James Gandon 1742-1823

Gandon was born in 1742 in London into a family of Huguenot descent. He attended Shipley's Drawing Academy where he acquired, he writes, “a theoretic knowledge of architecture”. Following two years there, he became apprenticed to William Chambers in 1758.

William Chambers had studied in Italy and France, and became tutor in architecture to the Prince of Wales. He was familiar with French neo-classical architecture of the time, and also with Roman building in the Augustan era. In 1759 Lord Charlemont requested Chambers to make drawings for the Casino at Marino in Dublin, and it seems almost certain that Gandon had a hand in this design. (Chambers in fact never visited Ireland and so never saw the Casino, which was not finished until 1773.) Gandon was strongly influenced by Chambers' palladian and neo-classical concepts. (Link to Palladianism notes)


Gandon in England
In 1765, Gandon left Chambers to begin practice on his own. His first commission was to design a memorial to the composer Handel on the Wolverhampton estate of Sir Samuel Hillier. His practice grew but remained small; however, his reputation was increased by winning the first gold medal for architecture to be offered by the Royal Academy in 1769.
1767 and 1771 Gandon contributed two chapters to Britannicus, a book illustrating the outstanding private and public buildings of the day.
late 1768, Gandon entered a competition to design the new Royal Exchange in Dublin. Although the competition was won by Thomas Cooley, Gandon's design was selected as second, and so he came to the notice of important men in Ireland such as Lord Charlemont, Lord Beresford and Lord Carlow (the future Earl of Portarlington) who were hoping to redesign Dublin.


Gandon in Ireland
Beresford, who was First Commissioner of the Revenue and a man of widespread political influence, wrote to Gandon inviting him to design a Custom House in Dublin. In 1781 Gandon moved to Ireland having just previously declined an invitation from a member of the family of Catherine the Great to settle in St Petersburg and to design public buildings there. He had married in 1770 and had three children, but he decided to move to Ireland alone until he could see how the work progressed. The building of the Custom House was to occupy him for the next decade, but during that time, he accepted other commissions in Ireland.

In December 1781 Gandon was invited to spend Christmas at Dawson's Court with Lord Carlow and his family. Lord Carlow was keenly interested in architecture and the arts, and had decided to improve his estate near Portarlington, beginning with the building of a church at Coolbanagher nearby. The previous thatched-roof church had been burned down. Work started in 1782, and the church was consecrated in 1785. At some time Gandon also designed the mausoleum for Lord Carlow beside the church. (For more details, see Gandon and His Times, Hugo Duffy, Gandon Editions, 1999, pp 146 - 152)

Busy period for Gandon
In the 1780s, Gandon became a consultant to the Wide Streets Commissioners (who included Lord Beresford and Lord Carlow), who wished to redesign Dublin as a pleasant and spacious city. His views and opinion were sought on many of their plans.
- 1800: the Custom House
: the new courthouse for Waterford city.
- 1802: work on the Rotunda Assembly Rooms and the Four Courts
: designs prepared for Carlisle Bridge, now O'Connell Bridge
- 1793: designs for additions to the House of Lords (now the Bank of Ireland at College Green)
: designed Beresford Place 1790: designed Emo Court for Lord Carlow
: designed Abbeville for Lord Beresford
: new building commences on the King's Inns
: designed church tower and vestry at Maryborough, Portlaoise

The start of the 1800s was a very turbulent period in Irish history, and Gandon eventually became worried by his association with unpopular men such as Lord Beresford who had put down rebellion very cruelly. His success in gaining commissions had brought him enemies, and he had been attacked and insulted publicly by those who held a grudge against him. He left briefly for London, but returned to Dublin in 1805 to begin his lengthy retirement. He died on Christmas Eve 1823, aged 81. He is buried in Drumcondra churchyard.