the critical contribution of the thesis. This is tripartite in structure. The first section treats the early years, and newly argues that Bryce was an early revivalist of Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture. The second section treats the mature practice. This argues that Bryce was not only the leading re-interpreter of the Scottish baronial, but that he did so according to a strictly taxonomical method. This formulaic method is tempered by Bryce’s particular concern for the landscape, a hitherto unappreciated part of his practice. The third section, on planning and interiors, develops the same thematic point: of a paradigm creatively adapted to a given context. Bryce’s formulaic planning, for instance, has its roots in the English regency but nonetheless, cleverly accommodated the requirements of a high-Victorian composition. Bryce’s interiors, finally, bring the narrative of the thesis full circle; his decorative work builds, with growing facility, on the newly established manuscript corpus in Chapter 1.





Salmon, Frank


Country House, David Bryce, Scottish Architecture, Scottish Baronial, Victorian Architecture


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Doctoral Sponsor: Graduate and Foundation Scholarships, St John's College, Cambridge. Research Support Grant: Paul Mellon Centre for British Art (Yale University).