George Shaw Aitken

Place of Birth
Manchester, Edunburgh

  • Born                      London 1836 (1861 Census and Builder Obituary)
  • Died:                     29 August 1921 Liberton

George Shaw Aitken was born in London in 1836, the son of Robert Shaw Aitken, silversmith, and Margaret Walker. About 1850 he entered the office of John Dick Peddie of Edinburgh as a pupil. On Peddie’s recommendation he was admitted to the Trustees' Academy on 19 April 1852 but left again in July of the same year. He appears to have remained with Peddie as an assistant until 1859. Leaving Edinburgh, G S Aiken briefly found employment with Charles Wilson of Glasgow and Lockwood and Mawson of Bradford. By the early months of 1860 he had arrived in Manchester where he was employed by Alfred Waterhouse, recently successful in the major open competition for Manchester Assize Courts.

Aitken was one of the founders of the Edinburgh Architectural Association in 1858, and was elected its first president. He wrote its History and Reminiscences of which a typescript copy with a portrait is preserved in the EAA Library at the RIAS. In December 1860, The Manchester Architectural Association, (open to all with an interest in architecture, including pupils and assistants) was founded, but seemingly generated little interest in the local press. However, the inaugural meeting, held on 17th December 1860 was reported at length in the Builder. Both George Shaw Aitken and his younger brother, Robert Walker Aitken (qv) were founder members, G S Aitken becoming its first President.

The 1861 Census shows G S Aitken residing at 7 Marlborough Terrace, in the Chorlton-on-Medlock district of Manchester, together with his mother, Margaret Aitken, his brother Robert Walker Aitken and Ellen Walker, an unmarried aunt. However, in 1864 the brothers were recorded as living at Hassendean Cottage, Monton, near Eccles, although only Robert W Aitken was listed as an architect in the Trades Directory for that year (G S Aitken presumably still employed as an assistant). At a time when even the most exclusive of Manchester’s outer suburbs were situated within three miles of the city centre, their decision to move to this still rural location some six miles from Manchester has yet to be fully explained.  In 1866 the brothers jointly designed an Independent Chapel and Schools in Altrincham but the following year Robert Aitken joined W R Corson in partnership in Manchester.

About 1869 G S Aitken returned to Scotland when he joined James Maclaren in Dundee, becoming a partner in 1873. In 1878, the partnership was broken: according to the last partners in the Maclaren firm, William Salmond and Stuart O Barron, the breakup was the result of specifying stone from James Maclaren's Ferrybank estate at Cupar which proved unreliable, and, together with the recession following the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank in that year, severely damaged the reputation of the practice. Aitken thereafter continued in independent practice in Dundee until 1881 when lack of business caused him to return to Edinburgh. During that period he won some fame by achieving a place in the final ten in the second competition for Glasgow Municipal Buildings in 1881. In Edinburgh he undertook much literary and lecturing work, publishing the Abbeys of Arbroath, Balmerino and Lindores in 1883. and was appointed lecturer on the History of Architecture at the Heriot Watt College in 1890. From the mid-1890s he formed some sort of co-operative arrangement with the Professor Patrick Geddes, although this resulted in only two significant commissions, one from Lord Rosebery and the other from Geddes's Town and Gown Association. A sketch scheme for the enlargement of The Albert Institute, Dundee, accompanies a report by Geddes to the City Librarian, A. H. Millar, preserved in Dundee Central Library.  George Shaw Aitken was also an accomplished artist and was an exhibitor of water colour drawings at numerous art galleries.

George Shaw Aitken died at Liberton on 29 August 1885. He never married.

1861:7 Marlborough Terrace Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester (Census)
1864: G S Aitken, Hassenden Cottage Monton, near Eccles (Kelly Lancashire)
1866: Eccles, near Manchester (Builder)
Reference: Dictionary of Scottish Architects




Name Designation Formed Dissolved Location
Aitken GS and R W Architectural practice 1866 1866 Monton near Eccles