Wilson, James (1816-1900)

A prolific and versatile architect, known as 'Wilson of Bath'. From 1839, with his partners (notably W.J. Willcox from 1865, who took over from him in 1886), he designed many buildings in Bath and the south-west, especially churches, chapels and schools. His son James Buckley Wilson (1846-1900) , a grandson of the Rev. James Buckley, was a partner between 1875 and 1882. Charles Robertson (Bath Architectural Guide, 1975) declared that 'The most prolific and the best of the Bath Victorian architects were James Wilson and his partner W.J. Willcox.' The work of the partnership showed its ability to turn its hand to an extraordinary variety of styles. He died at Bath on 17 May 1900.

Although his denominational affiliation is uncertain, Wilson was responsible for the design of many Methodist and Nonconformist chapels, including New King Street, Bath (1847) and Maiden Street, Weymouth (1867). His Anglican commissions included St. Stephen's, Landsown (1840) and St. Paul, Monmouth Place (1874), both in Bath. His Methodist commissions also included Richmond College (1843), Queen's College, Taunton (1843), Westminster Training College (1851), and Headingley College (1869). He was instrumental in the decision to locate the new Kingswood School in Bath and in obtaining its commanding site, purchased from the Beckford estate on the slopes of Lansdown, where he himself lived and worked. He designed both the new school buildings in 1850 and the extensions of 1881.

Among his public commissions were the Grand Pump Room Hotel, Bath (1866), Swindon Town Hall (1866) and Abergavenny Town Hall (1871). His pupil and later partner, Thomas Fuller (1823-1898), was the architect of the Gothic Library of Parliament, Ottawa in1878.


His 'extraordinary variety of styles': 'neo-classical at the Moravian Chapel, pre-Pugin Gothic at St. Stephen's, Lansdown, Tudor at Kingswood School, other kinds of Gothic at the Royal School, St. Paul's and two Baptist chapels; mid-Victorian office-block Classical for the banks at the top of Milsom Street; a French roof for the Grand Pump Room Hotel, and Italianate for the remarkable Walcot Schools in Guinea Lane. Their work is always worth looking at.'

(Charles Robertson, Bath Architectural Guide(1975)

  • Charles Robertson, Bath: an Architectural Guide (1975)
  • Julian Orbach, Victorian Architecture in Britain ('Blue Guide', 1987)
  • Neil Jackson, Nineteenth Century Bath: Architects and Architecture (1991)
  • Directory of British Architects 1834-1914