A view of the inside of a painted dome, with blue and gold decoration at the very top. Statues separate small window panels all the way around.
Greater Glasgow & The Clyde Valley


Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, a Scottish architect and architectural theorist, pioneered sustainable building practices. He considered the conditions of those who would inhabit his buildings and focused on the overall design, both inside and out.

In 1966, Henry-Russell Hitchcock praised Thomson as one of the greatest architects in the Western world, alongside Charles Rennie Mackintosh. While Mackintosh’s influence reached central Europe and America, Thomson’s impact was more localised to Glasgow. However, his architectural genius was even greater, and his work can still be admired in buildings like Holmwood.

Thomson collaborated with other artists, including sculptor George Mossman and skilled painters and decorators, to create a harmonious blend of interior design and architecture. Despite drawing inspiration from various cultures, such as Greece and Rome, Thomson never travelled abroad, likely due to his recurring asthma. Additionally, being a father to eight children surely kept him busy!

Today, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to preserve and raise awareness about Thomson’s remarkable contributions to Glasgow’s architectural heritage.

A black and white image of a man sitting side on.
Alexander ’Greek‘ Thomson

Early life

Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson was born on 9 April 1817, in Balfron, Stirlingshire. He came from a large family with 18 siblings, some from his father’s previous marriage. His father, John Thomson, worked as a clerk at Ballindalloch Cotton Works, and his mother was Elisabeth Cooper.

Unfortunately, Thomson’s father passed away when he was only seven years old, and his mother died just three years later. The family then moved to the outskirts of Glasgow, where his older brother William, who worked as a teacher, took on the responsibility of caring for the siblings.

At 12, Thomson started working in a lawyer’s office to support the family. It was during this time that he had a stroke of luck. An architect visited the office and was highly impressed by Thomson’s drawings. As a result, he arranged for Thomson to become an apprentice to John Baird, another architect. This partnership eventually led to the establishment of Baird & Thomson (Architects), which later became A. & G. Thomson when Thomson’s brother George joined as a partner.

Before reaching his 30s, Thomson experimented with various architectural styles, including baronial and gothic. However, as he matured as an architect, he discovered his own unique style and never looked back.

Alexander Thomson married Jane Nicholson on 21 September 1847 when he was 30 years old. They were married at the same time as the future partner in his architectural practice, John Baird, and Jane’s sister, Jessie, in a double wedding. Baird and Thomson would set up their own practice a year later in 1848.

By 1861, aged 43, Thomson lived with his family at 3 Darnley Terrace, Shawlands. The census records indicate that he employed two draughtsmen and four apprentices.

Ten years later, in 1871, Alexander Thomson, now 53, was living at 1 Moray Place, Strathbungo — one of the buildings he had designed himself. The household included his wife, children and two servants, and the building, now private, is still standing.

A large blonde sandstone building with many windows.

Work and inspiration

Thomson’s unique style drew inspiration from various sources. He incorporated elements of Greek architecture, biblical illustrations from the Old Testament, and different cultural styles, such as Egyptian and Mediterranean. Most of his projects were centred around Glasgow, with commissions for buildings and terraces.

Thomson’s success was not only evident in his large clientele, particularly for medium-sized villas and terraces, but also in his innovative design choices. Unlike the prevalent Neogothic trend, Thomson opted for large clear glass plates, treating the windows as voids in his architecture, a nod to Greek temples. His embrace of new technologies and materials, such as cast iron moulds and glass plates, further set him apart. These elements combined with his artistic style, make Holmwood House a perfect example of his work.

Thomson’s Graeco-Egyptian style was mainly seen in Glasgow, but he also designed commercial warehouses, blocks of tenements, terraces of houses, suburban villas, and three Presbyterian churches. Among his notable works that still stand today are Moray Place, Great Western Terrace, Egyptian Halls, Grecian Buildings, and Holmwood.

Holmwood, one of Thomson’s notable works, was purchased by the Trust in 1994 after a successful appeal. A generous £1.5 million contribution from the National Heritage Memorial Fund made the restoration of the property, a testament to Thomson's genius, possible. Page\Park Architects meticulously restored the property between 1997 and 1998, ensuring that Thomson’s architectural legacy was preserved for future generations.

As an architect, Thomson displayed innovation in his designs and showed genuine concern for the well-being of the people living in his architectural masterpieces. His insightful lectures, published posthumously, shed light on his deep understanding of creating liveable spaces.

A print of Holmwood on sepia-toned paper

Death and Legacy

Thomson died in Glasgow on 22 March 1875 at his home at 1 Moray Place in the terrace he had himself designed. He was 57 years old.

Following his death, a marble bust of the architect by John Mossman was presented to the Corporation (now in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery), and the Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship was established. The second winner of which was Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The studentship sought to send young architects abroad so they could study the ancient wonders that Thomson admired so much but was sadly never able to experience himself. Mackintosh could travel and discover Rome as part of this experience in 1890.

At the Trust we look after many buildings, from iconic castles and famous birthplaces to Victorian villas and 18th-century watermills. We believe preserving them and their stories for future generations is important. At Holmwood we have worked hard to ensure that Thomson’s design and architectural legacy is preserved, while our tours and imagination gallery intend to raise awareness of some of his other buildings in Glasgow.