Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
James Milne Sherriff
(1861-1904)
An architectural sculptor, he was born at 5 a.m. on 17 August 1861, at 4 Arthur Street, Dundee, the son of a journeyman joiner, James Sherriff, and his wife, Mary Hutton, who had married on 17 September 1858. One of four children, he was the only boy and the only member of the family to pursue an artistic career.

His earliest training as a stonemason and carver was probably with his uncle, George Sherriff (1828-87), a successful builder in Dundee. After this he initially worked as a stone cutter there before moving to Glasgow around 1886, to study at the GSA under Frank Leslie . He then worked as an architectural sculptor and formed the partnership Dawson & Sherriff, 1890-94, at 20 Canning Place. This address was actually his three-room family home, which he shared with his wife, Catherine, and their three children, James, Edith, and Mary.

His partner was probably the architectural sculptor, Matthew Dawson (1849-1917), the father of Archibald Dawson, who became one of the most important architectural sculptors in Glasgow in the 1920s and 1930s. Few of Dawson & Sherriff's commissions for architectural sculpture have been recorded, other than their work St Ninian's Wynd Free Church, Crown Street (1888, dem.), and Cathcart UP Church (1894), both of which were designed by the Glasgow architect, W G Rowan .

After the partnership ended in 1894, Sherriff worked on his own, executing the carverwork on an unidentified church in Clydebank (1895), and winning the tender for the carverwork in the East and West Courts of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (1897-1900).

Contemporary with this important commission, for which he carved the cartouches bearing the names and dates of famous Scots, is his work on Burnet & Boston's St George's Mansions, 10-28 Woodlands Road and 63-89 St George's Road (1899-1900). A magnificent range of middle-class tenements which rivalled the nearby Charing Cross Mansions for splendour, Sheffiff carved their cherubs, city arms and lion masks.

His most important commission was for the statues and carverwork on Springburn Public Halls, 11 Millarbank Street, designed by W B Whitie (1899-1902). This featured two female statues representing Springburn's engineering and locomotive industries (with one holding a model locomotive, and the other holding a machinery part); the Glasgow coat of arms; cherubs; and elaborate carverwork.

The fate of these rare works was long in doubt due to the building's deplorable state of dereliction and neglect in the years after the halls had closed down in 1995.

In 1999, the author of the glasgowsculpture.com website, having identified Sherriff as their sculptor, appealed for the statues to be rescued in Lorna MacLaren's article, Fears for city's sculptural heritage as statues are lost to an American's garden (The Herald, 17 June, 1999, p. 10.), but nothing was done to remove them for safekeeping and restoration, or to protect them in situ from further decay.

The statues were eventually removed by the building's owners, Glasgow City Council, and placed in storage when the building was declared unsafe, in December 2012. The rest of Sherriff's work was destroyed when the building was demolished soon afterwards.

Sherriff's last large-scale project appears to have been the statues of Industry and Commerce on Argyll Chambers (Argyll Arcade), 28-32 Buchanan Street (1903-4), which can be attributed to him on the basis of the stylistic similarities they share with his Springburn statues, particularly in the modelling of their faces and hair.

From 1900, he occupied a studio at 5 Dalhousie Lane, Garnethill, and lived nearby with his wife and five children at 83 Hill Street. After a career lasting barely fourteen years, James Milne Sherriff died on Monday, 19th September 1904, in the most tragic circumstances. The Daily Record recounted the details of his death the following day:

'Sculptor's Suicide'. 'A distressing case of suicide was reported to the Northern Police of Glasgow yesterday afternoon, the victim being Mr. Jas. Sherriff (40), an architectural sculptor ... He left his house about seven o'clock yesterday morning and opened his studio, being apparently in his usual health. An hour later he sent his apprentice, a lad named Byers, on an errand, and when the lad returned about half past ten o'clock he found the door of the studio locked. As there was no answer to his repeated knocking he became alarmed, and with assistance the door was forced. Sherriff was found hanging dead at the end of a rope suspended from an overhead beam. Dr Maclachlan, the casualty surgeon, was called and artificial respiration resorted to, but to no avail'.

Sherriff's death was registered by his son, James, and confirmation of his will was later granted to his widow on 25 January 1905, his estate being valued at 862.14s.6d. An additional sum of 359.15s.5d., was granted to her on 17 March 1905. The location of his burial place is as yet unknown.

The team at glasgowsculpture.com is grateful to Caroline Gerrard for researching Sherriff's census and death records on our behalf.

Sources:

  • Census Returns, 1901, 644.9, Book 11, p. 6;
  • GSA Reports, 1887;
  • POD 1890-1904;
  • Confirmations and Inventories 1906;
  • Worsdall (1982) ;
  • BN , Vol. 66, 18 May, 1894;
  • BJ , Vol. 2, 22 October, 1895;
  • Nisbet, in McKenzie (2002) , p. 498;
  • H , 'Fears for city's sculptural heritage as statues are lost to an American's garden', 17 June, 1999, p. 10.(ills.);
  • H , 'End of road for historic building', 28 December, 2012, p. 11;
  • Emails from Caroline Gerrard, February 2013;

Useful links to other sites:

 
Works in our Database:
#38 1: Buchanan Street (City Centre),
Argyll Chambers, 28-32 Buchanan Street
Pair of Allegorical Female Figures, Industry and Commerce (1902-4)
Sculptor: JM Sherriff;
Architect: C Menzies; Masons: Thaw & Campbell
2: Kelvingrove Park (West End),
Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum - Decorative Carving - Interior
Names and Crests of Glasgow Trades; World Composers; Figures from Scottish History (1892-1902)
Sculptors: McGilvray & Ferris (Central Hall); JM Sherriff (East and West Courts);
Architects: JW Simpson & EJ Milner Allen
#224 3: Millarbank Street (Springburn),
Former Springburn Public Halls, 11 Millarbank Street
Two Allegorical Figures and Related Decorative Carving (1902)
Sculptor: JM Sherriff;
Architect: WB Whitie
 
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