Walter Newall – Architect
Walter Newall was born in New Abbey in 1780. His offices were on the corner of Bank Street, Dumfries, and he lived in the prestigious George Street, which he had once hoped to turn into an elegant Georgian square. He has long been known as the architect of many of the handsome sandstone buildings characteristic of Dumfries, but it is only comparatively recently that the full extent of his work has been known.
In 1991 his sketch book and portfolios were discovered in Canada. They were acquired for Dumfries and are now lodged in the Dumfries Archive Centre. These show us not only the full range of his work but also give us an impression of the kind of man he was.
His plans, elevations and sketches in ink, water-colour and pencil are executed with neatness, precision and delicacy. No detail was too small to be recorded – he even drew the ornamentation he
required to decorate the stalls in a stable block he was building. Alongside his own work are copies of extracts from books on art, architecture and ancient history which he bought in Dumfries or had sent to him from a London architectural library and to which he obviously referred as he developed his designs. He also records the names of the craftsmen and suppliers who put his designs into effect.
Personal items are noted with the same meticulous sense of order and from these we discover he must have been something of a ‘dandy’. There are references to rich India silk handkerchiefs, Parisian kid gloves, a Persian velvet vest and best quality hats sent down from London.
The archive reveals all the facets of his work. There are public buildings like the heavyweight Albert Club and the more elegant 1830 Assembly Rooms opposite Moat Brae, also dwellings Craigend and Gracefield, churches ranging from the simple Parton Parish Church to the more impressive St Mary’s Dumfries and farms, a poorhouse, a courthouse and even funerary monuments and a greenhouse.
Newall was a man of his time. He responded to the burgeoning interest in scientific matters by converting the Maxwellton Windmill into an observatory for the Dumfries and Maxwellton Astronomical Society and he worked on projects that enabled Dumfries to flourish at this period.
He brought engineering skills to the building of bridges and railway lines and was a member of the Nith Navigation Commission, facilitating the development of transport systems on which trade depended. He also saw improvements in the Lochrutton public water works scheme. It is possible that his influence extended well beyond Dumfries for he designed estate buildings for the Duke of Buccleuch at Drumlanrig. These were published as model farm steadings and circulated throughout Britain.
Walter Newall died on Christmas Day in 1863 in his retirement home in New Abbey after a career of nearly sixty years. He is buried with a simple granite headstone in St Michael’s graveyard in Dumfries. The best of his urban buildings are probably equal to any of his city counterparts and his country houses and parish churches give this area an architectural heritage of considerable quality.