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Eighteenth-century architect-builders were a small group, but important for understanding the market strategies of knowledge-based experts in an age of rapid growth in technical information before the creation of modern professions. This article confronts a teleological historiography of emerging professionalization. It is focused on Robert Mylne and several of his contemporaries in Edinburgh and London, including a number of successful London-based Scots who were active as architects, builders, engineers, and surveyors, and self-styled in all these areas when it suited them. It supplies an account of what it took for building experts to establish themselves and flourish in big cities and the ways in which such experts navigated, controlled, and accommodated an environment of unregulated expertise that largely suited contemporary practitioners. Individual, family, and collective market strategies are examined in detail and the final section is a close analysis of the activities of the Architects Club in the 1790s.


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School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Teviot Place, Edinburgh EH8


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1 Campbell, Robert, The London tradesman. Being a compendious view of all the trades, professions, arts, both liberal and mechanic, now practised in the cities of London and Westminster. Calculated for the information of parents, and instruction of youth in their choice of business (London, 1747), pp. 155–7.

2 Mortimer, Thomas, The universal director. Or, the nobleman and gentleman's true guide to the masters and professors of the liberal and polite arts and sciences. In three parts to which is added a distinct list of the booksellers, distinguishing the particular branches of their trade (London, 1763).

3 Ibid., pp. 15–16.

4 See Harris, Eileen and Savage, Nicholas, British architectural books and writers, 1556–1785 (London, 1990); Stewart, Rachel, The town house in Georgian London (London, 2009).

5 Colvin, Howard, A biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600–1840 (London, 1978), ch. 1.

6 See Ward, Robert, The surprising life of Robert Mylne: the man who buried Nelson (London, 2007); Roger J. Woodley, ‘Robert Mylne’ (Ph.D. thesis, London, 1998); Mylne family papers (Myfam), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), London.

7 RIBA, Myfam/4/13, Robert Mylne to Thomas Mylne, 3 Jan. 1755, Marseilles.

8 Tait, A. A., ‘The sale of Robert Adam's drawings’, Burlington Magazine, 120 (1978), pp. 451–5.

9 RIBA, Myfam4/34–7, Robert Mylne to William Mylne, Sept.–Dec. 1758, Rome.

10 RIBA, Myfam/4/50, Robert Mylne to Thomas Mylne, 23 Feb. 1760, London. In announcing his competition success, Mylne described this as ‘an honour to my country, and to those [that] brought me into the world and conducted me so far hithertoo’.

11 Nenadic, Stana, ‘Portraits of Scottish professional men in London c. 1760–1830: careers, connections, reputations’, British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 34 (2011), pp. 117.

12 Carlyle, Alexander, Autobiography of the Rev. Alexander Carlyle of Inveresk containing memorials of the men and events of his time (Edinburgh, 1860), p. 96.

13 Bertha Porter, ‘William Chadwell Mylne, 1781–1863’, Oxford dictionary of national biography (ODNB).

14 Colvin, Dictionary, p. 39; Crook, J. Mordaunt, ‘The pre-Victorian architect: professionalism and patronage’, Architectural History, 12 (1969), pp. 6278.

15 See Saint, Andrew, Architect and engineer: a study in sibling rivalry (New Haven, CT, 2007).

16 Anon., ‘The present state of the profession of architect, surveyor, and of the building trades in England’, Loudon's Architecture Magazine, 1 (1834), pp. 1216.

17 Perkin, Harold, The rise of professional society: England since 1880 (London, 1989), p. 2; Corfield, P. J., Power and the professions in Britain, 1700–1850 (London, 1995).

18 Colvin, Dictionary, ch. 1; Mylne, R. S., The master masons to the crown of Scotland and their works (Edinburgh, 1893).

19 For examples, see Stana Nenadic, ed., Scots in London in the Eighteenth Century (Lewisburg, PA, 2010). On the relative place of professionals in wealth accumulation, see Patrick Colquhoun, Treatise on the wealth, power and resources of the British Empire (London, 1815).

20 Mortimer, Universal director, pp. 71–2.

21 RIBA, MyFam, Robert Mylne diary, 22 Oct. 1764: ‘Gave Mr Winter a consultation on the value of a house in Pall Mall. £1.1s.’

22 Cruft, Kitty and Fraser, Andrew, eds., James Craig, 1744–1795 (Edinburgh, 1995).

23 National Records of Scotland (NRS), GD18/4800, Robert Adam to Margaret Adam, 21 Feb. 1756, Rome. I am grateful to Sir Robert Clerk of Penicuik for permission to quote from the papers of the Clerk of Penicuik family deposited in the National Records of Scotland, NRS GD18.

24 Colvin, Howard, ‘The beginnings of the architectural profession in Scotland’, Architectural History, 29 (1986) pp. 168–82.

25 RIBA, Mylne diaries. Mylne was employed by the marquis of Lorne, later 5th duke of Argyll, from the early 1770s. He carried out work in London, Inverary, and Tobermoray. NRS, GD44/49/16/1–52, papers of the Gordon family, accounts for building and repairing Gordon Castle, 1767–85.

26 Such as ‘Vardy, John, architect, and surveyor of Chelsea Hospital and the Horse Guards’, Mortimer, Universal director, p. 28. Some of these sinecures were abolished in the so-called ‘Burke Act’ of 1782. See Reitan, E. A., ‘The Civil List in eighteenth-century British politics: parliamentary supremacy versus the independence of the crown’, Historical Journal, 9 (1966) pp. 318–37.

27 RIBA, Mylne diary, 1 Jan. 1769.

28 Ibid. St Paul's yielded £50 pa and Canterbury just £15 15s. On Mylne and St Paul's, see Ward, The man who buried Nelson.

29 Colvin, Dictionary, p. 205.

30 RIBA, Mylne diary, 17 Sept. 1764. ‘Looked over painters and marble cutters bill for Mr Briscoe’, 22 Sept. 1764: ‘Attended Mr Briscoe at Twickenham to see that everything was right.’

31 RIBA, CHA2/26, letter from Thomas Cooley on behalf of the Trustees for the Royal Exchange in Dublin, to William Chambers, 22 Aug. 1769, Dublin.

32 See The builders price-book containing a correct list of the prices allowed by the most eminent surveyors in London, to the several artificers concerned in building (London, 1781).

33 Alastair Rowan, ‘Adam and his office’, in Giles Worsley, ed., Adam in context: papers given at the Georgian Groups Symposium 1992 (London, 1992).

34 Kelly, Alison, ‘Coade stone in Georgian architecture’, Architectural History, 42 (1999), pp. 71101.

35 Colvin, Dictionary, p. 49.

36 As with Robert Campbell, merchant of Stirling and London, who was in partnership in the quarrying and pavement laying business in the 1760s and 1770s. Stana Nenadic, ‘Military men, business men and the “business” of patronage in eighteenth-century London’, in Nenadic, ed., Scots in London.

37 RIBA, CHA2/136, William Chambers to William Seward, 15 Nov. 1790, London.

38 RIBA, Mylne diary for 1770 records his imports from Rome comprising ‘pozzolana’, a case of pictures, a case of prints, and marble.

39 Simpson, Ann and Simpson, James, ‘John Baxter, architect, and the patronage of the fourth duke of Gordon’, Bulletin of the Georgian Society, 2 (1973), pp. 4757. Cruft and Fraser, eds., Craig.

40 RIBA, Mylne diary, 1 Jan. 1769. Mylne diary, 19 Apr. 1770, details £1,500 borrowed from ‘Dr Hunter’.

41 Harris, John, Sir William Chambers: knight of the Polar Star (London, 1970), pp. 72–3.

42 Rowan, Alistair, ‘After the Adelphi: forgotten years in the Adam brothers’ practice’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 72 (1974), pp. 659710.

43 NRS, GD18/4746, Robert Adam to Helen Adam, Oct. 1754, London.

44 RIBA, Myfam/4/34, Robert Mylne to William Mylne, 23 Sept. 1758, Rome.

45 RIBA, Myfam/4/46, Robert Mylne to Thomas Mylne, Aug. 1759, London.

46 Nenadic, ‘Portraits of Scottish professional men’.

47 NRS, CC8/8/130/521, testament dative of James Craig, 11 Nov. 1795, Edinburgh.

48 Ibid. See also Iain Gordon Brown, ‘Craig's library: a first investigation’, in Cruft and Fraser, eds., James Craig.

49 The largest group of professional collectors, if printed sales catalogues can be taken as a guide, were Church of England clergymen, British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, print sales catalogues, 1716–1812.

50 See A catalogue of the valuable and choice collection of prints, books of prints, original pictures and drawings, books in various languages, busts and plaster figures, mathematical, surveying and drawing instruments, the property of the late Mr John Baxter, architect in Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1798).

51 Watkins, D. J., ed., Sale catalogues of libraries of eminent persons (London, 1972), IV; Tait, ‘Robert Adam's drawings’; A catalogue of the genuine and valuable prints and drawings of that eminent architect, the late Sir William Chambers FRS (London, 1811).

52 RIBA, Myfam box 23 17–35, sales catalogues of 1922 for the contents of Great Amwell House in Hertfordshire.

53 Fleming, John, Robert Adam and his circle in Edinburgh and Rome (Cambridge, MA, 1962), ch. 5, passim.

54 RIBA, Myfam/4/3, Robert Mylne to William Mylne, 26 Apr. 1758, Rome.

55 Harris and Savage, British Architectural Books.

56 RIBA, Myfam box 23 17–35, Great Amwell sales catalogue, 1922.

57 Mylne had worked for Lady Mary Duncan as early as 1764. RIBA, Mylne diary, 23 Nov. 1764, ‘Waited on Lady Mary Duncan half day.’

58 RIBA, Myfam/5/24, Sir William Hamilton to Robert Mylne, 31 Jan. 1775, Naples.

59 RIBA, Mylne diary, 1 Jan. 1769. However, getting payment for Blackfriars Bridge was not easy. See Woodley, Roger, ‘“A very mortifying situation”. Robert Mylne's struggle to get paid for Blackfriars Bridge’, Architectural History, 43 (2000), pp. 172–86.

60 RIBA, Myfam/4/49, Robert Mylne to Thomas Mylne, 24 Jan. 1760, London.

61 Gregory, John, Lectures on the duties and qualifications of a physician (London, 1772), p. 67.

62 Saint, Architect and engineer.

63 Nenadic, Stana, ‘The small family firm in Victorian Britain’, Business History, 35 (1993), pp. 86114; Nenadic, ‘Military men’.

64 NRS, GD1/51/34, the Appellant's Case (William Mylne) against the Magistrates and Council of Edinburgh, to be heard at the bar of the House of Lords, 15 Feb. 1770; Colvin, Dictionary, p. 578.

65 See Resolutions of the Associated Architects, with the report of a committee by them appointed to consider the causes of frequent fires (London, 1793).

66 RIBA, Mylne diary for 1771 includes, at the end, drawings for a Mylne family crest and various genealogical details. See also NRS, GD1/51/47, James Cant to Robert Mylne, 13 Jan. 1775, Perth, regarding an antiquarian publication on the Mylne family.

67 See Rowan, Alistair, ‘William Adam's library’, Architectural Heritage, 1 (1990), pp. 833.

68 Kaye, Barrington, The development of the architectural profession in Britain (London, 1960), ch. 7, passim.

69 Roger Bowdler, ‘George Dance the younger’, ODNB.

70 John Martin Robinson, ‘James Wyatt’, ODNB.

71 G. H. L. Le May, ‘Samuel Wyatt’, ODNB.

72 Colvin, Dictionary, p. 45.

73 NRS, GD18/4793, Robert Adam to Helen Adam,12 Dec. 1755, Rome.

74 NRS, GD18/4814, Robert Adam to Mary Adam, 21 Aug. 1756, Rome; NRS, GD18/4816, Robert Adam to Helen Adam, 4 Sept. 1756, Rome. See also Glover, Katharine, Elite women and polite society in eighteenth century Scotland (London, 2011).

75 Robinson, ‘James Wyatt’, ODNB.

76 RIBA, Myfam/4/11, Robert Mylne to Thomas Mylne, 13 Dec. 1754, Lyon; RIBA, Myfam/4/16, Robert Mylne to Thomas Mylne, including letter to be forwarded to duke of Atholl, 11 Feb. 1756, Rome.

77 RIBA, Myfam/5/10, Mylne to Lord Abingdon, 25 May 1772, London; RIBA, Myfam/5/11, Lord Abingdon to Mylne, 25 May 1772, London.

78 Worsley, Lucy, ‘Female architectural patronage in the eighteenth century and the case of Henrietta Cavendish Holles Harley’, Architectural History, 48 (2005), pp. 139–62.

79 NRS, GD18/5015, John Baxter to John Baxter, 3 Jan. 1765, Rome.

80 Fleming, Robert Adam, ch. 4, passim.

81 NRS, GD18/4818, John Adam to Mary Adam, 14 Sept. 1756, Fort George.

82 Viccy Coltman, ‘Scottish architects in eighteenth-century London: the competition for patronage and the representation of Scotland’, in Nenadic, ed., Scots in London.

83 RIBA, Mylne diary, 5 Dec. 1766, ‘Gave a dinner to the Tradesmen of St Pauls £12 2s.’ is a typical entry.

84 RIBA, HoH/1–2, papers relating to the Architects Club, 1791–7.

85 Salmon, Frank, ‘British architects and the Florentine academy, 1753–1794’, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 34 (1990), pp. 199214.

86 ‘Pall Mall: clubland’, Old and New London : Vol 4 (1878), pp. 140–64,, accessed 13 July 2011.

87 A. W. Skempton, Civil engineers and engineering in Britain, 1600–1830 (Aldershot, 1996).

88 Milne-Smith, Amy, ‘Club talk: gossip, masculinity and oral communities in late nineteenth-century London’, Gender and History, 21 (2009), pp. 86106.

89 Lin, Nan, ‘Building a network theory of social capital’, Connections, 22 (1999), pp. 2851.

90 Powell, Martyn, ‘Political toasting in eighteenth-century Ireland’, History, 91 (2006), pp. 508–29.

91 Public Advertiser, 26 Aug. 1774.

92 Middlesex Journal or Chronicle of Liberty, 27 July 1769.

93 Lloyd's Evening Post, 10 Jan. 1791.

94 Resolutions of the Associated Architects, p. 32.

95 RIBA, HoH/1/4/1–2 and 1/5/1–2, correspondence between Henry Holland, chairman of the committee of the Architects Club, and Charles 3rd earl of Stanhope, Mar. 1792.

96 Perkin, Professional society, p. 117.

97 Colvin, Dictionary, ‘Introduction’; Kaye, Architectural profession.

98 Woodley, ‘“A very mortifying situation”’.

99 RIBA, HoH/2/10/7, letter by George Dance Jnr to Richard Jupp, 12 Aug. 1793.

100 RIBA HoH/2/7/1–3, three letters by Robert Mylne to Henry Holland, 3 Apr., 15 May and 30 July 1792.

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