Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
William Leiper

Born in Glasgow, he trained as an architect with Boucher & Cousland before moving to London, where he completed his training in the offices of W White and J L Pearson.

Leiper's first important Glasgow commission was for the Gothic, Dowanhill Church (1865). Thereafter, he designed villas, churches, mansions, commercial buildings, and the interiors and décor for the yacht Livadia (1885), and the Banqueting Hall of the City Chambers (1916).

Sculpture was an important element on Leiper's buildings and was always of the highest quality and imagination.

Dowanhill Church features a number of small heads on its exterior, including a group of dogs' heads, possibly carved by one of the Mossmans , whilst its interior features an extensive scheme of stencilling and stained glass by Daniel Cottier (the building is now a theatre and bar called Cottiers).

Working in partnership with William Melvin, 1864-7, he produced the Italian Renaissance headquarters of the Glasgow Gas Company, 42 Virginia Street, which is distinguished by a series of massive, Roman Doric windows and an elaborately sculpted doorhood (1867-70).

Amongst the details at the door are two Gaulish male heads wearing crowns and heavy moustaches, on the consoles of the doorhood, and a female mask with wild hair on the keystone above the door. Other details include a rich and delicately carved frieze of guiolloche ornament above the ground floor, a series of large, decorated consoles under the windows and the building's cornice.

Leiper followed this with his Normandy-Gothic Camphill Queen's Park Church, Balvicar Drive, which includes a fine group of musical angels above its door by J Mossman , and carverwork by McCulloch & Co., of London (1870-83), and the Francoise-Premiere-style Partick Burgh Halls, which features roundel figures by William Mossman II , representing Justice, Mercy and Truth (1865-72).

McCulloch worked for Leiper again in 1885-7, on the carvings for Hyndland Parish Church, 79 Hyndland Road, but their work was left incomplete due to lack of funds.

For a time Leiper gave up architecture for painting but returned to design the exotic Templeton's Carpet Factory, Glasgow Green, which was based on the Doge's Palace in Venice (1889-92), and the exuberant Sun Life Building, 117-21 West George Street (1889-94), which won a silver medal at the Paris International Exhibition of 1900.

Templeton's Carpet Factory quickly became one of Glasgow's most iconic buildings, due to Leiper's extraordinary use of polychrome brick, glazed ceramic and mosaic as exterior decoration, and for its roofline of Kremlin-like crenelations.

The building is also noteworthy for its imaginative use of sculpture (by an unidentified sculptor), including heraldry and tiny half- length humans holding attributes representing the industries and the arts (e.g. an artist with palette and brushes for Painting), and its attic statue of a crowned woman holding a hank of yarn, symbolising the building's function as a textile factory.

In November 1889, shortly after completion, a freak gust of wind brought the main facade crashing down onto the adjacent weaving sheds, killing 29 of their occupants. It was rebuilt and opened in 1891.

The Sun Life Building's success was due in large part to William Birnie Rhind, who produced one of the city's most exuberant displays of architectural sculpture for its facades.

Drawing on the Italian Renaissance and the work of Michelangelo and his David and Medici Tomb figures, the sculpture scheme includes a statue of Aurora, the Goddess of the dawn, standing on a chariot drawn by galloping horses.

There is also a standing, nude Apollo, the God of Commerce and the arts, who holds a lyre; and a series of profile heads and busts, one of which is of Mithras; as well as heraldic groups and a series of columns with intricately detailed capitals, including the signs of the zodiac.

Birnie Rhind also produced the splendid marble fireplace in the former telling room, which features a marble relief of angels supporting a shield.

Leiper is also highly regarded for his houses in Helensburgh, the finest of which was Cairndhu (1882).

His cemetery monuments include those to William Black, Oban; Rev Norman MacLeod, Campsie, although without the seated angel he intended it to have (1882); and the monuments to Hugh Kerr, which has lost its bronze portrait medallion, and Jane Kerr, a Celtic Cross, both of which are in Helensburgh Cemetery (1891).

Another of his Celtic crosses is in Glasgow's Necropolis: the monument to Jessie Montgomerie Lang, which is a copy of the Mercat Cross in Campbelltown, which was carved in pink granite by the Glasgow based monumental sculptor, Peter Smith (1889).

He also designed the Gothic Leiper Family monument for Glasgow's Sighthill Cemetery, which he designed for his father and later himself, and which lost its angel by C B Grassby , in the 1970s (1864).

Elected an FRIBA , 1881, and RSA , 1896, Leiper served as President of the GIA , 1890-92.


  • BN , vol. 58, 6 June, 1890, pp. 792, 798;
  • Who's Who in Glasgow-1909, p. 115;
  • RIBA Journal [Obit], vol. 23, 1916, pp. 302-4;
  • Gomme & Walker ;
  • John W Small (1900), Scottish Mercat Crosses;
  • Information from Andrew Stuart (photo of Leiper monument angel);
  • McKenzie (1999) ;
  • McKenzie (2002) (Templeton's Carpet Factory), pp. 377-8 (ill.)
Works in our Database:
#47 1: Burgh Hall Street (Partick),
Partick Burgh Hall, 3-9a Burgh Hall Street
Allegorical Roundels: Misericordia (Mercy),
Justitia (Justice), Veritas (Truth) (c.1872)

Sculptor: W Mossman Junior; Architect: W Leiper
2: Renfield Street (City Centre),
38-42 Renfield Street / 117-21 West George Street
Aurora, Apollo, Allegorical Figures of Night and Morning and Related Decorative Carving (1892-4)
Sculptor: WB Rhind; Architect: W Leiper
#297 3: Templeton Street (Calton),
Former Templeton Carpet Factory,
62 Templeton Street
Allegorical Female Figure and Associated Decorative Carving (1888-92)
Sculptor: unknown; Architect: W Leiper
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