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DICKSON, George Arthur Hamilton

Born: 1853
Died: 1918 02 16


ARIBA 1888; FRIBA 1905.

'More suited to soldiery than architecture ... a clever draughtsman who let his gift lie low, pursuing a life of glamour' (Building Mar 1918:152). Dickson was born in London, the son of Rev GDW Dickson, vicar of St James the Less, Westminster. This church was built by GE Street in 1859 and Dickson was sent to train in Street's office. He was with Street for five years, transferring his articles to Sir Arthur Blomfield in 1884 on Street's death. In 1888 he passed the RIBA examination. In 1890 he came to the Transvaal where he worked as surveyor for the Anglican Diocese in Pretoria and Johannesburg from 1891 to 1892. By 1899 he had designed a number of buildings in Pretoria of which at least two were on Church Square. These were The Bank of Africa (later Central Chambers and since demolished) on the corner of Bureau Lane and the Natal Bank on the opposite side of this Lane; they closely resembled each other but were neatly dissimilar as well. In 1897 he was listed working in Johannesburg. At some point he appears to have been in partnership with RM CAMPBELL & F EMLEY in Pretoria (cf CAMPBELL, EMLEY & DICKSON). In 1899 his address was the Rand Club. He enlisted during the Anglo-Boer War, won several medals and was promoted to the rank of Major, and took part in the relief of Ladysmith. His health seems to have suffered as he spent the period 1900 to 1901 as an invalid. After the war he returned to Johannesburg where he practised on his own account. He worked in association with R McCOWAT in 1904 and in 1906 (cf DICKSON & McCOWAT). Before 1905 he was President of the Transvaal Institute of Architects, re-elected in 1907. He was a member of the first elected Town Council of Johannesburg and was on the Council for the RIBA examinations in South Africa from 1907 to 1908. By 1911 he was in partnership with F Emley (cf LECK, EMLEY & DICKSON, although Leck had died in 1907) in Johannesburg. According to Emley, Dickson was one of the best-trained architects in the Transvaal in about 1890 but did not exercise these advantages, spending too much time soldiering and jostling for high offices. He was apparently popularly known as 'Lord George' by his colleagues and was one time captain of the Rand Polo Club. Correspondence concerning the competition for the Pretoria Post Office (1908) survives in the PWD archives (Transvaal) in which some of Dickson's attitudes towards architecture are revealed. BAKER, STUCKE and Walter REID having been proposed adjudicators of the competition, Dickson (then President of the Transvaal Institute of Architects) wrote to Charles MURRAY 'you asked me to give you my views ... I should like four selected designs to be sent Home to Sir Aston Webb or Collcutt for the final selection. Local men may be somewhat out of date in their ideas of what constitutes the best in Architecture - according to the Modern School which advocates a reticence in design which is out of fashion here but which is particularly desirable in a public building' (Public Works Department 122/3253, letter dated 17 Sep 1907). It is of interest that Dickson suggested Collcutt since, like Dickson, Collcutt had been in Street's office and was President of the RIBA at the time Dickson wrote; Taylor (Service 1975:447) describes TE Collcutt as 'a picturesque Classicist', descriptive of Dickson's work. By December 1907 Dickson had intimated to Murray that he, Dickson, should be happy to act as an adjudicator but the suggestion was not taken up. Dickson was listed in partnership with Emley until 1913 after which he again joined up on the outbreak of the First World War. In the Journal of the Association of Transvaal Architects' Role of Honor (Jul ATA, 1916 2(1):12) he is recorded as holding commission with the Worcester Regiment, having been on active service in the Dardanelles and took part in the Gallipoli landing. He appears never to have returned to South Africa after this war. He had a distinguished war record and died in Torquay, England from an illness he picked up during the war. Dickson was the first South African architect to win the Royal Order.

There is also a listing of this practitioner on the Dictionary of Scottish Architects.

(Afr Archt Jun 1911:21; Anglo-African WW 1907; ARIBA nom papers (1888); ul ATA, 1916 2(1):12; Building Mar 1918:152, obits; FRIBA nom papers (1905); Jnl ATA Mar 1917:599; Longland's Jhb & SAR dir 1897; Men, Tvl 1905:122; Picton-Seymour 1977; RIBA Jnl 1917-18:120-1; SAAE&S Jnl Aug 1906:156-8; SAAE&S Jnl Oct 1906:3; SAWW 1908, 1910; Service 1975; TAD MHG 35936; UTD 1911, 1913)

Publ: Domestic architecture, Proceedings of SAAE&A 1892-4:113-8; South African architects and the RIBA, SAAE&S Jnl Jun 1907: 151-52.

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.

List of projects

With photographs
With notes

African Board of Executors Building: pre-1905 : 1934. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Anglican Cathedral: pre-1905. Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
Athenaeum Club: 1903. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Bank of Africa: c1894. Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
Building for L Hart: 1894. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Country Club: 1906. Auckland Park, Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Jeppe House, The Oval: 1892. Jeppestown, Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Lewis & Marks Building: pre-1905. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Market Building: c1892. Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
Natal Bank: c1894. Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng - Architect
St John's Anglican Church: 1904. Belgravia, Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
Wanderer's Club Hall: pre-1905. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Architect
YMCA Building - Second: 1912. Johannesburg, Gauteng - Design Architect

Books citing DICKSON

Brown, SM. 1969. Architects and others: an annotated list of people of South African interest appearing in the RIBA Journal 1880-1925. Johannesburg: Unpublished dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand. pp

Walker, Michael. 2013. The pioneer architects of Johannesburg and their buildings (1886 - 1899) with postcard illustrations. St James: The Kalk Bay Historical Assosiation. pp 16, 33, 37