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
Dowanhill Church features a number of small heads on its exterior, including
a group of dogs' heads, possibly carved by one of the
, 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
, 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,
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
, vol. 58, 6 June, 1890, pp. 792, 798;
- Who's Who in Glasgow-1909, p. 115;
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);
(Templeton's Carpet Factory), pp. 377-8 (ill.)