By the late 19th century, a number of slate workers formerly employed at the Ballachulish slate quarry had migrated to Aberfoyle. Here, the quarry village had largely been completed by 1891, and its facilities included a school. The late and much respected local historian Louis Stott describes the workers’ lives in his book ‘Fragments of an Earlier World’ published by Stirling Council in 2007.
Shortly after settling, a number of families expressed desire that an Episcopalian place of worship should be established, not at the quarry, but in Aberfoyle. Land above Main Street was gifted by the Duke of Montrose and the church opened in 1893. The late Peter Joynson’s uncle, Richard, donated a sum of £500.00 (the equivalent of some £64,000.00 today) towards the project. Labour was freely given by the quarrymen in their spare time.
The architect engaged to design the church was James Miller, born in 1860. Following education in his native Perthshire, he entered articles in a local practice. He then moved to the office of Hippolyte Blanc in Edinburgh, a specialist church architect. The 1843 Disruption within the Church of Scotland had caused many additional places of worship to be commissioned. Their construction kept Blanc’s office occupied for a number of years. However, by the time Miller came to the practice, demand had begun to recede. Perhaps for this reason, Miller left Blanc in 1888 to take up a post with the Caledonian Railway’s drawing offices based in Glasgow. Four years later, Miller departed to set up on his own account within the city. St Mary’s Aberfoyle would have been one of his early commissions.
For many architects, designing a church building would represent a noteworthy achievement in a career. For Miller though, St Marys proved nothing more than a stepping-stone to far more important commissions. To list each within the scope of this article would be impossible, but the following projects are mentioned to illustrate the diversity of Miller’s practice.
Shortly after St Mary’s was opened, Miller, no doubt as a result of his experience at the Caledonian Railway, was asked to design a building for what was then known as the Glasgow District Subway. Today, that underground railway system remains the third oldest in the world. The commission was of special importance because it was to house the Company’s headquarters above the station booking office. The design that Miller produced was an ornate structure in red brick.
During the 1960’s, a good deal of notable 18th and 19th century architecture was sacrificed upon the altar of so-called ‘progressive’ modern building. One notable loss was a terrace of 18th century houses along the south side of George Square, Edinburgh together with a further half of another terrace to the east. There was barely a whimper of protest against this needless demolition, which was defended on the grounds of providing updated University facilities. Mercifully, the pace of destruction slowed when, in the early 1970s, bodies like the Georgian Society and other conservation groups became aware of the rapid erosion of heritage.
This is why Miller’s St Enoch’s station survives today. The Glasgow Subway was upgraded in the 1970s. Ten years earlier, such a project would have provided ample justification for replacing the station building with a utilitarian box. Happily, the station was carefully preserved during the modernisation process by being jacked on stilts. It exists today as a category ‘A’ listed building.
For many years, International Exhibitions were regular events, hosted in turn by different nations. The International Exhibition came to Kelvingrove, Glasgow between May and November 1901. On this occasion, Scotland proudly opened her doors to proclaim the best she might offer the world, especially heavy engineering products. The exhibition’s start was timed to coincide with the opening of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Despite the nation observing a period of half-mourning following Queen Victoria’s death, eleven and a half million visitors filed through the turnstiles, producing a handsome profit for the organisers. James Miller was responsible for designing the centrepiece Great Industrial Hall, which was built with a white facade and topped by a gold dome. It won him a number of awards. Charles Rennie MacIntosh, then in the process of founding the Glasgow School of Art, designed several other buildings on the site. Of the other nations attending, Russia sent four pavilions reputed to have personally cost the Tzar £30,000. Apart from the numerous exhibits, visitors could also enjoy a switchback railway, a water chute, and an Indian theatre.
The preceding Industrial Revolution had vastly increased manufacturers’ wealth, but often at the cost of appalling living conditions for their employees. By this time, enlightened minds were seeking to improve workers’ housing. Lever Brothers, who had founded the Port Sunlight soap manufacturing company in Cheshire, commissioned Miller to design two model workers cottages for the Exhibition. These were erected close to the Art Gallery. After the exhibition closed, Lever Brothers presented the houses to Glasgow Corporation and they remain to this day. They bear superficial resemblance to Aberfoyle’s Craihgarty Terrace, designed by Miller at the same time as St Mary’s Church.
By stark contrast, the nation’s presence at an international exhibition held forty-eight years later in Milan was judged by a visiting journalist to be nothing short of a national disgrace. He described tracking down a stand little bigger than Haiti’s, staffed by a single assistant, head down in his newspaper, and surrounded by sundry exhibits scattered around two potted plants.
When the name ‘Titanic’ is mentioned in the context of ocean liners, it is the ship’s sinking on her maiden voyage in 1912 that is usually recalled. The same applies to ‘Lusitania’, sunk on the 7th May 1915 by a U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland, in which 1198 passengers and crew were drowned. The sinking is remembered as the incident that later drew the United States into the First Great War. The skill of those who designed and constructed these magnificent liners has now largely been forgotten.
‘Lusitania’ was owned by the Cunard Line and built at John Brown’s Clydebank shipyard. She was briefly the world’s largest passenger vessel. Launched in 1906, her early years coincided with a time of fierce competition for transatlantic passenger trade against German shipping lines. No expense was therefore spared either in her specification or building.
James Miller was entrusted with the all-important task of planning the first-class interior. He specified plasterwork throughout as opposed to traditional wooden panelling, so as to impart a light and graceful design. The first-class rooms occupied the top two decks. An open circular well at their centre was crowned by an elaborate dome. This was glazed in stained glass, each window panel representing a month of the year. The walls were finished in white with gilt-carved mahogany panels, along with Corinthian decorated columns. The lounge featured a jade green carpet with a yellow floral motif and green marble fireplaces. All first-class cabins were ensuite in a choice of decorative styles. The accommodation design for the remainder of the passengers was quietly delegated to John Brown’s in-house staff.
Whilst ‘Lusitania’ was plying her trade across the Atlantic, Miller was engaged in another notable commission. His years with the Caledonian Railway forged a valuable connection with its directors. In 1910 the General Manager, Donald Matheson holidayed in Strathearn. The beauty of the area conjured in his mind a vision of a grand country hotel set within the grounds of a golf course. By 1913, Miller’s design for the Gleneagles Hotel had been completed. Construction started the following year, but the First Great War then stopped building until 1922. Wisely, the directors took steps to establish the course in advance of the hotel’s opening. Matheson engaged James Braid, a five-time winner of The Open, to design and create The King’s and The Queen’s courses in the hotel grounds which were opened on 1 May 1919. Below are 3 examples of Miller’s work.
When Gleneagles itself eventually opened on Saturday 7th of June 1924, the media hailed it, “the eighth wonder of the world”. The great band leader, Henry Hall, and his orchestra performed at the opening Gala Ball which was broadcast on the then newly founded BBC wireless.
Remarkably, James Miller practiced on his own account throughout his professional life. He would though, have drawn upon the expertise of a number of specialist associates. His son George joined the practice in the mid-1930s, but prematurely died in 1940, possibly as a result of active war service. Seeing no reason to continue, Miller wound up the practice. His last project was to oversee the restoration of the Holy Rude Church in Stirling, when the fine oak beam roof was re-exposed, and a new organ installed.
Miller had many interests besides his work. He was an accomplished violinist, a keen “hands-0n” gardener, and he owned a number of exotic cars, although he rarely took the wheel himself. As an enthusiastic tennis player, he established a court at his home. On the site of his home known as Randolphfield, Stirling, there now stands Police Scotland Headquarters, Stirling.
James Miller died at his home, Randolphfield in 1947.