Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
James Shanks

Born in Glasgow, the son of James Shanks, a farmer, and Janet Walker; he was active as a mason and carver from the 1840s, after training under William Mossman I .

He set up his own workshop at 346 Parliamentary Road in 1856, gaining a number of contracts for the carver work on a number of important churches in and around Glasgow, often for architect John Honeyman, and working alongside the Mossmans and other architectural sculptors.

In 1854, he carved the Law Lord keystones on the Royal Faculty of Procurators, 62-8 West George Street / 12 Nelson Mandela Place, from models by A H Ritchie , and the building's decorative mouldings from models by James Steel.

Designed by Charles Wilson, the building's ornament includes lion masks, the architect's favourite motif, together with shields carved with the Royal Faculty's coat of arms, and a rich array of Corinthian capitals and guilloche ornament and tiny dolphin heads.

He also executed the Gothic carver work on John Honeyman's Free Churches at Greenock (1862), Dumbarton (1863), and at Lansdowne Church, 416-20 Great Western Road, Glasgow, where he collaborated with the Mossmans on the building's extensive scheme of gargoyles, corbel heads and other enrichments (1862-63).

At Lansdowne, Shanks is said to have carved the Devil at the south west door of the church in protest at having his request for an increase in his payment rejected. This together with a swan carved on the opposite side of the door have since eroded away.

Another of the important churches he worked on was Kelvinside Parish Church, now Oran Mor, where he worked in tandem with William Mossman II and Alexander McGaw for the architect John James Stevenson (1862).

As well as his architectural work, he also received commissions for cemetery monuments. These include at least two important monuments in Glasgow's Necropolis:

The Classical Buchanan of Dowanhill Monument, designed by the Glasgow architect James Brown (1844), which was partially destroyed in a storm in 1859, and rebuilt; and the Duncan Macfarlan Monument, a colossal Gothic spire designed by the Edinburgh based architect Jonathan Anthony Bell, which has a bronze portrait relief and lettering by William Brodie (1861).

His work elsewhere in Scotland includes the monuments in Dumbarton Cemetery to John Paterson (1855); Malcolm Gardner McGregor (1848); and William Swan Stuart (1858), all of which feature exquisitely carved figures and ornament in the Classical, Gothic and Egyptian styles.

Shanks was the son-in-law of the monumental sculptor James Boyd McLachlan, who is remembered for the Martyrs' Monument in Sighthill Cemetery, having married his daughter, Mary, on 31st August, 1858.

Shanks and his family lived at 86 North Frederick Street, where he died of Mason's Asthma, on 28th October, 1864.

By the time of his death, Shanks had already been pre-deceased by his wife and infant sons in 1861 and 1862, and by his older brother, William Shanks, a carver and gilder, who died of Delirium Tremens and Effusion of the Brain, in 1863.


  • J Honeyman, Job Book 1849-67;
  • POD : 1855-64;
  • Nisbet, in McKenzie (2002) , p. 498;
  • Gifford & Walker (2002), p. 404;
  • Information on Shanks' family provided by Caroline Gerard;
Works in our Database:
1: Nelson Mandela Place (City Centre),
Royal Faculty of Procurators, 12 Nelson Mandela Place
Keystone Portraits and Associated Decorative Carving (1854)
Modellers: AH Ritchie (portraits); J Steel (decorative work); Carver: J Shanks;
Architect: C Wilson
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