Daniel Gibson (1865-1907)

Daniel Gibson

Written by Kevin Grice

Occupation: Architect

Early Life and Family

Daniel Gibson (usually known as Dan Gibson) was born in Bassingthorpe, an agricultural village near Grantham in Lincolnshire, on 20 September 1865.  He came from a long line of Lincolnshire farming stock. His paternal great-grandfather William Gibson (1723-1797) and his paternal grandfather John Gibson Senior (1764-1843) had both farmed substantial estates in the area and his father John Gibson Junior (1807-1872) was recorded in the census of 1861 as farming 550 acres with 8 labourers and 5 domestic servants. John Gibson Junior married Anne Hutchinson (1830-1911), the daughter of John Hutchinson (1780-1882), a farmer of Foston, Lincolnshire, in 1855. They had six sons and two daughters, of whom two did not live beyond infancy. Of the survivors Dan was the fourth eldest, the others being Anne (born 1861), Leonard William (1863), Herbert (1864), Walter (1867) and Elizabeth (1870).

Dan Gibson was educated at the village school in Bassingthorpe and is described as a scholar living at home with his parents and siblings on the 1871 census. In 1877 at the age of 11 he went to Oakham School, where he was a boarder at School House in the Market Place at Oakham at the time of the 1881 census. He left the school in 1884 at the age of 18. Many of his family are buried at St Thomas a Becket’s Church in Bassingthorpe; their farmhouse was adjacent to it.

Early Life as an Architect

Dan Gibson began his training as an architect at Smith & Broderick in Hull with whom he took up articles in 1884 and where he remained for five years.  In 1889 he began acting as assistant to Richard Knill Freeman (1838-1904) of Bolton and it was in that capacity that he was sent to work as resident architect at Graythwaite Hall, Far Sawrey near Newby Bridge for Colonel Thomas Myles Sandys MP (qv; DCB). His work there with his principal occupied several years until 1891 (he was recorded as lodging there on the 1891 census) and included re-modelling of parts of the house, a sundial and gates in the grounds.

It was whilst working at Graythwaite that Dan Gibson first met the renowned landscape architect Thomas Mawson (1861-1933 qv; ODNB) with whom he later formed a fruitful partnership involving a number of architectural gardening projects. Dan Gibson was even at this early stage in his career recognised as multi-talented, being a gifted architect, an impressive draughtsman, a metal worker and figure maker whose sundial and wrought ironwork at Graythwaite raised the standard of decoration and ornamentation on Mawson’s garden work well above the ordinary.

In 1892 Dan Gibson moved to London where he worked as an assistant in the office of Ernest George & Peto. Described as ‘the Eton of architectural practice’, the firm attracted several of the most talented young architects of the time, including Guy Dawber (later Sir Guy Dawber RA) (1861-1938), Herbert Baker (later Sir Herbert Baker FRIBA RA) (1862-1946) and most notably Edwin Lutyens (later Sir Edwin Lutyens OM KCIE PRA FRIBA) (1869-1944) (all qv; ODNB). However Dan Gibson’s health had always been suspect and serious illness forced him to leave London in 1893 after less than two years and he returned to the Lake District in order that he might convalesce. He set up practice on his own account in Windermere in 1893 with William Henry Ward (1865-1924) as his assistant. They had met in London at Ernest George & Peto (where Ward was employed as an improver or person in the last year of their apprenticeship in 1892/3) but their working relationship was brief because in the following year of 1894 Ward moved to the London office of Edwin Lutyens for whom he worked until 1898.  After this, Ward set up practice on his own account and designed a number of notable Cumbrian Edwardian houses, in particular High Moss and Little Ellers near Keswick.

It was during this formative period of his career in the early 1890’s that Dan Gibson developed his distinctive Arts & Crafts style. This was heavily based upon both the Lakeland writings of William Wordsworth and John Ruskin and his time with Ernest George & Peto in London.  As a consequence, Dan Gibson took the local vernacular building tradition merely as a stepping off point for his designs. His houses were often long and low with simple massing, roughcast walls, sloping buttresses, arched porches, casement windows and trademark round chimneys. The last were much beloved of Wordsworth and became symbolic of the vernacular building of the era, although they were in fact not typical features of many of the Lakeland farms from which the inspiration was drawn.

Work in Cumbria

In 1897 (according to various Directories) or 1898 (according to Thomas Mawson himself) Dan Gibson and Thomas Mawson entered into a formal partnership under the name of ‘Mawson & Gibson, architects’ at Crescent Road in Windermere. Thomas Mawson saw the advantages in having an architect within his firm and for his part Dan Gibson designed houses of quality which attracted wealthy clients. Over the following two years they collaborated on numerous projects, particularly in and around Lake Windermere, in which Dan Gibson designed the house and Thomas Mawson the gardens and grounds so as to be in sympathy with each other and their setting. They had a shared appreciation of the nature of landscape, the simplicity of design and the value of the arts and crafts with which they worked.

Brockhole (1899-1901) is a good example of this, as the house and gardens were constructed concurrently; the extensive photographic record of the work by the owner William Gaddum (1856-1945 qv; DCB) shows Gibson and Mawson discussing fine details together and their respective plans and drawings show how each was to complement the other. The two continued to work together even after the dissolution of the formal partnership in 1900 and evidence of their continuing good relationship, even after their partnership ended, shows firstly in the tutoring by Dan Gibson of Thomas Mawson’s second son John William Mawson (1886-1964) and secondly in the design by Dan Gibson of Shrublands in 1904 for Thomas Mawson’s brother Robert (1864-1910). Dan Gibson then continued his architectural practice from Crescent Road in Windermere until his death in 1907.

Thomas Mawson was later to write of his partnership with Dan Gibson:

The arrangement with my friend Dan Gibson lasted just two years and, strange though it may appear, it was our success that finally led to its dissolution. My idea in seeking the partnership was to secure by our joint efforts a higher degree of architectural expression in the gardens which I planned. I had at the time no thoughts of proceeding beyond the legitimate limits of landscape architecture but such was Gibson’s genius and skill in every department of applied design, that no sooner had he made the round of my clients that he was busy with every conceivable kind of speciality undertaken by any architect. Ecclesiastical, domestic and garden designs, along with designs for furniture, decorations, book-binding and jewellery jostled one another and, as I feared, sometime under pressure of work, relegating garden design to secondary place. In addition he collected for my clients china, furniture, silver, pewter, tapestries, prints and miniatures and almost every other imaginable artistic antique. His knowledge of these matters was wide and extensive, he having spent what veritably amounted to years of his life at South Kensington, the Wallace and other collections’ (Life and Work, 45).

The main works in Cumbria with which Dan Gibson is associated are (in approximate chronological order):

Graythwaite Hall, Far Sawrey (1888-1891) re-modelling of the house with his principal for Colonel Sandys, works in the grounds including a sundial and wrought iron gates, one now moved to the other side of the courtyard and (1905) further extensive re-modelling of the interior of the house, in particular the Oak Hall completed after Dan Gibson’s death with fine carving by Arthur Simpson (1857-1922; qv), the well-known Kendal Quaker furniture maker and woodcarver.

Holehird, Troutbeck (1897) ‘tactful’ alterations of an earlier house for the Groves family as well as a new south lodge and (1905) a new north lodge and a curious cross-shaped horse shelter in the stable yard with an overall roof and also (1905) Holehird Cottage, in reality a substantial villa, in which the stone is unusually left unrendered.

Cringlemire, Troutbeck (1897) a new summer house.

The Corbels, Thornbarrow Road, Windermere (1899-1900) designed for and with Thomas Mawson as his own home and office on the heights of middle-class Heathwaite, along with a series of similar villas such as  Burrowfield across the road. A spectacular white roughcast house with extensive corbelling, chimneys with eye-catching raised lids of slate with stone balls on top and ‘twiddly’ (Pevsner) iron rainwater brackets.

Brockhole, Windermere (1899-1901) built for the Gaddum family, of local stone and slate with white rendering, having uneven roof lines which catch the eye, rounded chimney pots on chunky chimneys, more akin in design to a cottage than a classical mansion. A summer house in the grounds exemplifies all of this in miniature form.

Pullwoods, Brathay (1902-1903) with George Faulkner Armitage (1849-1937) a long, strung-out house with many gables, unusually with a timber frame and predominantly red in colouring.

Dawstone, Lickbarrow Road, Windermere (now Heathwaite Manor) (1903-1904) built for the Liverpool merchant Alexander Millington Singh. It represents perhaps the best of Dan Gibson’s architecture, comfortably proportioned but not large with strong horizontals – long roofline, continuous drip moulds and long ranges of windows – contrasting with the mighty round chimneys but unusually without bay windows and a handsome interior with plenty of idiosyncratic detail in particular the fireplaces and window recesses. The plasterwork designed by Dan Gibson and executed by George Percy Bankart (1866-1929) is particularly fine.

Shrublands (1904) built as a home and office opposite Mawson Brothers’ nursery in Windermere for Robert Mawson (now Windermere Social Club).

White Craggs, Clappersgate near Ambleside (1904) a substantial house similar to Brockhole but with bay windows mirroring the bastions of the garden terraces designed by Thomas Mawson.  The house was built for the surgeon Charles Henry Hough (1855-1933) who had married Alice Maud, a granddaughter of Giles Redmayne of Brathay Hall.

Birket Houses, Cartmel Fell, Winster (1907) Dan Gibson’s last completed work, a substantial house with great hall, several staircases and a full country house service courtyard.  It was built for Captain Miles Higgin-Birkett.

Dan Gibson also in 1905 made the designs for the wooden chancel screen in St John’s Church in Bowness-on-Windermere which was carved by local amateur craftsmen under the supervision of Arthur Simpson (now to be found in St Martin’s Church in Bowness after St John’s was de-consecrated in 1995) and in the same year he drew designs for the Memorial Gates to Dr Archibald Hamilton (d.1904; qv) in Queen’s Park Road in Windermere. He also designed jewellery, book bindings, furniture and interiors such as the study at The Corbels in Windermere which featured in an RIBA publication and was Thomas Mawson’s workplace for many years.

Examples of Dan Gibson’s work can also be found in Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Hampshire, Devonshire, Wales, Scotland (in particular at Mount Stuart for the Third Marquess of Bute) and two lodges and a gateway at Brooklandwood House near Baltimore in Maryland (USA) in 1905, for which Thomas Mawson designed the gardens. The illustration of these lodges featured in The Studio in 1907 and photographs of them are to be found in the Mawson archive in Kendal Record Office. It formed the chapter opener in the 5th edition of Thomas Mawson’s The Art and Craft of Garden Making.  This work was done for H Carroll Brown, probably a descendant of Charles Carroll (1737-1832), one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence.

Own Family

On 21st October 1896 Dan Gibson was married in Windermere to Mary Elizabeth Wordsworth Harrison (1870-1916) of Ulverston. She was the daughter of Wordsworth Harrison (1827-1889) an iron merchant, landowner and JP and his wife Charlotte Emily Harrison (1828-1903). The Harrisons lived both in Surrey and in Ulverston where they owned Lund Hall. After their marriage Dan Gibson and his wife lived at Marley Lodge, Burnside Road in Windermere and at the time of the 1901 census had with them their eldest child, a nurse, a cook and a housemaid. Their two children were both sons, Guy Wordsworth Gibson (1900-1943) and Geoffrey Daniel Gibson (1902-1966).

Guy Gibson trained as an architect with William Ledsham Dolman (1875-1939) to whom he was apprenticed free of charge under an agreement made in 1907 upon his father’s death between Dolman and his mother (see below). However after his marriage in 1928 he moved to Cogdon Hall in Grinton, North Yorkshire where was described simply as a landowner. He joined the British Army in 1932, rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel and by 1943 was officer commanding 1st Battalion Royal Regiment (North Lancashire) in North Africa. He was killed in action on 23rd April 1943 and is buried at Massicault War Cemetery in Tunisia. He had married Betty Doxford (1900-1990) in Yorkshire in 1928 and they had one daughter Mary Dorothy Wordsworth Gibson (1929-1999). After her husband’s death Betty Gibson continued to live in North Yorkshire and she died in Ripon aged 89.

Geoffrey Gibson also qualified as an architect and practised in Windermere on his own account before moving to London. In 1934 he married Stella Miriam Everard (1910-1960), the daughter of Clement Charles Everard (1881-1916), a printer of Bristol, who had died on the Somme. They initially lived in Bristol before moving to Surrey in 1937 and in 1939 he described himself as an artist and journalist.  He served in the RAF during World War Two and then lived with his wife in Essex and London until their marriage was dissolved in 1948. Geoffrey Gibson then emigrated to America in 1951, aboard the liner Queen Mary to New York, registering himself as an artist and writer. He re-married in California in 1961 and died in Los Angeles in 1966.

Dan Gibson was well known locally and nationally and attended many social events organised by the owners of the houses which he had designed or altered; his good looks, natural charm and wide range of interests appear to have made him a favoured dinner party guest along with his wife. He was also a good golfer and member of Windermere Golf Club.


Dan Gibson died from appendicitis after a short illness at home in Windermere on 19 June 1907 at the early age of 41 (some references suggest he died in Kendal, but that is where his death was registered). He is buried in Bowness-on-Windermere cemetery. Arthur Simpson designed and made a display case for the old church in Bowness as a memorial to Dan Gibson; it still stands in St Martin’s Church today in front of the screen which Dan Gibson himself had designed several years earlier.

Dan Gibson left all his estate to his widow. His architectural practice was continued by William Dolman, who had been an assistant to him from 1902. Dolman agreed to pay Mary Gibson 10% of his income for ten years in consideration of this and to give their elder son Guy the opportunity to be articled to him. Mary herself soon moved to Cheltenham where she was living with her two sons in 1911. She was to die there on 3rd March 1916 at the age of only 45.

Thomas Mawson described Dan Gibson as ‘One of the handsomest, most courtly, and able men I have ever known’ (Life and Work, 41) and Lawrence Weaver paints a moving posthumous portrait of him in 1919 praising his ‘passion for sound and beautiful craftsmanship, for work essentially personal. His architecture was straitly traditional and wholly domestic. It reveals the local way of building, picks up the thread of design where it was dropped in the seventeenth century and does it in a living fashion’. As Matthew Hyde says, Dan Gibson, although not a native, ‘perhaps understood the local Westmorland vernacular better than anyone and his houses fit the Lakeland landscape exceptionally well. His interior detail is carefully thought out and enjoyable’(Arts and Crafts Houses, 52). His early death was a great loss to architecture and design generally; he remains an intriguing figure about whom very little is actually known.


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