John Lessels

Architect and Photographer


The Scotsman

13 November 1883


"This widely-known and highly-respected citizen died yesterday morning, after an illness that had lasted off and on for about six months.


Mr Lessels who was born in Kirkcaldy in January 1809, attended the school of his native place at the time when it was successively taught by Edward Irving and Thomas Carlyle.

His early ambition was to be an artist, and a marked fondness for drawing was one of his early characteristics.  His father, however, on the recommendation of Mr Ferguson of Raith, sent him to Edinburgh to be trained as an architect.


The first office he entered was that of Mr  Burns, where by-and bye, he became inspector of works, and in that capacity was employed in various parts of the country.

In 1846 he began business in his own account, and in course of time attained to the front rank of his profession, by the members of which he was held in high regard.

Edinburgh Improvements Act

On the passing of the Edinburgh Improvements Act he and the late Mr Cousin were appointed architects to the Trust, and as such were called upon to take an important part in the carrying out of the scheme that had been devised for ameliorating the sanitary conditions of the Old Town.

In the work of the reconstruction  undertaken by the Trustees, Mr Lessels had opportunities of leaving his mark on the architecture of the city, among the streets which he specially designed being Jeffrey Street, whose effective elevation now forms so prominent a feature in the eastward view from the North Bridge.

By the Improvement Trust, his opinion on any matter under discussion was always received with the greatest deference, the members of that body having the highest confidence in the soundness of his judgment, which they knew, was never influenced by other than the most upright motives.

Other Architecture

Among other works accomplished by  Mr Lessels should be mentioned the laying out of the feuing plan for the lands of Drumsheugh and the designing of St Leonard's House, Edinburgh - considered a fine specimen of Scottish Baronial architecture.

Messrs Nelson's works at Parkside; the Smith Institute, Stirling; the Palace Hotel, Princes' Street; the handsome pillars at Hope Park, and Charter Hall and Blackadder House, Berwickshire, may also be specified as testifying to his professional taste and skill.

He is one of a number of leading architects  selected to furnish competitive designs for St Mary's Cathedral, and it is said that his drawings were within one vote of being accepted.


In leisure hours Mr Lessels continued through life to cultivate painting, and he from time to time exhibited his water-colour drawings of church interiors or street views that had attracted his attention in holiday rambles on the Continent.

As a critic of works of art, he showed excellent discernment.


Mr Lessels was for some years President of the Edinburgh Photographic Society, an office which he only resigned quite recently on account of his failing health.

He took a leading part in promoting the very successful exhibition held some time since under the auspices of the Society.

Architectural Association

As a member of the Architectural Association, Mr Lessels did yeoman service in connection with the exhibition which that Society was instrumental in organising in Edinburgh about a year ago.

Scottish Society of Arts

He was vice-president of the Scottish Society of Arts, and an hon. member of the various societies in Belgium with which he became connected in early life in the course of frequent visits to that country.

Shop Fronts

As a practical architect, Mr Lessels is said to have been amongst the first, if not the very first, to introduce open iron fronts into Edinburgh shops - a change which, whatever may be said of it from an aesthetic point of view, was no doubt the result of an honest effort to meet modern business requirements.


By a large circle of friends, Mr Lessels was held in high esteem for his many excellent business and social qualities, not the least noteworthy of which were sterling uprightness of purpose, an equable balance of mind, and a quiet understanding manner which rendered intercourse with him easy and pleasant.

To an inner circle, he could on occasion disclose a vein of genial humour; and he had ever at command a fund of anecdote, chiefly derived from his own shrewd observation of men and manners.


Mr Lessels was an elder and trustee in St Bernard's Church, of which he was a useful member.  He was twice married, and is survived by a widow and family."

The Scotsman:  November 13, 1883, p.5  -  with paragraph headings added by myself  -  Peter Stubbs  Oct 22, 2006


John Lessels and family

Edinburgh buildings designed by John Lessels