McWILLIAMS was born in Ireland in County Tyrone, his parents came to live in Port Elizabeth c1874 in the Baakens River Valley and he was educated at Grey Institute in Port Elizabeth. In about 1890 he was articled to GW SMITH (of SMITH SONS & DEWAR, Port Elizabeth) for five years, proceeding to Grahamstown to study surveying and mathematics at St Andrew's College under Professor Matthew, apparently at SMITH's suggestion, in 1895. McWILLIAMS then left the Cape for Johannesburg for further training, c1896, and worked in the office of CARTER & McINTOSH as chief assistant. He served on the executive committee of the Society of Architects in Johannesburg. During the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, he joined, for nine months, the Second Regiment Brabant's Horse and was present at the Siege of Wepener in 1901. After the war he entered into partnership with VT JONES (cf JONES & McWILLIAMS) in Johannesburg where JONES had taken over G WILSON's practice: c1903 the partners moved to Port Elizabeth where they opened an office and remained for the rest of their careers. The early work of the firm reflected the partners' shared interest in the Arts and Crafts movement and particularly, early on, in the so-called Liberty or English Art Nouveau style and even later on their work continued to reflect interest in traditional methods and materials rather than in more modern styles. McWILLIAMS was an artistic and capable man whose talents found other outlets. Among other things, he designed a fine dower chest and all its brass detailing, now at the King George VI Art Gallery in Port Elizabeth. The chest was made from a rosewood log which had apparently beached at Algoa Bay during the time of the Jameson Raid and which remained uncut until McWilliams bought it in 1920. In 1921 McWILLIAMS offered his services in an honorary capacity to redesign the Settlers' Memorial Campanile, Port Elizabeth. A competition for this monument (c1920) had been won by his former employer FG McINTOSH, but had been discovered to be too expensive. McWILLIAMS's offer was accepted by the committee and he was appointed consulting architect to the project, an honorary commitment in his name and not in the name of the firm. In December 1919 he was elected president of the Society of Architects (SA Branch), the first member outside the
Transvaal to be appointed to this position. In 1925 he applied for Fellowship of the RIBA, his papers being witnessed by Julius LONSTEIN. McWILLIAMS, who had lived in Walmer since at least 1904 when he built his house, was for many years a town councillor and was elected the first Mayor of Walmer in 1927 - his period of office was extended to 1931. McWILLIAMS was a keen sailor and an active member of the Zwaartkops Yacht Club; he was also a member of the Port Elizabeth Club; he died in Port Elizabeth. His son, Herbert Hastings McWILLIAMS, became a well known architect.
Mem Soc of Archts (London) SA branch; Vice-President of SA branch of Soc of Archts 1916; Pres SA branch Soc of Archts 1920; Pres CIA 1920; FRIBA 1925; ISAA 1927.
There is also a listing of this practitioner on the Dictionary of Scottish Architects.
Published: "The coloured problem" a paper read before the XII Club of Walmer Afr Archt Dec 1912:107-110; "The Master Builders' congress, report by WJ McWilliams" Afr Archt Aug 1912: xv-xvi; "Retiring President's congress address" AB&E Dec 1920:9.
AB&E Dec 1919:7, 11, 13; AB&E Dec 1920:9; AB&E Dec 1921:13; AB&E Mar 1923:28; AB&E Oct 1927:17; AB&E Oct 1928:28; AB&E Jan 1934:36; Afr Archt May 1912:214 port; Bodill 1985; Building Dec 1921:525; FRIBA nom papers (1925); ISAA mem list; Jnl ATA Dec 1916:45, 46; Looking Back Mar 1974:14, 15, article by A Porter; SAAE&S Jnl Oct 1905:9; SAB Nov 1927:57
All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.