Overview

Elected ARSA: 17 March 1937

Elected RSA: 13 February 1946

Leslie Grahame MacDougall, the only son of Patrick Thomson, a household name in Edinburgh, was born there in 1896 and baptised Leslie Grahame Thomson, the name by which a host of friends and business acquaintances knew him for much of his life.

 

After his marriage to the Maid of Lorne he changed his surname when she succeeded to the Chieftainship of the Clan MacDougall. When he was quite young the drawings of his father’s new house so fascinated Leslie that he then determined on a career in architecture.

 

Educated at Merchiston Castle School he went directly into the Army at the beginning of the 1914 World War. He served in Egypt and Palestine and in 1918, on his return from active service at the age of 22, he at last was free to follow his chosen career.

 

He served his apprenticeship with Sir Robert Lorimer, R.S.A., and studied architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art, first under the direction of Sir George Washington-Browne, P.R.S.A., then under his successor, John Begg, P./P.R.I.A.S., and had the distinction, with one other, to be the first student to complete a full Diploma Course in the newly established School of Architecture.

 

After qualifying as an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, he set up practice in 1926 with his first important commission, the Reid Memorial Church in Edinburgh. The success of this initial essay was widely recognised and gave notice of much that was to follow.

 

Even during the dark years of the great depression in the early 1930’s his practice continued to grow and flourish and by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 he had a formidable series of scholarly and distinguished works to his credit— churches, country houses and major commercial buildings. He had emerged not only as a leader in his profession but as an artist of exceptional gifts which the Academy was quick to recognise by electing him to Associate rank in 1937 and nine years later to full membership.

 

During his early manhood he suffered a severe and lengthy illness which was borne and routed with cheerful courage. This did nothing to reduce his lifetime’s work as an architect by which he achieved much and delighted many; it is idle to speculate what he might have done had not his career been interrupted when in full flood by the outbreak of war and stultified during the long lean years which followed.

 

For better or worse the war changed the quality and direction of life in Britain and in architecture it ended an era. The traditional cults of scholarship and beauty were swept aside to be replaced by the new idols of pragmatic functionalism.

 

Like many of his generation who were nurtured in the tenets of a developing tradition, Leslie MacDougall could not fully accept this fundamental change and, perhaps for this reason, the few opportunities which were on offer during the post-wary ears of architectural bondage in an ailing economy did not greatly interest him or passed him by. Although his practice continued, it never flourished in the same way.

 

During those post-war years he gave devoted service to his own profession, first in 1949 as President of the Edinburgh Architectural Association, then in 1953 when he was elected President of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and later as Convener of the Architectural Advisory Panel of the National Trust.

 

Gregarious by nature, an inveterate traveller and accomplished linguist, he found his friends from all walks of life and to those who were privileged to attend the frequent parties at Barcaldine Castle and Dunollie, Leslie will be remembered for his kindness, his irrepressible spirit and his gifts as a pianist and singer of Italian Operatic Arias and Neapolitan Songs. His rich and well-trained tenor voice was the perfect instrument of his vivacious temperament and by his ready command of the vernacular he was able to express the Scots delight in blunt and sardonic truths.

 

This was a man of many parts, architect, artist and scholar, equally at home in the City or the Country. Leslie Grahame-MacDougall’s outstanding characteristic was his ready appreciation of quality wherever he found it. His place in the Roll of Academy Membership will be filled but the memory of this debonair man with the ready smile and generous word of praise, this loyal friend, will remain green, irreplaceable.

 

RSA Obituary by William H. Kininmonth, transcribed from 1974 RSA Annual Report

Further Images

Leslie Grahame Thomson Macdougall RSA (1896-1974) [drawing by Sir Basil Unwin Spence ARSA (1907-76)], Reid Memorial Church, Edinburgh

pencil and watercolour on paper, around 1942 65.7 x 48.0cm

RSA Diploma Collection Deposit, 1946. 1994.35